Defense Dominates as Hogs Conclude Spring Prac
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – An estimated 10,300 fans watched Arkansas conclude spring football practice at the annual Red-White Spring Game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday morning.
The first-team Razorback defense dominated and did not allow a touchdown in the 48-play scrimmage. Arkansas’ quarterbacks didn’t have much time in the pocket thanks to the fierce pass rush. Junior Desmond Sims was the main culprit pressuring the Hogs’ signal callers racking up three sacks for -20 yards and number of quarterback hurries. Sims has been impressive this spring, especially considering he is lining up a new position. The former outside linebacker is quickly showing why his move to defensive end is looking more promising everyday.
“He did a good job of making a position change, being unselfish for the team,” Nutt said. “He is contributing and making a lot of plays. He is a play-maker. I’m excited about him in that new position.”
Sims wasn’t the only Razorback defender around the ball on Saturday. Fellow defensive end Zach Snider tallied 3.5 tackles on the day including a tackle for loss (-5). Junior defensive tackle Keith Jackson and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Ernest Mitchell also tied for the team lead with 3.5 tackles.
Junior free safety Randy Kelly hauled in the only interception of the day returning it 21 yards. Senior strong safety Vickiel Vaughn scooped up a fumble and raced 45 yards before being forced out of bounds.
The swarming defensive effort and an injury depleted offensive line contributed to some offensive struggles on Saturday. Sophomore quarterback Robert Johnson completed three of six passes for six yards. Johnson took all of his snaps against the first-team defense.
“Robert (Johnson) is ahead right now,” Nutt said. “If we played right now, he would go in first, because he has the experience. But they all have room for improvement, which you saw today.”
Redshirt freshman Alex Mortensen connected on two of six pass attempts for 56 yards including a 43-yard completion to Chris Baker to set up the first score of the game. Sophomore tailback Peyton Hillis finished off the scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
Freshman Cole Barthel was the most efficient of the Razorback signal callers completing two of three passes for 31 yards and two touchdowns. He found Fayetteville, Ark., native Cedric Logan for a 22-yard touchdown through the air and later hooked up with fullback Farod Jackson for a nine-yard score. Barthel also contributed to another scoring play. On his first snap, he completed a lateral to sophomore wide receiver Marcus Monk who in turn lofted a 40-yard scoring pass to Hillis.
“Cole Barthel has just been away from football for a little while,” Nutt said. “I love the intangible he has. He has good composure and finds the secondary receiver under pressure real well. He has done a good job.
Hillis was the Razorbacks’ leading rusher earning 42 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. In addition to his one-yard run to start the scoring, he also toted it in from 10 yards for the final touchdown. Senior Kyle Dickerson earned nine carries netting 32 yards. Logan led all UA receivers with 24 yards on two catches. Six other Razorbacks made at least one catch with Baker (43) and Hillis (40) hauling in the big gainers.
Arkansas’ kickers got plenty of work in Saturday’s game. Senior Chris Balseiro nailed six of nine field goal attempts including a long of 47 yards. Sophomore punter Jeremy Davis averaged 37.0 yards per kick on six punts while junior Jacob Skinner netted a 36.2 yard average on five punts.
The spring game marked the end of spring practice for the Razorbacks. Arkansas will convene fall camp on Aug. 7 and take the field for the first time against Southwest Missouri State on Sept. 3. While Nutt and his staff could always use more time on the practice field, the eighth-year head coach was pleased with the work his squad got done during the past three weeks.
“I was happy with the way things went this spring,” Nutt said. “We had to work around some injuries, especially on the offensive line, but we were able to get some things done. It will be extremely important for our guys to continue to work over the summer so we are ready to go in the fall. It was a beautiful day and we had a good crowd. It was a good way to end spring ball.”
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