FAYETTEVILLE — Rocket Sanders had a very good day at running back scoring two touchdowns, but the defense also had several big plays as well.
Sanders has worked with the first unit this spring with the absence of Dominique Johnson. Sanders had touchdown runs of 64 and 16 yards on Saturday. The other touchdown was a 28-yard touchdown pass from Cade Fortin to James Jointer. Following the scrimmage, Sam Pittman talked about how he felt it went.
“I think it’s hard,” Pittman said. “I thought it went well for roping off the end zones, we had to get the ball back in 2-minute and turn it back around, because obviously you couldn’t go into the fans, into the parents and recruits. But I thought it went well, I thought we got it accomplished. We had a couple of injuries, I think, but neither guy that got beat up a little bit had anything to do with live tackling. We tackle in there a little bit, so we came out fairly well.”
Pittman talked about the passing game maybe not as sharp as it was in Thursday’s practice when it produced several highlights.
“I didn’t think we particularly threw the ball well or anything of that nature,” Pittman said. “I thought the kids protected pretty good, think our runners ran hard, but it’s thud. You don’t have an opportunity to break a tackle or tackle a guy and knock the ball out. But I think we did the right thing, I guess is what I’m saying. I feel like we did the right thing.”
Redshirt junior KJ Jefferson may have not had the big highlights on Saturday, but he has had a very solid spring.
“He’s had a really good spring,” Pittman said. “The biggest improvement that I’ve seen is just knowledge of seeing the game before it happens, pre-snap looks, things of that nature. He’s much better in his reads right now than what he was at any time last year. He’s more confident. Again, I don’t think we particularly threw and caught the ball well today, especially in the 2-minute drill, but he’s a lot better player than what he was last year, and it’s because he sees the game faster. He’s mature, older, stronger, things of that nature, but I think he’s really improved a lot.”
While Sanders is expected to turn heads, but Jointer is a true freshman from Little Rock Parkview. He hooked up with Fortin for a touchdown pass on Tuesday as well. He also has had some good runs at times this spring,
“He continues to get better, he’s a hard worker,” Pittman said. “I’ve really enjoyed watching his progress. I think he’s getting a little bit more confident. Today, the kids seemed to give him a little better hole at times. We’re down to 12 linemen, so the threes are usually the threes right now, but E’Marion Harris and different people are playing with the twos and the threes. I thought that line played a little bit better today and gave James an opportunity to get started. I thought he ran hard.”
As noted earlier the defense looked good on Saturday. Pittman pointed out a few who caught his attention.
“I thought Isaiah Nichols, it seemed like he was back there by me (in the backfield) quite a bit in the pass rushing game,” Pittman said. “Eric Thomas flashed a few times. Drew Sanders flashed a lot. He can run. He’s a good player. Bump (Bumper Pool), Cat (Jalen Catalon), but the guy who really made a lot of plays today was Keuan Parker. He’s moved up at corner because of his physical, hard-playing style. He made a lot of plays. The young guy, (Jordan) Crook made some plays, him and (Kaden) Henley. But if I just said guys, Sanders and Nichols stood out to me, and Keuan Parker.”
Sanders may have made the play of the day when it appeared Malik Hornsby, who is extremely fast, had the corner and there to meet him was Sanders.
“He’s fast,” Pittman said of Sanders. “I mean the guy can run. I don’t know what his 40 time is or anything like that., but he runs from sideline to sideline. First scrimmage we had he made the first two plays just running people down. I mean he had angles but … today that was a wild deal for me too because I was like Malik’s out in the open and usually he’s leaving everybody. I’m not saying Drew can out-run Malik. I’m not saying that. But he did thud him up. He did tag him up. Yeah, I think he’s a pretty good player.”
Thomas is a junior defensive end while Parker is a redshirt freshman cornerback. Pittman talked about what the two have done to impress him.
“A lot of times your performance has to do with how high you think you can go,” Pittman said. “So I think with Keuan and Eric, at some point last year, they said, ‘Well, I can’t get off scout team,’ so their performance, they tried to do well on scout team, but that drive’s not there. Now I think this spring, Eric’s like, ‘I’m getting on the plane, I’ve got a chance to play a lot, I’ve got a chance to be in the two-deep rotation,’ because that’s what we do on the D-line. So his talent that he already had, I think it’s shining a little bit more because his mind’s allowing him to. He’s not putting a governor on his mind about how far I can go. I think it’s the same thing with Keuan. I think last year, and he’s always been a hard working kid, but last year he was on the scout team and I think he… I decided that’s where he was going to be for the rest of the year. He was doing a job, but I think this spring he was like, ‘I’m going to get on special teams, I’m going to get on the field.’ He just keeps getting better. There was a lot of physical plays by him today, I thought.”
Defensive tackle Taurean Carter got hurt on third play of scrimmage and was helped to sideline.
“Taurean, I think is going to be okay, Pittman said. “In other words, I think he does have some type of injury. I don’t think it’s an ACL or anything of that nature, but there is something there we have to tend to. I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s a major, major injury. Warren Thompson left the scrimmage when he hit his head on the turf. I’m not sure if he’s in concussion protocol or if his ears were just ringing for a while. Those are the only two I can think of right now. I may be wrong, but those are the only two I can think of.”
Cam Little had field goals of 37 and 47 yards missing from 53. Jake Bates made field goals of 35, 37 and 47 before also missing from 53.