It's a true Red-White game with competitive situations throughout the roster. Second teamers have a chance to move up. First teamers are at risk. The battles are real and important in many places.
So what should we focus on during this Red-White game? What are the key aspects for the 6 p.m. start Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium? We'll give you 10 things to keep your focus for the spring game. Here's our HI.com Top 10 Things to See for Saturday night.
1) Can the defense contain this offense and eliminate the big plays that have plagued that side of the ball for the last two seasons. It won't be easy. That's the good news. This offense can put up some big numbers and it might be impossible to hold down any Bobby Petrino attack.There are specific battles that are going to take place on defense. But the overall improvement on defense might be the key aspect of the coming season, can the defense cut down on the big chunks of yardage it allows.
2) The top quarterback throughout the spring has been Tyler Wilson. That shouldn't change in the Red-White game. He's been dominant at that position and improved in all aspects over the course of the spring. He's been better under center, accurate with his passing and has even shown an ability to run the ball out of the Pistol formation. Can Wilson maintain that edge in the spring game. He could be the difference and elevate the Red team to a big victory.
3) There are some fun matchups as the coaches divided the teams into separate Red and White squads. If you want to pick one to watch down after down when the Red team has the ball, find DeMarcus Love and Jake Bequette. They are two of the team's best players and they'll go at it for the better part of the game. Love plays weakside tackle and Bequette is the top rush end on that side of the ball. They were pitted intentionally to try to improve both of them. It should be a fun battle.
4) Find Darius Winston at cornerback. He'll be wearing No. 21 for the red squad. That matches him with White team receivers Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, depending on formation. That's probably a handful for the rising sophomore cornerback. Adams and Wright should be two of the SEC's top receivers next season. If Winston holds his own, that's a great sign for how far he's come this spring.
5) The battle of the two middle linebackers is a huge key for the defense. It was one of the major question marks that loomed ahead of spring, according to Petrino. Jermaine Love will play the spot for the White team. Terrell Williams mans the mike linebacker for the Red. Love has been with the ones all spring, but Williams seemed to close in the scrimmage a week ago Friday. This might be the day the depth chart is decided for this spot.
6) Strongside tackle in the offensive front might be up for grabs, too. Ray Dominguez has been a starter most of the last two seasons, but Anthony Oden has provided a big challenge this spring. Oden provides fascinating size at the strong tackle spot. He's 6-8 by 325 and has shown he can be a force in the run game this spring. He is still mastering all aspects of pass protection and will be trying to show he can be consistent. Oden has gotten some first team snaps this spring and could make this a tight battle ahead of the fall with a big night in the spring game.
7) Seth Oxner is a returning starter at center, but redshirt freshman Travis Swanson has caught the eye of the coaches with a quickness, speed and a nasty streak. Petrino said Swanson has a way of wiggling past guards and on top of linebackers in consistent fashion. Oxner is probably the stronger run blocker. He's just a load, but is still getting a challenge from Swanson.
8) Can Chris Gragg and Austin Tate provide solid depth at tight end. D. J. Williams is a solid No. 1. But the Hogs will use two and sometimes three tight ends in many formations, counting H-back and fullback situations. Gragg and Tate have both proven to be good pass catchers this spring. Can they be as good as blockers. Tate is going to be a tired tight end since he is slated to play for both squads. Remember, Ben Cleveland will return in the fall after missing most of the spring because of an emergency appendectomy early in the spring.
9) Are there any highlights in special teams. That has been a big focus in all areas this spring, but there still doesn't appear to be a clear bright spot at either punter or placekicker. Freshmen might contend for these two spots in August. Dennis Johnson is the best special teams player (unless it is Seth Armbrust) as the kickoff returner. The punt return situations won't be live, but it's worth watching to see if anyone besides Jarius Wright can consistently field the punts.
10) Finally, watch the safeties. Tramain Thomas and Rudell Crim have worked with the ones at free and strong, respectively, this week. Anthony Leon started the spring as the top free safety, but moved down the depth chart midway through the month. Ross Rasner also got some snaps with the first team at safety, but slipped to the third team in the final week. It would seem that Crim is a firm starter at the strong safety spot after the way they lined up this week, but how he performs in the spring game might change that feeling. There might not be a more important position to watch than the two sets of safeties. If the Hogs are to achieve goal number one (limit big plays), it may come down to how the safeties hold up over the course of the season.
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