The Arkansas offense was clearly ahead of the defense that was on the field Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The Hogs don't have all of their best defensive players on the field right now with Jermaine Brooks, Lawrence Richardson, Eddie Jackson and Ahmad Carroll out this spring. Those last three are running track, and Brooks is rehabbing after minor shoulder surgery over the winter.
So, if you like offense, Saturday's major scrimmage (the big one for the spring) was about as good as it gets. The weather was just perfect ... 60 degrees with a light breeze and bright sunshine ... for an enjoyable morning of football. The offense produced seven touchdowns and big plays that covered 65, 46, 39, 36, 29 and 19 yards.
The scrimmage started with a bang with quarterback Matt Jones rolling through the second defense on a 65-yard keeper on a bootleg run/pass option. That signalled a fun day for the offense, and took the pop out of the defense. There were plenty more touchdowns the rest of the way as tailbacks Cedric Cobbs, Fred Talley and Brandon Holmes along with wide receivers Carlos Ousley and Decori Birmingham all dazzled behind solid blocking. Jones led all rushers with 88 yards on seven runs. Cedric Cobbs was next with 60 on seven carries.
"Our quarterbacks ... all three of them ... executed," Houston Nutt said. "We are lucky to have David Lee to coach them and teach them. He's done a great job with them. He is an excellent teacher of fundamentals.
"Matt hasn't been with David long this spring, but he's getting better and is gaining confidence in his throwing. You can see that Rayn Sorahan is much stronger, and Tarvaris just throws a great ball. What you love about Tarvaris is that he is now a coach on the field. He checked off three times to great plays. I thought our quarterbacks did a good job of getting the ball to our backs and receivers in our short passing game and those guys ... Birmingham, Holmes, Talley, Ousley and Cobbs ... made people miss and got some nice gains."
One of Jackson's checks was a 46-yard touchdown bomb to Ousley, the Wake Forest transfer who is emerging as one of the highlights of this spring. Ousley also caught a 32-yard TD strike from Jackson after settling into a hook zone in the end zone. Jackson completed 7 of 15 throws for 115 yards and three TDs. Sorahan was 5 of 9 for 55 yards and one TD. Jones completed 2 of 11 for 28 yards. There were no interceptions by any of the QBs.
"We didn't have George Wilson today because of the injury yesterday, so we challenged Sam Breeden, Sparky Hamilton and Carlos Ousley to step up and take advantage of an opportunity for more snaps," Nutt said. "They did that. I love what I saw from Carlos Ousley. He's making plays."
Nutt said all three of the veteran tailbacks ... Cobbs, Talley and Holmes ... ran with authority, but he had special praise for Cobbs.
"If you notice, Cedric isn't dancing," Nutt said. "He's come a long way. He is hitting the holes with authority. I have been impressed with his toughness this spring. He hit the holes hard today. He ran strong."
Nutt said the bulk of the spring work is now concluded. The Hogs will practice three more days in pads, including a final scrimmage on April 13, a made-for-TV affair that will be about half as long as the scrimmage he put his squad through Saturday.
"Two things we wanted today was great effort and to see what they know," Nutt said. "We wanted to see them play hard and to see who knows their assignments without a coach being out there to tell them. We have something to look at on a lot of players as far as evaluation."
Nutt said the Hogs were still awaiting word on the severity of Wilson's knee injury. He was scheduled for an MRI some time Saturday afternoon. Lorinezo Robinson, redshirt freshman safety, suffered a bruise to his thigh in a goal line session Saturday, but the injury was not believed to be serious.
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack was "disappointed" with the play of his unit in a 100-play scrimmage Saturday.
"We wanted to play with great emotion, but that was gone after the first play," Wommack said. "Matt Jones went through us for what ... 65 yards ... and we never got it back. There's no excuse for that. You can't let it go after one play, but I thought we did today.
"I was really pleased yesterday. We worked hard for 90 minutes and didn't have any busts and had great concentration for an entire practice. We played hard and smart in every drill. I left the field thinking we were ready for the scrimmage. I guess we left it on the field yesterday.
"This scrimmage was a situation where we could look at people and see who is ready to play. It's more of a deal where you eliminate those who don't know assignments or bust them. We stressed alignment, assignments and tackling. For whatever reason, the offense took it to us.
"I thought we were getting better, but we didnt' get it done today. Did they block us? I'm sure they did. I told our defense after practice that I still love them, but what they did today was not acceptable. It sure ruined a good weekend for me. The good thing is that this is not a Saturday in the fall, and we didn't lose a game. We can get better from this, and we will. I still think we will have a good team. The good news is that it was our offense doing it to us, and I think there are some really good players over there."
As far as highlights, Wommack cited the play of Jimmy Beasley, Bo Mosley, Marvin Jackson, Gavin Walls, Tony Bua and Ken Hamlin. Earlier Nutt also singled out Raymond House, Arrion Dixon, Elliott Harris and Scott Summers for work in the defensive line.
"We are thin at some spots right now," Wommack said, "so we had Jimmy trained at rover, wolf and gator ... three positions. He was flying to the ball and making plays. He is a winner and he will help our team."
Beasley, who led the first team defense with seven tackles Saturday, made the loudest hit of the day, popping tailback Kyle Dickerson squarely in the numbers after the redshirt freshman caught a pass in the flats.
The defense did not force any turnovers, but Hamlin, playing with a cast on his broken right thumb, dropped a potential interception after stepping in front of a Matt Jones pass.
Wake Forest transfer Carlos Ousley has been impressive for the last week in practices, and dazzled with two touchdown catches in the scrimmage Saturday. He had four catches for 94 yards to lead all receivers.
"I just wanted to take advantage of my opportunity," Ousley said. "George Wilson is one of our leaders, and he was out today. I had to step up and pick up some of the slack with him not able to work.
"I feel more comfortable with the offense now. It's starting to click. I started feeling it about the middle of this week. I had to learn the sets, the plays and the reasons for what we are doing, and then it started to feel good. It's coming to me now."
Wide receiver coach James Shibest said Ousley isn't the fastest member of his group, but may be one of the headiest.
"Some guys just want to come out to practice and do what's asked of them during the time you are out there working, then there are some that take the time to learn it inside and out off the field," Shibest said. "That's Carlos ... someone who is trying to learn the game of football. He has the maturity to ask questions in meetings and on the field about the reasons behind some things. And, he worked to get used to what we are doing so he could relax and make plays. That's what you are seeing with Carlos now.
"Carlos isn't a burner, but he has great feet. He knows how to get open. He knows how to move into the zones and find a soft spot. He has the quickness and the feet to get that separation that you need at wide receiver. He runs great routes and can get away from the defender.
"I thought Carlos had an outstanding day, but all of our wide receivers had a good day. I don't think we had any drops today. I thought Carlos, Decori Birmingham, Sparky Hamilton and Sam Breeden all had really good days. I was proud of them. We just need to keep coming and add consistency so we do it every single day."
Birmingham had some brilliant runs after short catches.
"We are putting Decori in the slot along with Carlos and moving them around," Shibest said. "You can see that Decori is extremely dangerous after he catches the ball. He looked great today."
Offensive line coach Mike Markuson was pleased with the way his units blocked, but tempered that with a notation that the defense is without all of its bullets this spring.
"We've had a good spring, and we are better up front," Markuson said. "But, I don't know that we are seeing all of the bullets our defense will have in the fall. I want to see how we do against guys like Jermaine Brooks. That's the kind of player we will see against Alabama, Tennesee and in the rest of the SEC.
"We are going against some young defensive linemen right now. They are trying hard and they will be good players, but they are still learning.
"I'm happy because we moved the ball today and that's a great positive. Sometimes it's hard to move it against air because so many things can go wrong. So, you have to be happy with the execution. The center exchange was good and we had a lot of centers and a lot of quarterbacks moving in and out. So that's a real positive.
"I think we have eight or nine players who could still wind up being starters in the line. We have a real battle going on at center, and some other spots.
"I told the centers in individual meetings before the spring that I'm not comfortable at that position. I'm saying that about a first or second team spot there. I just want to see them compete all spring and see what we get there.
"I want to see someone push Josh Melton for that starting spot, and so far Dan Doughty and Caleb Perry are doing that at center. I thought Kyle Roper would push Josh, too, but when we lost Jim Peters (back injury) at right guard, we had to move Kyle to guard.
"Are we there yet at center? I don't know. I still want to see them play against good people in a fast atmosphere. I think when we see our inside guys go against someone like Jermaine Brooks, we'll know a little better. We won't know until then if they can really handle it. If they can play against Jermaine, they can play against anybody. But, we don't have Jermaine out there right now."
Matt Jones 7-88 1 TD, LP 65
Cedric Cobbs 7-60, 1 TD, LP 29
Kyle Dickerson 5-37, 1TD, LP 39
Fred Talley 7-36, LP 36
Brandon Holmes 5-22, LP 10
Mark Pierce 4-16, LP 5
Tarvaris Jackson 3-12
Decori Birmingham 1-7
Ryan Sorahan 1-minus 4
Jackson 7-15-0 for 115 yards, 3 TDs.
Sorahan 5-9-0 for 55 yards, 1 TD.
Matt Jones 2-11-0 for 28 yards.
Carlos Ousley 4-94, 2 TDs, 46 LP.
Brandon Holmes 3-25, 1 TD, 13 LP.
Sam Breeden 2-28, 19 LP.
Decori Bimingham 2-23, 1 TD.
Fred Talley 1-17.
Matt Jones calls out the signals as the top offense works against the second defense.
Matt Jones keeps on the mid-line option as the offensive line walls off the defense.
Ryan Sorahan fades into the end zone as Cedric Cobbs pushes up the middle as the Hogs work on moving the ball off the goal line. Around 2,500 fans attended the scrimmage.
Photos by Clay Henry