Although the two offenses put up 60 points in the Red-White game on Saturday afternoon, there was no doubt that the first-team defense was the shining star of the Arkansas spring game.
Senior defensive end Deatrich Wise and senior defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter both had a pair of sacks and headed up a defense that gave up no touchdowns and only 49 yards total offense in the White’s 39-21 win over the Red before 30,546 fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“You have to take into a little consideration that when we are playing against each other that when things go well with one side of the ball, it usually is because the other side isn’t,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said.
“Our defense all spring has played extremely well, they have tackled efficiently, they have done a lot of good things day in and day out, which tells me it is not a fluke.
“They are trained, they are coached, they are responding and doing a lot of really good things. I think you saw that particularly in the first half.”
The first-team offense did roll up 323 yards total offense with quarterback Austin Allen going 13-of-19 for 141 yards while being sacked three times and second-team signal caller Rafe Peavey 3-of-3 for 21 yards and also taking a sack.
There were no touchdowns in the opening quarter, only one in the first half as Denzel Evans scored from the six and only three in the game.
Evans scored again in the third quarter and Rickey Town’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Jamario Bell for the winning White squad coming on the last play of the scrimmage.
The Red team’s only points game on seven field goals during field goal shootouts - albeit the recreation of Clint Stoerner’s touchdown pass to Anthony Lucas in the 28-24 win over Tennessee in 1999 at the end of the third quarter drew the loudest cheer of the day.
“Our ones had some miscues in the first half offensively that just come from playing more and more football,” Bielema said. “Guys have got to get out there and compete in practice and do the things that we asked them to do.
“I thought Austin did some good things, but he has some miscues in the first half that weren’t his. He had a dropped pass by Dominique Reed, he had Keon drop the easy touchdown on the sideline sweep over there and had a couple of guys break down in protection that allowed some pressure on him.
“There’s a lot of things that we have got to get better at on the offense with the ones."
The White team - made up of the starters - gave up just 39 yards passing - 26 on a pass to tight end Cheyenne O’Grady - and only 10 rushing with Peavey being sacked five times by the first defense.
Peavey was 4-of-7 for 39 yards (7 of 10 overall for 50 yards) and Ty Storey 0-of-2 passing while quarterbacking the Red team, which gave up five sacks.
“Defense, with the ones, didn’t see much out there,” Bielema said. “They (the reserves) broke free on one play and let a receiver get cut loose, but they ran and tackled it efficiently and for the most part they have been doing that all spring.”
Wise led the SEC in sacks last season in league games with eight and appears well on his way to a big campaign this season.
“The only person that can limit Deatrich is Deatrich,” Bielema said. “He is an exceptional player. The good Lord gave him a lot of skills, a tremendous body and genetic makeup to play the game and I like the maturity that he has stepped forward with this year, especially in the spring.
“Today we were only going to play him to the half even though I think he was a little bit banged up in the second quarter he wanted to finish it out.
“He is one of those guys - that as long as I have been in this profession there is that one, two, three seniors that finally just get it.
“…We have got one on each side of the ball in (tight end) Jeremy Sprinkle and Deatrich Wise that could make some big jumps in short fashion.”
Wise said that it was several factors that came together for his middle of the season push last year.
“I just watched a little bit more film, fine-tuned everything and I finally rested my body a little bit more and watched film with (defensive line) Coach (Rory) Segrest and we just talked about things and I finally put it all together and the games just started getting better and better.”
Wise relishes his role as one of the defense’s leaders and top producers.
“I always want that to be put on me,” Wise said. “I can take being looked to as I was an older brother and have always been looked to for leadership, looked to for guidance, look to make plays and that’s what I like doing.”
It appears that Wise will join Ledbetter, defensive tackle Taiwan Johnson and defensive ends Karl Rosseler or Tevin Beanum - who missed the spring - as the Razorbacks’ starting front four defensively this fall.
There’s others such as heralded freshmen defensive end McTelvin Agim, defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson and defensive linemen Brandon Lewis (a game-high 8 tackles), Armon Watts and Daytrieon Dean to give the Razorbacks a lot of depth up front.
“It shows that we have depth on the line and that anybody could be a starter on any given day,” Wise said. “Our twos are as good as ones and we have a good rotation and there is no lack of potential or lack of ability.”
Ledbetter has made the move from defensive end to full-time defensive tackle.
“His dad was here last night and I think him and his dad weren’t resistant, but wanted to know why three technique and I think it is because he can be great,” Bielema said. “I really like what he did this year, this spring in particular.
“He’s got some of the things that we did with Darius - he can spike on the three and from a guard to a center and A gap and vice-versa - and he can do some things in the pass rush with his outside in pass rush skills.
“…I am really liking what I am seeing out of him, Deatrich, when Taiwan is in there and whoever ends up being that other end could really be a salty front four.”