The Razorbacks were greeted with cheers as they took the field for Saturday morning's scrimmage, but it was Paul Haynes and company who would win the crowd over and garner the majority of applause. Even without three projected starters (linebakers Tank Wright and Alonzo Highsmith and safety Eric Bennett) the boys in white put on quite a show racking up 26 tackles behind the line, 12 of which were sacks. Tyler Wilson and company looked out of sync most of the scrimmage, but did not fail to give fans a taste of what they're used to. Tyler finished the day 21/39 for 291 yards with 4 TD and 2 interceptions, one was returned for a touchdown by freshman LB Otha Peters. However, the combination of dropped balls, fumbled exchanges, high snaps, and an aggressive, well coached defense was too much for Wilson and company to overcome.The defense played as a unit. The secondary has progressed immensely, whether it was disrupting would-be catches or providing lock down coverage allowing the front seven to impose their will, sending the quarterbacks scrambling on several occasions. Six defenders recorded sacks, lead by converted LB Kiero Small, who came off the field only to switch jerseys. He recorded 2 sacks of his own to go with 5 tackles and a 13 yard reception on offense. Sophomore safety Alan Turner led all players with 8 tackles. The most impressive aspect of the defense's game, however, wasn't gaudy numbers. It was the way they played together, white jerseys were swarming to the ball, they were finishing tackles, delivering punishing blows. They played with a fire and a swagger about them that reflected their coaching. They were tough, they were aggressive and were dominant at times, stopping the offense cold on seven straight series. To the delight of hog fans everywhere, this unit is no longer tainted with the fingerprints of Willie Robinson, this group looks to bring a new identity to the Arkansas defense, and Saturday was an impressive first step.
The offense did show several bright spots, however. With Knile Davis still being held out of full contact, Tyler took the field with the usual suspects, but it was an old face in a new place that impressed. QB turned WR Brandon Mitchell was a favorite target of Wilson's, hauling in 9 passes including a first drive touchdown. He would finish with 74 yards, second only to Cobi Hamilton, who had 85 yards. Dennis Johnson led all rushers with 75 yards. On the final drive, he romped for 15 yards before all eleven defenders wrangled the bullish ball carrier. He's picked up right where he left off. Ronnie Wingo, who started the scrimmage, struggled behind a young offensive line, he rushed for just 13 yards on 10 carries. Wilson looked to TE Chris Gragg often, a trend that will surely continue through the season. He finished with 5 catches for 54 yards and a score.
The second team got the opportunity to give fans a taste of the future. Brandon Allen, the heir apparent to Wilson, gave fans a reason to be optimistic. He ended his day on a one play drive that started with him dropping back and heaving a bomb to sophomore WR Keante Minor for a touchdown, and that's how it ended. Freshman WR Keon Hatcher, whe got reps with the first and second teams, impressed with 4 catches for 41 yards and his willingness to block down field. Two freshman running backs were given opportunities to shine as well, and shine they did. Behind a second team O-line that was destroyed by the opposing D-line, Nate Holmes and Jonathan Williams found ways to rip off big runs and find the endzone. Holmes totaled 41 yards on just 5 carries and scored, Williams rushed 13 times for 37 yards and found the endzone twice.
The Hogs will scrimmage again Saturday, August 18, follwing fanday festivities. The defense will look to build upon its impressive showing and the offense will try to regroup, perhaps with the help of Knile Davis. There's no timetable for when the All-SEC tailback will return to full contact, but a Davis sighting would strike excitement into the Arkansas faithful. As if we needed any more of that.