FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Junior quarterback Robert Johnson and junior free safety Matt Hewitt were on opposite sides of the ball on Saturday night, but both players made their presence known in the passing game in Arkansas’ first major fall scrimmage in front of an estimated crowd of 6,500 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Johnson completed seven-of-eight passes for 109 yards including consecutive 20, 21 and 20-yard passes to set up an early touchdown. After the trio of pass completions on the first-team offense’s opening drive, sophomore tailback Felix Jones scampered in from three yards for the touchdown.
Freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain also netted the Razorback offense a touchdown when he connected with John Aaron Rees for a 26-yard score. Mustain finished the night with five completions on eight attempts, a touchdown and one interception. Sophomore Casey Dick didn’t scrimmage Saturday night while resting a sore back.
“I think, for the first time coming out here, I was proud of what Robert (Johnson) did,” Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. “I thought he was very accurate. After a slow start, Mitch (Mustain) got going and started throwing some good balls. I think he’ll learn and I think he’ll get better next time.”
Freshman Damian Williams provided the biggest rushing play of the night when he took a reverse handoff 50 yards for a touchdown. Junior Peyton Hillis rushed four times for 15 yards and scored a two-yard touchdown. Jones also earned a rushing score and nine yards on four carries. Both Hillis and Jones donned green shirts and were off limits to would-be tacklers.
Junior Marcus Monk paced the Hogs with four catches for 81 yards. Rees was on the receiving end of two passes for a total of 44 yards including the 26-yard strike from Mustain.
Hewitt was as effective defending the pass as the Hogs’ top two quarterbacks were delivering the football through the air. The junior college transfer led the Razorbacks with six tackles, but more impressively snared two interceptions and racked up three pass deflections. Hewitt is competing with junior Michael Grant for the starting free safety position. Nutt is counting on some of the newcomers like Hewitt to step in to help the team right away.
“Guys like Matt Hewitt, who we hadn’t seen very much of, is going to have to (continue to) learn how to play,” Nutt said. “He is making great strides. It was good to see Michael Grant out there. He is covering some ground and I’ll be anxious to watch that part of it.”
Sophomores Dallas Washington and Desmond Williams each earned five tackles while Arkansas’ defensive front of Marcus Harrison, Jamaal Anderson and Keith Jackson all netted three tackles a piece. Anderson earned two tackles for loss (-13) and one sack (-9). Harrison earned a tackle for loss (-2) and a sack (-2). Jackson garnered one tackle for loss (-1). Fellow senior defensive lineman Anthony Brown injured his left knee in the scrimmage action and will undergo an MRI on Sunday.
Senior linebacker Desmond Sims racked up three tackles, including two stops for lost yardage (-1). Senior cornerback Darius Vinnett also snared an interception.
The Razorbacks spent significant time on the kicking game on Saturday night. Senior Jacob Skinner and sophomore Jeremy Davis handled all the punting duties prior to the official start of the scrimmage. Davis then joined a trio of other Razorbacks in placekicking opportunities.
Freshman walk-on Dan Bailey was impressive nailing four of his five field goal attempts including one from 44 yards. Stephen Arnold was successful on one extra point and three of his four field goal attempts. Davis and Joel Hall each hit two of four placements.
Nutt was pleased with his squad’s performance overall in the first major scrimmage of fall camp. The Razorbacks’ head coach says that position battles are heating up and now is the time for players to step up if they want snaps this season.
“I thought our guys were really focused tonight,” Nutt said. “It’s going to be fun watching the film. I think we played just about everybody on the sidelines and got them some snaps. We are looking for execution, looking for who’s going to take care of the ball, who’s going to chase the ball and who’s following their assignment. That has been our theme all through camp.”
Arkansas will take Sunday off from practicing, but will return to the gridiron on Monday with two practices. As the Razorbacks head into the second week of pre-season camp, Nutt is counting on his team continuing to make progress as the season opener approaches.
“This team is a band of brothers united and focused and now we have to get better,” Nutt said. “Next week is going to be a real grind. You can’t do a lot of scrimmaging but you can come to work very hard.”