Defense Gets Best of Offense in Second Preseason Arkansas Scrimmage

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FAYETTEVILLE — Exactly one week after the offense got the best of the defense, Friday’s scrimmage was joking described as Barry Odom’s Revenge Day.

The defense was outstanding and dominated the scrimmage. Among the standouts on that side of the ball were interceptions by Jarques McClellion, Nick Turner and Simeon Blair. Jalen Catalon recovered a fumble that Joe Foucha forced. Catalon and Deon Edwards had tackles for loss. Dorian Gerald a sack and Eric Gregory also had one.

On offense, two running backs and one wide receiver had plays that stood out. Trelon Smith had a 40-yard catch and run from Feleipe Franks and a 20-yard run later. Dominque Johnson, a true freshman running back, had a 20-yard catch and run from KJ Jefferson and a 40-yard run as well. Trey Knox had a 40-yard catch as well from Franks.

Sam Pittman talked about the defense and the improvement from a week ago.

“I thought our defense played much better this week, much harder,” Pittman said. “It seemed like they were in better shape than they were a week ago. Well prepared for the scrimmage, ran on and off the field, made a lot of plays. Whether it be tackles for loss, causing fourth downs on third and 3. A lot of turnovers for the offense, which means the defense forced them. But the defense definitely won today. The only thing that they did not win was goal line situation and a 4-minute situation. Other than that, they dominated the scrimmage.”

Pittman was asked if he had any indication the defense would get the best of the offense today?

“To be honest with you practices haven’t necessarily shown the offense as the dominant one on a regular basis,” Pittman said. “Going into last week’s scrimmage you always have your what is gonna happen here? So the offense to do as well as they did totally honest I was a little surprised. We hadn’t necessarily done that in the practices. Another thing is we hadn’t tackled but one time before that. They obviously were breaking tackles and some things. Probably he most pleasing thing today is how they ran to the football today. I was very excited about that.

“Again, we put the ball on the ground. We gave it to them throwing to them and we put the ball on the ground. You can’t win. The first drive we drove down to about the nine on offense and then threw a pick and that was about it until we got to go to the four-minute situation. But lightning cost us a four-minute situation with the 2s and both situations in the two minute. I was more surprised how the offense did last week because the defense had been playing well. They came back this week like normally happens. Honestly, I was hoping they would.”

Last week Pittman had praise for Arkansas’ quarterbacks, but that wasn’t the case this time.

“Not good,” Pittman said. “We didn’t look good today. We didn’t make good decisions. We have to get better there. We have to play with more confidence. We have to protect them better. But from a week ago to this week, it was not acceptable play by that position and they know it. Certainly we’ll get better.”

The problem with scrimmaging each other the coach will usually feel good about one unit and not so good about the other. Did this scrimmage make you more concerned with the offense?

 “I’ve been around a long time, and you’d probably be more concerned if one side won a scrimmage every single time,” Pittman said. “A lot of times, just like in life, people pat you on the back and you get complacent. I’m not saying we did that on offense, but certainly we weren’t the same offense that we were a week ago, nor was the defense the same a week ago. Obviously anytime you improve, you have to feel good about one side. Is there concern about us holding on to the ball? Absolutely.”

Pittman was asked how he feels about where the team is now considering all that has happened since he took the job with COVID-19 and other factors beyond his control?

 “I’m proud of our kids, you know,” Pittman said. “I’m proud of the quarterbacks, too. I want them to play better and so do they. We have a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way as well. We’ve come a long way with our toughness, with our execution. We’ve come together as a football team, our effort is much better than what it was.

“Our complaining is much lower than what it was, and the bottom line, I told them after practice today that, ‘Look, we’re going to end up having X number of guys that we’re taking on the road or we’re having at home. Whether it be from injury or whether it be from a COVID situation, or something personal happened to somebody in their life and we don’t have them, we’re going to go play somebody.’ And I think we are starting to have that mentality of ‘We’ve got enough to go out there and compete. Let’s go out there and compete.’ I’m proud of that. There wasn’t any of that woe is me, I’m not getting enough reps, that’s just a losing mentality and I did not see that today. Even when the offense was getting beat up, it wasn’t that way.”

Linebacker seems to be the unit on defense that has caused Pittman and the staff more concern. How did they perform today?

“Well, when we go, it’s usually because the D-line becomes disruptive, but I did see those guys making some plays in there,” Pittman said. “(Andrew) Parker I saw make some plays. (Levi) Draper seemed to play well today, and I saw JT (Towers) make a few plays in there today. (Deon) Edwards is a guy that can run, so I think they made more plays, because I think last week they know they didn’t play well, and I think they made some plays today.”

On offense, Arkansas is still searching for some players to step forward at tight end and gain separation from the others. Anyone do that today?

“No, I don’t think so,” Pittman said. “I think we have a pretty good battle there. A lot of times you talk about a battle and I don’t want to get that misinterpreted we don’t have any good players. You have a battle and a lot of times that means you have two-three good players. But Blayne Toll is rapidly moving up the  chart there. I know Hudson (Henry) caught a pass or two today. That group has got to have more physicality to it and they know it. I’m not telling you anything we haven’t told them. I haven’t watched the tape yet, but blocking wise I will have to look and see how they did there.

“I do know Hudson had a couple of catches, but I don’t know how the entire group looked. I was proud of (Nathan) Bax during the week because he was straining. He knows how to strain. We’ll see once I found out.”

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