LITTLE ROCK — Knowing Bret Bielema’s reputation for running the football, the offensive flair and mix of Arkansas’ offense in the Red-White game was surprising.
During the first half, Arkansas attempted 29 passes and ran the ball 27 times and a couple of those runs were supposed to be passes.
Given a total of 56 plays, the guess would have been 24 pass — just enough to give both Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell an opportunity to do some things throwing — and 32 run.
We won’t know until the fall whether the first look at the offense of the new Arkansas head coach and his offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney, was a true read on the plays that will be called when something is on the line. But, knowing variety is available is encouraging.
Watching on TV, the offensive line, including tight ends galore, won some and lost some vs. a front four that is the strength of the defense. At least once, Arkansas showed three tight ends and threw the ball. At least once, Arkansas had four receivers.
In between, Arkansas both ran and threw out of the I, the offset I, single back, and the shotgun.
The “student body” sweep was appreciated on a couple of occasions. Also attention-getting was a draw out of the shotgun and a well-designed screen pass.
During the meaningful first half, Allen was 10-of-15 for 146 yards and Mitchell was 10-of-14 for 119 yards. Mitchell’s numbers would have been more impressive, but D’Arthur Cowan wasn’t able to hang on in the end zone after running by a defender and getting one hand on the pass. Allen missed an opportunity for a big play, overthrowing Javontee Herndon behind the secondary. Later, they were on the same page on a back-shoulder throw.
Disconcerting is the fact that receivers were often open. Play at linebacker and in the secondary has loomed large since the end of last year’s disastrous season and those questions were not answered. Much like Darius Winston did last year, defensive back Carroll Washington turned the wrong way and Allen connected with Jeremy Sprinkle for a touchdown.
Mitchell suffered an interception in the end zone by Tiquention Coleman, one of many junior college players who are expected to contribute immediately. However, it appeared Coleman was responsible for Sprinkle on Allen’s touchdown pass.
Pressing Allen for the starting job, Mitchell bounced back nicely from his turnover, orchestrating a 13-play, 91-yard drive that lasted more than six minutes.
Watching the running backs, you have to believe that incoming freshman Alex Collins will have an excellent opportunity to play immediately providing he can hang onto the football. High school to college is a major leap, but running backs can make the the jump quicker than players at other positions.
With the clock running non-stop in the second half and most of the starters on the sideline, Nate Holmes looked to be the fastest of the running backs and produced an 18-yard scoring run that was the highlight of the afternoon.
Likely starter Jonathan Williams made only 29 yards on nine carries. Kody Walker, sidelined in 2011 with stress fractures in both shins and in 2012 with a broken leg, showed some speed on a draw and, on another occasion, made a decent cut at the line of scrimmage for a nice gain.
Walk-on Patrick Arinze’s speed is questionable, but he was the rushing leader with 66 yards on nine carries. A replay of his 21-yard gain showed no linebacker and a hole 6 feet wide.
In defense of the linebacker play, the group has little experience. Learning on the job is a must in the first three games.
Even though the demonstration was against a suspect defense, the offensive versatility provided talking points to sustain fans for a couple of months. Reality will be here soon enough.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.