FAYETTEVILLE – Quarterback Tyler Wilson engineered four touchdown drives in six tries with the first team offense to highlight a 160-play scrimmage Friday afternoon in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino liked most aspects, including the play of running backs Dennis Johnson and Broderick Green along with his tight end group of D. J. Williams, Chris Gragg and Austin Tate. He also praised defenders Jerico Nelson, Jake Bequette and Lavunce Askew.
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Among the obvious highlights on the day, there were no apparent major injuries. The Hogs scrimmaged for two hours and 15 minutes, with a slight break for halftime. Linebacker Jerry Franklin limped off with what appeared to be a minor leg injury and did go to the locker room early.
“I was happy with the scrimmage,” Petrino said. “I thought it was very competitive and that both sides of the ball had their times during the scrimmage, where they made plays. I thought the defense ran to the ball and tackled pretty well.
“I liked what I saw from the running backs. Quarterback wise, we have to be more consistent against how we handle pressure and being able to do things right at the line of scrimmage. Our receivers can make play.
“I liked it. We got a lot of hard work, a lot of physical play and a bunch of plays. I think when we go back and grade it, we’ll see it was very competitive.”
The tight ends were productive. Was that a focus?
“It was a focus,” Petrino said. “We had a little list of things we wanted to get done with D. J. Williams.
“We certainly feel that Chris Gragg needs a lot of work. He’s very talented. He’s a little bit behind in his technique and exactly how to run the routes — but certainly he can catch the ball when you get it around him.
“Austin Tate is doing a real nice job of blocking. He’s been able to play both tight end and fullback. He’s a big physical player. He did an excellent job in his redshirt year to gain the weight and strength you need to have a chance to play. It’s really shown up for him.”
The running backs saw a lot of passes come their way, too. Was that intentional?
“No, not necessarily,” Petrino said. “It wasn’t caling plays to them. But I think the defense made us throw to them. They dropped back a little more, played a little more zone coverage and gave us an opportunity to dump it to the backs. Those guys can certainly make plays when they catch it.”
How is the progress at near the halfway point of the spring?
“I think we are doing a lot of good things,” he said. “I think we are on track. We had one day when we didn’t do things right on the practice field (on Tuesday). Usually, that starts with your concentration and focus in the meeting room and we didn’t progress the way we needed to.
“We are pushing these guys hard. It’s time to step up the intensity, step up the demands, making sure we are doing things right and playing with great effort. I don’t expect assignment errors. We were a little sloppy today as far as penalties on offense. We need to clean that up. But when you have four different quarterbacks in there on the cadence, sometimes that does cause some penalties at the line of scrimmage.”
Here are the statistical leaders in the scrimmage:
Tyler Wilson completed 16 of 21 passes for 179 yards. He had three TD passes. The longest was a 58-yard play to Dennis Johnson that was a simple angle route where the back circled the line of scrimmage, ducked back to the middle and Wilson flipped the ball about 10 yards. The back split the safety and sprinted to the end zone.
Brandon Mitchell completed 15 of 22 passes for 242 yards. Nick Petrino was 15 of 20 for 185 yards. Jacoby Walker was 5 of 13 for 45 yards. Walker had the only interceptions on the day – one by Seth Armbrust and the other by Dustin Cain.
The top four running backs all had solid days, but none broke long runs. Ronnie Wingo led the way with 13 carries for 70 yards. Knile Davis had 14 rushes for 54 yards. Broderick Green had 12 rushes for 49 yards. The backs also had a good day catching passes. Johnson had two catches for 57 yards, Green 3-35, Ronald Watkins was 2-16, Davis 1-23, Mitchell Bailey 2-4.
D. J. Williams had nine catches for 82 yards. Chris Gragg was 7 for 63. Greg Childs caught 6 for 109; Joe Adams, 4 for 63; Austin Tate was 5 for 61; Jarius Wright 3 for 33; Carlton Salters 1 for 4.
Petrino saw some good play from his young quarterbacks, including Brandon Mitchell.
“He made some good plays and he’s very capable of doing that,” Petrino said. “Then he had a few had some mental busts, particularly early. He came out the first series and had two bad decisions. He really read the play the wrong way and the side it was supposed to be called to the wrong side. But the good thing we were able to get on him and put some pressure on him and he came back and showed a lot of poise.
“That’s the one thing Brandon really shows. He can make a bad play and make a good play and move on to the next play. He puts it behind him and has a calming nature out there on the field and doesn’t get rattled. I tried to get him rattled out there today. I wanted to see if I could do that and I was impressed with the way he kept his poise.
Nick Petrino’s positive numbers in scrimmages continue to build. How has he performed?
“Nick’s done a nice job,” Petrino said. “He really knows the offense. He knows how to do things at the line of scrimmage. He makes good decisions and has the ability to throw the ball deep so he’s thrown some touchdown passes.”
How has the offensive line progressing under new assistant coach Chris Klenakis?
“We are getting better,” Petrino said. “Our emphasis in the offensive line is coming off the ball, striking and being more physical. They are certainly making a conscious effort of doing that. I think Coach K is demanding it. We are working hard at it and I like what I see.
“We are certainly not there yet. We have a long way to go in being the type of physical run game we need to be to take a lot of pressure off of our quarterbacks. We are finishing every scrimmage where we have to run the ball and try to be more physical. We have some good backs so we have to give them some creases and some push and some finish.
“I also like the way our defense finished the last part of the scrimmage today as opposed to the half scrimmage the other day. I thought we played with more effort defensively.”
Did anyone on the defense catch the eye of the head coach?
“Jerico Nelson goes out there and makes all kinds of tackles, all kinds of plays,” Petrino said. “He’s certainly someone you better know where he’s at all the time. I think our defensive front did a pretty good job. I think Lavunce Askew is stepping forward and is in a position to compete for a starting job – although when Zach Stadther is in there, he does a good job, too. That competition has helped them all get better.
“Then, at the defensive end, Jake Bequette is doing a nice job. He’s playing well. He’s done a great job of working on his technique and his fundamentals and understanding the different moves in the pass rush.”
Petrino praised his running backs. He said Broderick Green has performed well.
“He’s decided that he’s going to be a physical runner, run through tackles,” Petrino said. “He’s been very, very focused, very driven. It started right after the season. He did well in the weight room and got down to the weight he wanted to be. He did a nice job of setting his goals and then working hard to attain them. He wants to be faster. He was impressive out there today. His ability to run through tackles. The one toss play, there was nothing there and he made his own hole and came out of it.
“If he’ll do that, accelerate at contact and get his knees up, he’s a tough guy to tackle.”
Petrino was asked about the way Ronnie Wingo performed.
“We got on him after the last scrimmage,” Petrino said. “We didn’t think he ran physical enough and keep his pads down. Ronnie is so talented and can change directions so well, sometimes he does that too much. He needs to make one cut and really we are trying to get him to hug the walls his offensive lineman make and really accelerate through the hole. He did a much better job of that today.”
Joe Adams had a couple of big plays, but didn’t get a lot of touches in the scrimmage.
“The biggest key for me to call enough plays to get the ball in Joe’s hands,” Petrino said. “He has to do a good job of running his routes to get open. When he catches the ball, he’s hard to tackle. We’ve got to get him touches. He’s dynamic running the ball, dynamic anytime he touches the ball.