An estimated 9,500 fans got their first look at the 2005 Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday night as the Hogs staged a 90-minute scrimmage in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt and his staff did their best to emulate game situations in the 64-play scrimmage. Nutt says getting live scrimmage work two weeks away from the season opener is valuable in evaluating personnel.
“We got to play a lot of people tonight,” Nutt said. “It’s amazing after you practice this long and then you put them under a game-like situation, it’s amazing how sometimes things change. You want them on automatic pilot and to do exactly what you’ve been doing in practice. Sometimes you revert back to some bad habits. We made some mistakes tonight. We expected that, but there were some good things that happened tonight.”
Starting quarterback Robert Johnson rested a groin injury and tailback Peyton Hillis missed the scrimmage due to illness. Several other first-team players sat out as a precaution. Although a handful of first-team players watched from the sideline, there were still plenty of Razorback standouts on both sides of the ball.
Freshmen Darren McFadden and Felix Jones led the Razorbacks in rushing on the night. McFadden earned 79 yards on 10 carries including a 32-yard scamper. Jones carried the ball 10 times for 34 yards including an 18-yard gain. Senior tailback De’Arrius Howard rushed only four times for 12 yards, but scored two touchdowns in the process.
“We’ve been telling you after every practice they (the young running backs) are very, very good,” Nutt said. “They are mature. They have to make sure they hold onto the football, but they can make people miss and they can run. That’s what is exciting. I love the way Felix Jones can split a crease. He gets north so quick. Darren McFadden has break-away speed and he showed some of his elusiveness tonight. De’Arrius Howard is an experienced, powerful runner. You give him a little push at the line of scrimmage and he can get his pads over his toes and he can run.”
With Johnson on the sidelines, freshmen quarterbacks Alex Mortensen and Cole Barthel saw a bulk of the snaps at quarterback. Mortensen connected on five of 11 passes for 58 yards including a 25-yard strike to Cedric Washington. Barthel looked sharp completing five of eight pass attempts for 88 yards. One of the most spectacular plays of the night came when Barthel dropped a pass over the shoulder of sophomore Cedric Logan who hauled the ball in with one hand for a gain of 24 yards.
“We were sloppy at first and they didn’t execute the way we wanted them to, but I’m sure if you ask any one of them they know they can do better,” Nutt said. ”We still have two weeks. I thought Alex has made the most improvement in the last week and he’s really coming on. He’ll be even better when all the weapons are on the field at once.”
Defensively, Michael Coe turned in the most electrifying play of the night. Coe picked off a Barthel pass and raced 92 yards on an interception return for a touchdown. Freshman Jamar Love also earned an interception late in the scrimmage.
Freshman linebacker Kevin Thornton made the most of his work at his new position. Thornton, who moved from strong safety to strong side linebacker earlier in camp, led the Hogs with five tackles. Senior strong safety Vickiel Vaughn and sophomore free safety Dallas Washington each earned four tackles.
Redshirt freshman Zach Snider also has seemingly made the transition from linebacker to defensive end. The Tulsa, Okla., product made two tackles for loss (-6) at his new position on Saturday night. Junior defensive tackle Keith Jackson tallied the only sack of the night for a loss of seven yards.
The Saturday night scrimmage was the culmination of a day that began at 10 a.m. with the annual fan day activities. Razorback coaches and players signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans for two hours just north of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. An afternoon thunderstorm and dark skies threatened to postpone the scrimmage, but the skies cleared and allowed the squad and the fans an opportunity to cap the day with some football.
“For the most part I thought there was tremendous effort and a great atmosphere,” Nutt said. “We want to thank the fans. This was a great day and we appreciate our fans. We had a good scrimmage and I’m anxious to watch the film.”