Two weeks from tonight, Reynolds Razorback Stadium will be packed with fans and Western Illinois will be on the opposing sideline as the Bobby Petrino era begins.
But this Saturday it was just the University of Arkansas football team and a few boosters as the Razorbacks closed practice to the public and media and went at each other in a two-hour scrimmage that ended before noon.
"It went good," Petrino said. "That scrimmage will help us. What we did was play it just about like how we did the spring game. We had coaches off the field, ones versus twos, a lot more of the kicking game and special teams practice and it will certainly carry over.
"We will have a mock game this coming Friday night and then two weeks from tonight we get to line it up and go," Petrino added.
"We definitely got better today," he continued. " We need to play better than we did, need to understand the situations of the game, understand the downs and distance, where we are on the field, but we got a lot practiced and got a great video to coach off of."
That video will show several players with nice efforts including a plethora of folks on offense as well as freshmen defender Elton Ford, who Petrino says took both an interception and a blocked punt back from a touchdown.
"I think we came out again on offense and executed well," Petrino said. " We threw and caught the ball, the offensive line did a nice job with the run blocking, (tailbacks) Michael Smith and Dennis Johnson both had some big runs.
"Defensively we created some turnovers. Our young freshman, Elton Ford, had an interception for a touchdown, made a real nice play and blocked a punt and picked that up for a touchdown. So I thought the defense created some turnovers and that is something that we definitely need."
Starting quarterback Casey Dick apparently threw a couple of touchdown passes to London Crawford and at least one each to D.J. Williams and true freshmen wideouts Jarius Wright and Joe Adams.
"Casey had a good day," Petrino said. "He did a nice job. He executed well. He had one pick in the end zone – which we wouldn't have liked to have seen. But he came back later on in the scrimmage, called the same exact play and threw it for a touchdown."
Dick talked about how the number one offense had a fast start, hit a lull and then finished up strong.
""We were really hot at the beginning, scored a lot,' Dick said. "In the middle, we've got to be able to keep it going, keep our pedal down and keep going. At the end, we were able to pick it up and start scoring again."
He noted he had a lot of friends making plays for him on Saturday.
"London had a great day," Dick said. "Jarius Wright had a fantastic day. D.J. had a great day. (Tight end) Andrew Davie made some critical catches for us whenever he needed to make some catches. All those receivers did real well catching the ball and making plays for us after the catch."
"We had quite a few big plays throwing the ball and running the ball," Dick added. "We had a bunch of long runs, screen passes and doing other things like that. It was a pretty good day for us."
All-American center Jonathon Luigs echoed some of those same sentiments about the day.
"We came out the first five or six drives and put it in there without any hiccups," Luigs said. "Then we come out the next series and start with penalties, false starts, and then start missing some assignments, getting sacks, throwing interceptions. So really it turned ugly pretty quick."
"It's real frustrating," Luigs said. "You've got to look down inside
and really just keep the same emotion when you have when you first come out. You can't see your success and get complacent with it. You've got to keep grinding with your foot on the pedal and really grind the defense down."
Dick worked with the first team while back-ups Nathan Dick and Tyler Wilson guide the twos with a late series led by redshirting Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett.
"We continue to get opportunities where we can build that confidence," Petrino said. "I can't remember who threw the interception for a touchdown. It was either Nathan on Tyler Wilson. They both played with the twos and Mallett got one series with them, too."
Petrino said that no one has yet stepped up to take over the back-up signal caller role.
"No, not really," Petrino said. "I think it was kind of like last week where Nathan moved the team and then Tyler came in, got in the shotgun and threw the ball all over the place. He has got a great feel for the game and very good vision. He sees things sometimes and can get the ball out real quick. We've some work to do to figure that one up."
Petrino does know that he has some wideouts coming to the forefront.
"London had a big day," Petrino said. "He caught a couple of big, long throws and ran one and made a real nice long run.
"The youngsters played pretty good," Petrino added. "Joe (Adams) came out and had a couple of early plays and showed his speed. He is starting to get his speed back, get over the nagging pull. That was good to see because I was concerned about him the last three days because he wasn't as fast as he had been."
Crawford was quick to laud the youngsters as well.
"Those guys are really stepping up and bringing something to the table," Crawford said. "Joe made some great catches and Jarius Wright, well, that guy's heart is bigger than he is. I love playing with that guy. He's going to make a lot of big plays this season and while he is here at Arkansas."
It's clear that the defense is still lagging behind the offense although Petrino did not that it was the second defense giving up big plays on Saturday for the most part and not the starters.
"We still need a little more pass rush, we still need to get everyone to the football better, fly around," Petrino said. "We did give them a lot of run looks so I thought we're getting a little bit better defending the run, but we still are a little bit behind our offense.
"I think we have got to have a great week of practice and improve defensively and make sure we limit what we are doing," the UA head coach added. "We have a bunch of young guys out there so some of it was one guy making a mistake here, one guy making a mistake there, which certainly we can get corrected and put the whole package together."
Part of the reason the defense is lagging behind is because it currently has true freshman linebacker Khiry Battle joining Ford and other youthful defenders on that side of the ball.
The Razorbacks were without injured upperclassmen Elston Forte and Ryan Powers leaving sophomore starting Jerry Franklin and Battle with the first unit.
"We're young, I tell you what," Petrino said. "… Out there we had Jerry Franklin and Jerry is doing a nice job…He has improved a lot since spring and has great understanding of how to defend the pass. I think that is the number one area he has improved. He is doing a good job of tackling. He still needs to come downhill a little bit more versus the run game.
"We had Khiry Battle in there with the ones at the Will linebacker," Petrino noted. "He is aggressive and he is going to run around and tackle. Obviously he had a few assignment errors today, but he is a quick learner and he is real eager.
"We need to get those other guys back out here to practice, but if not we will just line up with what we have got and play full speed."
The defense did get rush end Antwain Robinson back on Saturday.
"Yes, he did (practice) and he did good," Petrino said. "He really has a knack of rushing the passer. I didn't think he looked as fast as he did the other day, but that is probably because he is a little bit sore. It was great to have him back out."
Safety Matt Harris said his unit did better on Saturday while basically answering a challenge from defensive coordinator Willy Willy Robinson, who voiced his displeasure to the media about the defense on Friday.
"i thought we responded pretty well. we had a faster start
than we usually did in the past two scrimmages," Harris said. "So that right there was a positive, but we still had a few mistakes we'd like to clean up. There was some big plays today, but there was some things that we can correct. We're moving ahead, but we're not perfect. We're just trying to fine-tune right
now. we're not messing up on the bigt things anymore, but we're tyring to correct those details that can make us great."
Harris also talked about how if you score on one defender, it's scoring on all 11.
"It's definitely a team thing," Harris said. "When he challenges one person on defense, it's kind of like a whole thing. if a
corner or a safety gets beat deep for a touchdown, the whole defense gets scored on. we hold each other accountable as a team and as a defense. It will push us and make us better down the line."
Defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard said he had not heard of Robinson's rant until Saturday, but knew on his own that the defense better improve.
"I didn't read the paper and it doesn't matter if willy robinson is mad and going to the media," Sheppard said, "because if he's mad, we individually want to get better."
Arkansas will get Sunday off and get back to work on the field Monday.
"We'll go one on Monday and I guess Tuesday you can say we are going to go one-and-a-half – in the morning and then come out again in the afternoon and really concentrate on special teams and really try to make sure we cover all the things we haven't yet like fake punt, hands team, onside, all those things you have to make sure you are ready to get down," Petrino said.
"We'll then go once on Wednesday and Thursday and then have a mock game on Friday night.
Petrino will take it off of his team a little this week.
"It will change a little bit," Petrino said. What we are going to do this coming week is work against each other about half the time and then we'll work toward our opener the other half. The next week then we will go full game week preparations. I think we have got a good game plan for it.
"We do need to freshen up," Petrino added. "I think that is the one thing you see is that we have two-a-day legs. Everyone is not at their top speed and we need to freshen up so next Friday night it will be real fast. We need to get our legs back under us."
Franklin's all for that.
"I'd say we have a lot of camp legs," Franklin said. "I can't wait to
get my legs back and see how i feel, see how it feels to be full speed again."
Casey Dick, Carlton Salters
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