Spring Game II provided more of a peak of what the offense might be with plenty of fireworks Wednesday night in a game-like scrimmage, including some big plays against the top defense.
"We executed a little better tonight," said Houston Nutt after the offense put up 54 points on the scoreboard at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. "We aren't there yet, but we were better tonight as far as carrying out our assignments on offense."
There were plenty of highlights on both sides of the ball, actually. The defense produced two interceptions, one of them by Desmond Sims on a ball tipped by Chris Houston on a corner blitz. The other was a tipped ball that Clarke Moore intercepted. The end of that play ended the night for quarterback Robert Johnson. He took a knee to the back of the head making the tackle on a sideline hit against Moore and couldn't return because of a mild concussion.
That forced Matt Jones to take a few snaps with the first offense. Jones did just fine, leading the offense to a touchdown. He hit Cedric Washington on a fade in the corner of the end zone for a 4-yard TD pass.
Jones was also on the field for two other touchdowns. He hauled in Johnson's perfect bomb for a 50-yard TD pass early in the scrimmage. Jones was well behind the second team secondary on what Nutt called a double post. Later, on a first-and-10 from the 20-yard line, Johnson was looking for Jones to the left on a post corner to the left side. Johnson darted out of the pocket to score untouched on a dash to the right pylon.
"Robert is improving," Nutt said. "A week ago, he would have tried to force the post corner into coverage. It was covered tonight and he tucked and made something of it. That was a great play."
Johnson also kept for 48 yards on an option keeper out of the shotgun. He was tackled from behind by Vickiel Vaughn and Michael Coe.
Nutt was also pleased with the play of the first defense. He said some of the scoring was set up by field position swings on quick stops and turnovers provided by that group.
"I'd say if you see that 54 points on the scoreboard, there ought to be an asterisk up there because the defense helped our offense with those turnovers," Nutt said. "I thought Clarke Moore and Marcus Whitmore provided some real leadership and made a lot of plays tonight. Jeb Huckeba was a force out there, too."
Running backs Dedrick Poole, DeCori Birmingham and De'Arrius Howard all performed well with Poole working double duty for the first and second unit.
"Poole is really making a move," Nutt said. "He looked very good tonight. We've always known that he can play tailback. That's not the problem. The thing he had to do is protect the football.
"He has a tendency to let that ball get away from his rib cage when he's in the core. You can't do that. If it gets away from your rib cage in there, they are going to take it away from you at this level. About every 11 or 12 times we've given him the ball, he's lost it. That can't happen. He kept it tight against his rib cage tonight."
Nutt said the spring was extremely productive with improvement in many areas.
"Our young offensive line saw a lot of blitzes and stunts as the spring progressed," Nutt said. "The protection was better tonight. They were given a lot by our defense tonight with a lot of different blitzes. They executed well for the most part."
Line coach Mike Markuson said the same thing, but noted that there were a lot of bright spots in Saturday's scrimmage, too.
"The film from Saturday was mostly good," Markuson said. "There was room to run in the running game. We had holes and the backs missed them several, several times. You saw it as a lost yardage play, but we blocked it pretty well at times. The protection wasn't always there, but we got some of that fixed tonight.
"With a young offensive line, you just have to see it a lot before it starts to click. Tonight it clicked a little. We will need every one of those 29 practices in the fall to get it all going right, but this is a good group. They aren't scared to play the game. I've seen them really hit people this spring. They have the physical ability.
"We've got three of the five playing pretty well. We've got Zac Tubbs, Gene Perry and Kyle Roper really playing well. Tony Ugoh and James Johnson on the left side haven't played much and need more time. But I think they can do it. I do know that Robert Felton made some strides. I'd bet that Felton and Johnson have a real dogfight next fall on the left side at guard. That's going to be some good competition there."
Nutt liked the look Jones gave the Hogs at wideout.
"Matt Jones gives you a chance for some big plays in the passing game when he's at wide receiver," Nutt said. "Robert hit him twice and could have had him a couple of more time if he'd put a little more air under it. If it's the right trajectory, it's two more scores. He'll learn that.
"Matt helps us at wideout and what you really saw tonight was what Cedric Washington can do when he's got the ball. He's so quick after the catch and he can really be dangerous on reverses. We've got some weapons there."
Asked if Saturday's lack of offensive productivity gave some a false read on what next year's team might be like, Nutt nodded the affirmative.
"We really weren't ready for our spring game Saturday," Nutt said. "We'd set the date for our Lettermen's Reunion and for our fans and then we moved the start of spring back two weeks. So it wasn't at the end. It was after two weeks. We really did a lot of work the last two days and tonight we were better prepared."
The Hogs scrimmaged in middle drill and in situations Monday and Tuesday.
"The last three days we put the ball down and played the game," Nutt said. "With a young team, that's how you get better. You find out who will hang in there and play, who is tough."
The Hogs did plenty of hitting, but came away with few injuries. Johnson left the scrimamge early Wednesday night with a slight concussion. Mason Templeton, freshman tight end, sustained a severe ankle sprain on the second day of spring practice and spent most of the spring in a boot cast. Tituse Peebles was hobbled with a sore left knee, but was around for most of the workouts.
"Otherwise, we didn't really have any injuries," Nutt said. "We hit and stayed healthy."
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