On the fifth play of the Razorbacks’ first scrimmage, running back Michael Smith took a handoff, darted through a hole untouched and sprinted for an easy 48-yard touchdown.
That was exactly what Petrino had hoped to see on a wet Sunday morning from the man who’ll likely replace Darren McFadden as Arkansas’ starting running back. At the same time, it wasn’t a good sign for the defense and it only got worse on the next play.
With the first-team offense still on the field, Smith took another handoff and darted 69 yards down the right sideline of Reynolds Razorback Stadium. He was tackled before reaching the end zone.
Two plays, 117 yards and a plenty of reasons for Petrino to be concerned about his defense.
“That’s the hardest thing, you get excited about the offense and how (Smith) ran the ball,” Petrino said. “And you get worried about the defense and giving up two big runs like that.”
Arkansas didn’t provide reporters with statistics, but Smith finished the scrimmage with an unofficial five carries for 138 yards with one touchdown. But things got better for the defense as the morning went along.
Quarterback Casey Dick missed a few throws, Smith didn’t get much work after his two big runs and the offense stalled down the stretch.
Petrino had hoped to see balance during Sunday’s scrimmage, which spanned more than two hours and 140 plays. And he did. The offense looked good in the first half, and the defense stood out in the second half.
“We came out really hot, got things going,” said Dick, who finished 20 of 35 for 254 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
“The last couple of drives, we’ve got to be able to finish, punch things in the end zone and take advantage when the defense gives us things like that.”
The lengthy scrimmage capped the first week of preaseason practices for the Razorbacks, and many of the issues seen over the past few days were again on display Sunday.
Freshman tailback De’Anthony Curtis showed off his versatility in his first significant work in an Arkansas uniform. Meanwhile, the offense continued to beat the defense on several long scoring plays.
On the second series of the second half, wide receiver Carlton Salters was left wide open when no defender picked him up during a blitz. Dick found the sophomore alone in the middle of the field for an easy 50-yard touchdown pass.
“I only think we can beat ourselves. It’s really hard just to line up and stop this offense,” Salters said. “We started off real fast, and we’ve got to learn how to finish at the end.”
Petrino used the scrimmage to showcase some of his different offensive formations, including one that features five wide receivers and another that has two tight ends in the lineup together. He also called an option play for Dick to run.
But the offense couldn’t keep up the pace, and the defense rebounded from its dismal start.
Dick and his younger brother, backup Nathan Dick, each threw an interception. Freshman running back Dennis Johnson fumbled to kill a long drill. And the defense held its own late.
“(Dick) started out good, and then I thought he lost his concentration and focus a little bit toward the end of scrimmage,” Petrino said. “(He) missed a couple of things he can’t miss and that’s the biggest challenge for him.
“He’s got to be able to keep his focus and keep his concentration the entire scrimmage, the entire practice and then eventually the entire game.”
After giving up touchdowns on the first two series of the second half, the Razorbacks surrendered only one more score over the final 10 drives of the scrimmage.
Nathan Dick finished 5-for-11 for 46 yards and an interception. Senior Alex Mortensen completed 5 of 10 passes for 68 yards with two touchdowns, and freshman Tyler Wilson went 6-for-10 for 80 yards.
“We definitely picked it up a little bit, but we’ve certainly got a long ways to go,” linebacker Elston Forte said. “So all we can do now is work on getting better.”