FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ spring game was looking for a much-needed jolt after a first half largely dominated by unimpressive play by the first-team offense.
Running back Korliss Marshall provided it Saturday.
Marshall gave the estimated crowd of 30,000 something to cheer about, sprinting through the defense for a 59-yard touchdown late in the first half in Razorback Stadium. It was part of what proved to be an impressive performance for the sophomore, who rushed for a game-high 99 yards and two touchdowns.
“It feels really good considering that I didn’t get a touchdown last season,” Marshall said. “I got to show some of my skills and let everybody see the real speed.”
Marshall, who came to Arkansas as a safety before being moved to running back late last season, showed he’s playing the right position during his spring game performance. He only carried the ball six times, but averaged 16.5 yards an attempt against a White defense that consisted of Arkansas’ reserves.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said Marshall — who missed a few practices because of an undisclosed medical issue — has been equally impressive all spring.
“As I’ve had some friends in the coaching profession come in this spring that really didn’t know anything about our team, they all commented — every person comments on 33,” Bielema said. “Just how explosive he is, and it’s obviously easy to see. If he gets a little, just a little seam, he can be gone in a hurry.”
Marshall provided the first big play of the scrimmage with a 19-yard carry — with a 15-yard facemask penalty tacked on — in the first quarter. Then he broke the big run, which was followed by Red team defensive touchdowns on consecutive plays.
“That’s my role,” Marshall said. “To be the spark, to hype everybody up, to get a good play. And I just do a good job playing my role.”
Arkansas has running backs Jonathan Williams (8 carries, 78 yards, TD) and Alex Collins (4 carries, 12 yards) returning next season, but the duo will have to make room for Marshall as well. Especially after a spring that has produced, as Bielema described them, plenty of “freak show” plays by the running back.
“He’s obviously explosive,” Bielema said. “He’s like at a different gear. When you’re watching him run, it looks like he’s at a different speed than everybody else. Then when people make contact he’s strong as well. So he’s a great talent.”
Marshall may have been the offensive star Saturday, but sophomore Deatrich Wise was the most productive defensive player during the Red-White game.
Wise was credited with 8 tackles, 5 sacks and a forced fumble while working with the first-team defense. He knocked the ball from quarterback Austin Allen’s hand in the second quarter and defensive tackle Darius Philon scooped it up and scored.
“Deatrich is so long,” Bielema said. “If he can get you locked out and extended, I don’t care how good of a pass pro you are, he’s going to cause problems.”
Said linebacker Braylon Mitchell: “He can be a real distraction out there. There is not a player in the SEC that can block him when he’s playing at his full potential.”
But Wise wasn’t the only defensive player to enjoy success against the second unit Saturday. Austin Allen and Rafe Peavey were sacked nine times. Brooks Ellis, Darius Philon, Brandon Lewis and DeMarcus Hodge collected one sack apiece.
“The one thing with the one defense going against our two offense, I knew there was going to be some issues,” Bielema said. “You obviously would do some things to help them protection-wise in the scheme if you’re going into a game.”
Redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell wasn’t very receptive to his move from quarterback to wide receiver earlier this spring. But Mitchell proved to be one of the most productive receives during the Red-White game Saturday.
Mitchell, who played for the White, caught three passes for 27 yards.
“The last two weeks I guess we moved him strictly to wide receiver,” Bielema said. “He’s continued to make good strides there. I thought (Saturday) was a really good day for him. He caught the ball effectively and he’s a strong player. You know, when he gets his hands on the ball, he’s a big body to bring down.
It’s still not clear if Mitchell has embraced to make a full-time move to the position as Arkansas prepares for the offseason. But Bielema said earlier this spring he would help Mitchell with any decision about his future.
Bielema on JoJo
Arkansas signee JoJo Robinson, who was arrested for one count of armed robbery in Miami earlier this week, traveled with his father to attend the spring game.
Bielema said he wasn’t “at liberty” to discuss Robinson’s situation. His father, Joseph Robinson, said earlier this week he believes the charge will be dropped because his son was in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”
Robinson has a court appearance scheduled for May 22.
“One of the things we always constantly pride ourselves on is doing everything right on and off the field,” Bielema said. “I would say this: If there was any concern on my behalf, if there was any validity to it, he wouldn’t be here. He’s a great kid. Dad obviously has spoken on his behalf. I’ll just leave it up to them.”
Defensive end Brandon Lewis left the Red-White game in the second half after suffering an ankle. Bielema said the injury to Lewis — who was scheduled to have surgery on his knee after spring practice ended — didn’t appear serious.
“I walked in with him, and he seems to be fine,” Bielema said. “We’ll make sure we have an X-ray on that to sort of rule out anything from that standpoint.”
Cornerback Tevin Mitchel didn’t scrimmage because of a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Demetrius Wilson (knee) and defensive end Trey Flowers didn’t play either. Both have been held out of scrimmage work this spring.
Canaan Sandy TD
Arkansas had a special visitor in the backfield for one play Saturday.
Canaan Sandy, who was selected for induction into the ESPN Fan Hall of Fame late last year, scored a 50-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Sandy was brought onto the field, took a handoff from Brandon Allen and ran to the end zone.
Players from both teams gathered in the end zone to celebrate the touchdown.
“That was a lot of fun for us, and I know it was a lot of fun for him,” Allen said. “I thought it was a very special moment for him.”
Bielema said he’s gotten to know Sandy after seeing him at several Razorback Club functions. He wanted Sandy to be involved in the spring game in some capacity.
“He had a Michael Jackson dance move he was ready to break out,” Bielema said about Sandy’s touchdown dance. “We rehearsed it at halftime in here. So I don’t know if he got that on live TV or not. You talk about a ham? He wasn’t about to come off that field. He was enjoying his time in the limelight for eternity.”