It was ones against the world, but the "world" defense did alright in the first half against a watered down play list in the Red-White game Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema changed his plan at halftime -- with more mental juice and a little more play calling juice -- and things improved.
With some play-action passing game added in the second half, quarterback Brandon Allen and the Red team (first team) subdued the world (seconds and thirds) about the way most would have expected in what goes in the book as a 61-22 victory for the first team.
Bielema stacked the Red team with really more than ones. He had the top three tailbacks with the ones and the top three tight ends there, too. And, the second team offensive line was no match for defensive end Deatrick Wise, who chased quarterbacks Austin Allen and Rafe Peavey all day.
Brandon Allen was 5 of 11 with two interceptions for just 21 yards in the first half that frustrated the first team quarterback. With a little help from the playcaller, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, in the second half, Allen's numbers jumped to 7 of 10 for 87 yards with one touchdown as the first team took charge.
Bielema said the first offense came out "sleep walking because guys were not ready to roll" in the lethargic opening half. He had planned to take Allen out after the first two quarters, but told Chaney to leave him in for the third quarter. It was clearly a different Allen in the second half, with some play-action fakes holding the linebackers and safeties a little and opening up some throwing lanes.
It was simple dropback in the first half and there weren't too many easy windows for Allen. Keon Hatcher had a ball bounce out of his hands and taken away by backup safety De'Andre Coley on the game's second play. Allen had a pass broken up by TQ Coleman with safety Davyon McKinney intercepting late in the half.
"We came out very slow," Allen said. "It's not what we wanted to do. We weren't clicking. We talked a lot at halftime.
"We were not focused. We had a diluted play call list and we were going through the motions. We were not trying to win at all positions. We talked about that at halftime.
"It was very frustrating in the first half and we cleaned the slate and we got better and got going in the second half.
"I threw two into a tight window. Those would have been tough catches and then they got deflected. It was good coverage, but I thought I could get them in there."
Some of the issues were caused by a back seven that played with their hands on receivers, something new defensive coordinator Robb Smith changed this spring. It caused problems for receivers and complicated the routes.
"That's been different," Allen said. "There is not a lot of off coverage any more here. It affects us. It's in-your-face defense and it makes a difference. But we'd done better against it this spring. We weren't ourselves today. Once we added some play-action at halftime, it helped."
Safety Alan Turner said it's a simple change that has made a world of difference.
"Our corners do play with their hands on receivers now," Turner said. "We disrupt the timing. As a whole, our defense did pretty well today. It's become a way of how we play defense. We are going to press the hip of the receiver."
Outside linebacker Braylon Mitchell said it's not just the corners.
"We are just more physical," Mitchell said. "We are going to play with our hands a little more throughout the defense. It's more aggressive. It's attacking. We preach physical play. We are going to put our hands on them on their routes. It's definitely a change with the way Coach Smith and (linebackers coach Randy) Shannon are coaching us."
Bielema said that was the goal in the offseason when the staff changed with Shannon joined by Smith, Clay Jennings and Rory Segrest.
"I think what you saw, both of those interceptions by BA, they were broken up passes," Bielema said. "We get our hands on more passes. We are more physical with our hands. We re-route the receivers. It's paying off.
"We have more contested balls. On the underneath routes, we get to our landmarks and then react to throws."
Allen didn't get a lot of help from his top receivers. Hatcher had a couple of passes that could have been caught. Bielema made note of the drops. Newcomers Cody Hollister and Jared Cornelius were perfect on their five chances.
"Hatcher had a couple," Bielema said. "With (Hollister and Cornelius) here, if the others don't want to catch it, they will."
All in all, Bielema thought it was a good spring. The Hogs emerged relatively healthy. Defensive end Brandon Lewis rolled an ankle in the spring game, but should be fine. Taiwan Johnson missed a few snaps with a leg injury, but returned in the second half.
Bielema held out defensive end Trey Flowers, as he has with all scrimmages this spring. Flowers, who returned for his senior year despite a high draft rating, was not injured. Wide receiver Demetrius Wilson, coming off ACL knee surgery, did not participate in the spring game.
Among the other notes from the spring game, Damon "Duwop" Mitchell sparkled with three catches for 27 yards. He lost 3 yards on a fourth-down play late in the game on a trial at tailback. Bielema said Mitchell showed strength and ability in his two-week trial at wide receiver after spending the first three weeks at quarterback.
AJ Derby, converted from quarterback to tight end, did not have a catch. He was targeted on one play-action bomb. He held off the cornerback as they rolled into the end zone, but he couldn't make one of his one-hand catches like in two other scrimmages.
The big highlights on the day came from running back Korliss Marshall, the most electric player in the last two weeks of spring, and ESPN Super Fan Canaan Sandy. Marshall streaked 59 yards for a touchdown late in the first half, then added an 8-yard run in the second half. Sandy rolled 50 yards to the delight of the team late in the third quarter.
"I've been around him in a bunch of Razorback Club events," Bielema said. "The idea came to me in a Little Rock event when we played catch. I think he's been on a world tour. He's got a contagious personality. I was hamming it up and I didn't think he was coming off the field."
Allen said, "That was a lot of fun. We all loved having him out there. I know he enjoyed it, too."
That was in stark contrast in the first half when the junior quarterback didn't seem to be having much fun. Allen didn't put out any fires as far as fan criticism.
"Hey, I'm used to it," Allen said. "We definitely have a better feeling after the second half. We opened it up a little. We might have been a little too vanilla. But it's still all about executing and we didn't on offense in that first half.
"We came out shaky in the first half. We were kinda going through the motions. Our defense is definitely gotten tougher and is more physical. We weren't ready for it today."
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