1. Move The Ball
Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said he was impressed with his group’s performance during goal line work during last Saturday’s scrimmage.
Now he wants to see them bring the same intensity to other parts of the field.
The Razorbacks scored five touchdowns on six possessions during goal line sessions in the 101-play scrimmage, pushing the defensive line back enough for running backs to get into the end zone. The success ended there, though. The offense didn’t score when asked to put together scoring drives the rest of the practice.
“We weren't as explosive as I'd to have seen us be,” Chaney said. “When you're trying to score points, you've got to generate some big plays and we didn't do that as well as I'd like to. When coach (Bret Bielema) moved the ball back and made us go a long distance, we were unable to get the ball down there.”
Arkansas’ longest plays during the scrimmage were a pair of 20-yard passes from quarterback Brandon Allen to receiver Demetrius Wilson. The longest run play was a 14-yard run by tailback Jonathan Williams.
Chaney said one reason for the missing explosiveness was a passing attack still working to find its niche in an offense developing a physical, run-first mentality this spring. He described Arkansas as being in the “infant stages” of its new passing game, which has shown in some efficiency issues this spring.
But he also chalked up the difference to a change in attitude away from the goal line.
“It was interesting, the success we had down there,” Chaney said of the goal line work. “There was a lot of excitement and emotion on the field. Then we move it to move the field and it was like we'd forgotten that. We needed to get them pumped back up and get ready to go on the move-the-field part of the practice. We kind of dropped the ball when we moved to that part, kind of got our butts kicked.
“So hopefully we've just got to figure out how to consistently hold that pressure, keep that foot on the pedal as we go down to practice.”
2. Quarterback Talk
Chaney said the quarterback competition between Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell continues with five practices left this spring. But he did add Allen turned in a better performance during last Saturday’s scrimmage.
“I think his operation, his management of the huddle,” Chaney said. “His management of the snap counts was a little bit smoother. ….It just seemed to work a little bit better. You know, when you watch it, some things you can quantify, and other things you can't. So subjectively I'd say the offense ran a little smoother.”
Allen went 9-for-13 for 97 yards with a touchdown and interception during the 101-play scrimmage. Mitchell went 7-for-16 for 67 yards with a touchdown.
Arkansas scored each of its four touchdowns on goal line work, so neither quarterback led lengthy touchdown drives. But Allen believes there was improvement as the Razorbacks move closer to the Red-White Game.
“It’s still a competition out there,” Allen said. “We’re still pushing each other in the best way possible. I'm out there trying to do my best and make sure that I'm doing my part in competition. I'm not trying to be second-string anymore and I know he's not trying to be second-string anymore. Each of us are pushing to be No. 1.”
3. Impressive Backs
Williams turned in a strong scrimmage, rushing unofficially for 87 yards and two touchdowns in 16 carries. Running backs coach Joel Thomas said three days later he was particularly impressed with Williams’ ability to pile up yards after contact.
Thomas – who calculated Williams with 92 yards — said Williams collected 47 of them after first contact. It was nearly 2.9 yard a carry, which is just shy of the position’s goal of three yards. Thomas credited Williams for making strides in Arkansas’ goal of turning him into a more polished downhill runner.
“We’re almost getting to that goal, then the next step after that is to be consistent with that goal,” Thomas said. “That's why you have spring ball.”
Thomas was even more impressed by fullback Kiero Small’s performance during the scrimmage. The senior had six carries for 17 yards and a touchdown on top of his lead blocking duties in Arkansas’ two-back sets.
“He had one of the better scrimmages I've graded for a fullback or a running back ever,” Thomas said of Small. “He was about 97 percent. Assignment wise he was awesome. He brings a certain physicality to his game as well.
“So it's been nice to see those two kind of step their game up. Now the next question is the guys who are going to develop up in behind him as we keep on going through the rest of spring ball these last five practices.”
4. Slow Down
Chaney said earlier this spring Arkansas had to slow center Travis Swanson because the senior was “trying to think for all 10 guys.” Swanson, who Chaney called a “professor” two weeks ago, said he got the message from the coaching staff.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really noticed it being out there until they brought it up to me,” Swanson said. “But, you know, it’s more of a sense of when the other guys get more familiar with it and looks and what not, then it’s going to eliminate some of that gray area and speed it up.”
Chaney stressed the Razorbacks appreciate Swanson’s efforts, but Arkansas wanted younger players to learn from their own mistakes. The good news: the Razorbacks know they have a strong foundation in Swanson to build its line around.
“I've been around exceptional players.” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said last Saturday. “I had a center two years that left early after his junior year and was a second-round pick to the Falcons. This year my center from Wisconsin declared early, an indication that he's going to be an early draft pick. I think Travis Swanson potentially is probably better than both of those guys could be.”
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau