Saturday Grid Update, 4/7
Offense produced big play after big play in the second major scrimmage of the spring, but the offensive coaches weren't bragging. Instead, they were thanking defensive coordinator Reggie Herring for "being nice."
Darren McFadden and Felix Jones didn't see action, per the plans for the day. But that didn't keep quarterbacks Casey Dick and Nathan Emert from enjoying their finest day of the spring. Both produced big plays in the passing game and running backs Michael Smith and Hezekiah Smith found running room for big plays on the ground.
It was all enough to encourage a large throng who went inside Walker Pavilion for the scrimmage after head coach Houston Nutt decided 24 degree temperatures were too low to hold the workout in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The fans called the Hogs as Nutt talked to his assembled squad afterwards. Nutt stopped his talk to help fans finish the Hog Call.
The offense produced nine plays of 20 yards or more, highlighted by Michael Smith's 56-yard touchdown run on his first carry. Smith later had a 63-yard run. Reggie Fish scored on a 50-yard reverse and had a 44-yard reception; Marcus Monk had a 53-yard reception, Marques Wade a 37-yarder and Peyton Hillis a 32-yarder.
Smith rushed for 139 yards on eight carries, an average of 17.4 yards per rush, and scored one touchdown. Last week, even with the defense dominating, he had 41 yards on four carries. In the two scrimmages, he has 180 yards on 12 carries, an average of 15.0 yards per rush.
Fullbacks Farod Jackson and Hezekiah Smith combined for 51 yards on 16 carries.
Dick, after going four-of-seven for 16 yards last week, was 14-of-18 for 236 yards with four touchdowns. Over one stretch, he completed seven straight passes for 77 yards and he ended his day with three straight completes for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
His scoring passes covered 32 and 19 yards to Hillis, nine to London Crawford and 53 to Monk.
Emert, who was nine-of-15 for 68 yards a week ago, was eight-of-12 for 130 yards with a nine-yard scoring pass to Jackson.
Hillis, who also had one rush for 11 yards, had three catches for 77 yards and the two scores. Wade had three for 57 yards, Crawford three for 33, Monk two for 62, John Aaron Rees two for 27, Rod Coleman two for 18 and Jackson two for 13.
End Adrian Davis, moved from linebacker earlier in the week, led the defense in big plays. He had four tackles and three sacks.
"I thought when we went out (of the Broyles Center) that 24 was too cold for all the people who came up to see us," Nutt said. "I know it's hard to find room to see in (Walker Pavilion), but practicing in temperatures that cold would have been a distraction and we would have risked some pulled muscles, too."
The scrimmage was in stark contrast to the first of the spring a week ago when Herring's defense produced nine sacks, mostly against the first offensive line. After that, both Herring and new offensive coordinator David Lee promised things would be different in a week and that came true.
"I guess I was just lucky (with that prediction)," Lee said. "I'm telling you straight up in respect for our defense, Coach Herring was nice to us today. He didn't bring the heat that we had seen earlier. Let's just say that Reggie was more than accommodating today. After nine sacks last Saturday, he backed off. He told me this morning, you should have a good day."
Offensive line coach Mike Markuson had similar thoughts.
"He brought some blitzes, but he didn't load the "A" gap with two people like he did last Saturday," Markuson said of Herring's stunts Saturday. "We had nine sacks last Saturday and we cleaned that up today, but part of that was that he didn't bring all of his pressures. He can make your head swim if he brings all his stuff.
"What happened today was that he let our offense get some confidence. That's a head coach stepping in to let one side have some success. But we were better today. We didn't turn people loose like we did last Saturday. There were still some blitzes. We protected them better. Last Saturday, of the nine blitzes, five of them were just mental. It wasn't like we were getting whipped. We just whiffed. We weren't whiffing today."
The good news is that when the defense did bring some heat, the quarterbacks read it and found the right man.
"We read some pressures and hit some hots and shorts," Lee said. "That's some progress. We hit some slants. We hit four or five slants today. That's encouraging. If the pressure comes, we picked it up and hit the right man in the right area. From day one, we've worked hard on the slants. We've worked on them every day. It's good to see our quarterbacks and wideouts read the pressures and connect.
"I think what you are seeing is some growth in our wideouts. The young ones are picking up the pressures. Our quarterbacks and wideouts are on the same page. I'm pleased with the progress that coach (Alex) Wood has made with our wideouts. They are coming."
Marques Wade, Rod Coleman, Carlton Salters and London Crawford all made big plays on slant cuts. There were also other plays in the passing game from Marcus Monk and Reggie Fish.
"What you see every day is that Reggie Fish is the one who can get his release and get separation," Lee said. "Reggie is a little target and our quarterbacks have to bring the ball down a little for him. But we are making plays with him."
The offense produced big plays up the middle in both the passing and running game against the first and second defense. But the defense did not have all of its main weapons as end Antwain Robinson (hip flexor) and middle linebacker Weston Dacus (slight concussion) were held out of the scrimmage.
"The offense didn't have all of its bullets today," Markuson said. "We know some of their best players were out."
Of course, the offense wasn't with its best backs, either. However, Michael Smith's runs were hardly anything to sneeze about.
"I've said this and I may be out of line in talking about a position I do not coach, but when you look at Michael Smith, you see a back who could start at about any other SEC school," Lee said. "So we were hardly handicapped without (McFadden and Jones). I'm telling you, too, Peyton Hillis is a special player. He made some big plays today, too.
"We could have used Monk more, but we are trying to develop a number two wideout. We are on the right page there, I think. With another week and 30 more practices in the fall, I think we are going to have some more weapons with our wide receivers to make it tough to double cover Monk. Our wideouts are getting better every day."
Lee said the installation of the major part of the offense is over and that's one of the major reasons the offense had more polish to it Saturday. But he promises one more day of tinkering and adjustments on Monday.
"We are going to get into the Wildcat formation on Monday," he said. "I've got some new wrinkles and a few plays to add to that. We'll work on that Monday and have one last installation day for the spring. I know some of the guys are excited about that."
That would be McFadden, the quarterback in the Wildcat package. He nodded his head with a big grin when a reporter hollered at him on the way out of Walker Pavilion on Saturday. He said he was aware of the new stuff on the way Monday and couldn't wait to operate in Lee's new stuff.
Nutt said he was pleased with the way the offense responded Saturday. He said it was a matter of hard work in the last six days.
"First, I think it should be noted that Coach Lee really challenged them," Nutt said. "Second, the players responded and worked hard. We've been getting better and correcting things each day since last Saturday. The players have committed themselves to getting better.
"The slants look good. We hit quite a few this week. We hit five or six today. We hit some seams, too. Coach Lee has done a good job of installation and our quarterbacks and wideouts are getting better and better with them. We've got speed and ability at wideout and they are getting off the line and getting open. We've got some size and strength at wideout and they are making plays.
"We are getting Monk some help. We have some talent there. Some young players are growing up. Our wideouts are having a great camp."
So is Michael Smith.
"He deserves to play," Nutt said. "He's had a great camp and he comes to work every day. His teammates respect him. He's earned the right to play. He's breaking tackles, making people miss. He popped a run early today and that gave our offense a lift. It showed we are capable of big plays and we made quite a few today."
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