FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas held its first scrimmage of spring practice Saturday afternoon inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Here are five observations and some extra information from the scrimmage:
Running back is stacked
Arkansas’ running backs had a huge day. Six of them combined for 406 yards on 65 carries. It is clear there is a wealth of talent in the backfield.
Returning starter Rawleigh Williams led the way with 189 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown run. Devwah Whaley also was impressive serving as the backup with the first team.
Freshman early enrollee Maleek Williams shined working mostly with the second-team offense. He runs extremely hard and does not shy away from contact. After getting a lot of looks at him today, he’s someone that fans will love. He very well may carve out a small role as the third back.
Here’s the full stats for the top three runners Saturday:
- Rawleigh Williams III: 19 carries, 189 yards, TD
- Maleek Williams: 18 carries, 88 yards
- Devwah Whaley: 14 carries, 86 yards
Walk-on Connor McPherson and Juan Day were also effective with the carries they received.
Defense has so-so day
While the running backs are talented, some of the big day rushing is likely a result of Arkansas’ poor run defense. The Hogs were terrible against the run last season, surrendering a FBS-worst 39 rushing touchdowns. The scrimmage suggests things haven’t improved much in that department, with the offense breaking 10 runs for at least 10 yards.
However, the first-team defense was mostly effective defending the pass. Arkansas had near double digits in touch sacks (quarterbacks are immune from being hit). Many of those were the result of effective pressure with a few coming because of great coverage downfield. Defensive end McTelvin “Sosa” Agim (2 sacks) outside linebacker Randy Ramsey (1) stood out as the best pass rushers.
Starting cornerback Ryan Pulley was among the top performers in the secondary. He was exceptional in coverage, just as he was most of last season. He also showed a lot of willingness to lay a hit, even to bigger running backs and tight ends. With he and Henre’ Toliver starting and Kevin Richardson playing the nickel spot, Arkansas should be in good shape at corner.
The first-team defense had 1 interception when Santos Ramirez made a good play to jump in front of an Austin Allen pass, knocking it in the air before linebacker De’Jon Harris snagged it.
It should be noted the defense didn’t blitz or run any complicated coverages. Coach Bret Bielema said the coaching staff just wanted to see them line up in the base 3-4 and get comfortable with the new scheme.
Austin Allen to Jared Cornelius … get used to it
Allen completed 4 of his 6 passes intended for wide receiver Jared Cornelius. The senior duo looks primed to be among the top quarterback-receiver combinations in the SEC this season. They’re seemingly always on the same page. Any time Allen had to make a rushed decision or needed a first down, he looked Cornelius’ way.
Cornelius had 53 yards on his 4 catches. Allen threw for 149 yards while completing 14 of his 21 passes. La’Michael Pettway and Deon Stewart had 3 catches each working as the other starters.
On the subject of quarterbacks, Cole Kelley and Ty Storey appear to be in as tight of competition to back up Allen as the coaching staff has stated. Kelley (4 of 10, 81 yards, TD) started hot before fading late, though he was hurt by 3 drops. Storey (7 of 13, 84 yards) did the complete opposite as he connected on his last 5 attempts. He looks drastically improved from last season. It’s not expected the battle will be settled until fall camp.
Jordan Jones can fly
There wasn’t a more impressive player than redshirt freshman wide receiver Jordan Jones. He had 4 catches for 99 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown from Kelley. He hauled in that pass over the middle and ran about 40 yards to the end zone, easily pulling away from the defensive backs.
Jones has all the tools, particularly his speed, to be a great player. He was working with the second team Saturday as he has been all spring. If he can continue putting together performances like this, he’ll be on the field a lot this fall.
Short yardage an emphasis
An inability to convert in short-yardage situations cost Arkansas points several times last season. It was clear Saturday that improving in that area is a major emphasis. Bielema regularly put the offense in third-and-short situations and ran the ball. For the most part, the unit was very successful converting those opportunities. But again, how much of that is effective running and how much of that is bad defense? Time will tell.
Short yardage is an area Maleek Williams could potentially help a lot. He’s an ideal back for those situations.
- Senior center Frank Ragnow was not suited up and did not participate in any part of the scrimmage. He’s not hurt. Bielema said he held him out because he doesn’t have much room for improvement. He feels the risk of injury compared to the room for improvement is not worth playing Ragnow.
- Starting offense: Austin Allen (QB), Kendrick Jackson (FB), Rawleigh Williams III (RB), Austin Cantrell (TE), Jared Cornelius (WR), Deon Stewart (WR), La’Michael Pettway (WR), Colton Jackson (LT), Hjalte Froholdt (LG), Zach Rogers (C), Jake Raulerson (RG), Brian Wallace (RT).
- Starting defense: Ryan Pulley (CB), Henre’ Toliver (CB), Josh Liddell (S), De’Andre Coley (S), Michael Taylor II (OLB), Randy Ramsey (OLB), De’Jon Harris (ILB), Dwayne Eugene (ILB), McTelvin Agim (DE), Austin Capps (DT), Karl Roesler (DE).
- It was a bit of a surprise to see Capps starting over Bijhon Jackson, who worked primarily with the second team. Jackson had an interception off a tipped pass by Kelley on the last play of the scrimmage.
- Cole Hedlund made all four of his field-goal attempts with a long of 46 yards.
- Blake Johnson received the first-team reps at punter.
- Senior wide receiver Jared Cornelius fielded punts first with T.J. Hammonds behind him.
- Hammonds struggled as the second-team slot receiver, a new position for him after playing running back last season as a freshman. He was targeted twice and dropped both passes. He did have 1 carry for 13 yards.
- Wide receiver Brandon Martin, a junior college transfer, will present matchup nightmares for opponents next season. He’s huge (6-foot-4, 215 pounds), and it’s clear he knows how to use that to his advantage.
- Here’s a look from inside the stadium at the updates going on in the north end zone: