FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas running back Korliss Marshall was celebrating his 20th birthday in Razorback Stadium on Saturday.
So it’s only fitting the sophomore got to close Arkansas’ preseason scrimmage.
Marshall sprinted off right tackle for a 57-yard touchdown run on what would become the final snap of the 107-play scrimmage. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema hadn’t exactly planned to end the practice with the one-play drive, but changed his mind after watching Marshall turn in another crowd-pleasing moment.
“I was kind of hoping to get (backup quarterback) Austin (Allen) a few more reps there with the ones at the end but Korliss broke away, “ Bielema said. “It was funny: I was in the huddle and Korliss is yelling, ‘Let’s run this thing all the way down the field.’ I think he meant four or five plays. I don’t think he meant out of the gate.
“But that’s what he can do. He’s a very explosive player.”
Marshall proved it in front of an estimated crowd of 3,500, which was invited to attend Arkansas’ practice for the first time this preseason. The Osceola native finished with eight carries for a scrimmage-high 102 yards, rushed for two touchdowns and added another on a 4-yard reception from quarterback Brandon Allen.
Marshall was part of a first-team offense that enjoyed a solid performance against the reserves in a practice split between situational work and scrimmage drives.
Allen completed 19 of 28 passes for 218 yards with three touchdowns, running back Alex Collins rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, and White Hall tight end Jeremy Sprinkle caught three passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Sprinkle had the first big play of the day when he pulled in a 53-yard pass from Allen on a first-down play from the offense’s 36-yard line. He later caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from the quarterback, who turned in another sharp scrimmage as he tries to bounce back from last season’s frustrating performance.
“BA, except for maybe one throw down in the red zone and maybe one throw over the middle during a third-and-medium situation, was pretty effective,” Bielema said.
Allen and the offense was relatively error-free Saturday. Arkansas turned the ball over a few times during its first preseason scrimmage last week, but avoided any mistakes Saturday. There also weren’t any penalties during the scrimmage work.
“It reinforces my philosophy that if you keep it simple and guys play aggressively, let them play full throttle without having to think a lot, good things will happen and they played very, very clean (Saturday),” said Bielema, whose team didn’t show much of its playbook during the open practice. “Some guys with the ball on the ground were reserves backups that normally aren’t going to be in that position.”
Arkansas’ first-team defense scrimmaged without middle linebacker Brooks Ellis (kneecap) and defensive end Deatrich Wise (knee), but also performed well against the second-team unit Saturday.
Redshirt freshman Austin Allen, who Bielema named Arkansas’ No. 2 quarterback, completed just 10 of 21 for 86 yards with a touchdown against the group. Most of Allen’s completions came in situational work, but the starting defense forced him to finish the scrimmage by completing just one of his final seven passes.
Defensive end Tevin Beanum, who has moved into the first-team role in Wise’s absence, had two tackles for losses. Cornerback Jared Collins broke up three passes, while linebacker Martrell Spaight had two tackles for losses.
“We have to get more depth,” Bielema said. “We’re very delicate at certain positions. But when you’re coaching a football team and you physically know what they’re capable of doing, and then you begin to understand mentally what they can do and can handle, that’s when you begin to see the things you believe in work.”
It was evident over the final part of the scrimmage, when the first-team offense started leaning on its ground game to grind its way through the reserves.
Collins, who bulked up to 218 pounds in the offseason, broke through tackles to pick up tough yards on an eight-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Allen’s touchdown pass to Sprinkle. Then Collins had two carries for 31 yards on a 51-yard drive that was capped by Allen’s touchdown pass to receiver Cody Hollister.
“Alex has a lot of very, very gifted genes, genetics, but now he’s been in (strength coach Ben Herbert’s) weight room, he understands the dynamic that can add,” Bielema said. “If I can get him to go to bed at a reasonable hour and stop tweeting at 4 a.m. and eating three square meals, the sky’s the limit for that kid.”
Marshall — who played safety for the Razorbacks last preseason — was just as productive. He had 30 yards on three carries during those same scoring drives, teaming with Collins to give the Hogs a powerful 1-2 punch even without junior Jonathan Williams (hamstring injury).
Then, Marshall ended the scrimmage with his long gallop, which was reminiscent of his 59-yard touchdown run in the Red-White game last April. He took the handoff, saw a crease off right tackle and outran everyone to the end zone.
“I think Korliss – the sky is the limit for that kid,” Bielema said. “He really is an exciting player. I hope he understands how special he is because he really has been given some things that are not normal in this world. I really hope he understands and is going to in turn pay that back ten-fold because he has the ability to do that.”