FAYETTEVILLE — It wasn’t a “game” in the traditional sense of the word, but the Arkansas football team concluded spring ball with its annual Red-White Game on Saturday.
The Razorbacks ran 110 plays in a live-tackle scrimmage that involved regular move-the-ball segments, as well as situational work, for about two hours inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
For a full breakdown of the stats, depth chart, play-by-play and more from the event, click here. Below are a few big-picture takeaways with comments from Sam Pittman and players…
Isaiah Sategna Looks Like the Real Deal
Arguably the most improved Arkansas football player this spring, Isaiah Sategna showed the fan base what coaches, teammates and reporters had seen from him over the course of 15 practices.
The redshirt freshman caught three passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns, reeling in a 65-yard deep ball from KJ Jefferson on third and 10 and making a tough over-the-shoulder grab in the end zone on a pass from Cade Fortin.
“I think Sategna obviously has shown how much he’s improved since the bowl game,” Sam Pittman said. “From where I was, I felt like one of his two touchdowns was a tough catch, and he made that. He has a lot of confidence right now.”
Despite not playing much last season because he was behind both Jadon Haselwood and Bryce Stephens at the slot receiver spot, Sategna appears to have developed a nice chemistry with KJ Jefferson.
He split first-team reps with Stephens throughout spring ball, meaning both got plenty of passes from Arkansas’ unquestioned starting quarterback.
“I’m glad Isaiah got to showcase his talents today, his athleticism,” Jefferson said. “He made some really good catches down the field and across the middle and stuff like that. We always knew that Isaiah had the potential to play in this league and just being able to showcase his talents today is really amazing.”
Things really seemed to click for Sategna after the Razorbacks returned from spring break, Pittman said. In periods of practice open to the media, he ran crisp routes that consistently created space and caught everything within his catch radius.
Even as a heralded four-star recruit, that was tough for Sategna at times last season and he ended up redshirting. In the four games he did play, he got only 24 offensive snaps and caught just two passes for 12 yards.
“To play quarterback, to play wideout and make these adjustments on the run, it’s split-second decisions,” Pittman said. “He’s got that ability to separate when he’s able to do that and now he’s able to do that and you now see his true speed.”
That speed, which is legitimate track speed, was on display in the Red-White game when he ran down LaDarrius Bishop on what looked like a sure pick-six. Instead, he pushed him out of bounds after a 74-yard return.
Learning Moment for KJ Jefferson, Dan Enos
One of the biggest plays of the day came late in the scrimmage during a get-the-ball-back segment. With the two first-team units squaring off, the offense went for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 40.
In this situation, a first down would have essentially iced the “game,” while a stop would lead to a two-minute drill. KJ Jefferson kept the ball, but was tagged down by Chris Paul Jr. for a loss of 1. He may have been able to break a tackle, but quarterbacks aren’t live and it looked like a busted play anyway.
“To be honest with you, we learned something on that play,” Pittman said. “I don’t want to go into detail on it, but it was the verbiage of the play. We’re going to change it because KJ kept the ball and there’s not a read in there for him keeping the ball, but the verbiage says that he can keep the ball.”
Learning completely new terminology for offensive coordinator Dan Enos’ system, which is more NFL-style, has been one of the most important aspects of spring for Jefferson and the rest of the offense.
After spending three years under Kendal Briles, Jefferson admitted he was nervous going into the spring, but now with 15 practices under his belt, he’s much more comfortable now — even though the fourth-down play was an example of how the team is still growing in that area.
Pittman said his star quarterback and new offensive coordinator have really hit it off and is pleased with the progress they’ve made this spring. That sentiment was echoed by Jefferson.
“We pick each other’s brain, get on the board, talk about different plays or what he’s thinking on this play and stuff like that,” Jefferson said. “It’s been really amazing and also just him as a coach, on the field coaching all the quarterbacks hard, very fundamental guy, technical guy, so we needed that. I’m just embracing each and every day with him.”
Improved Quarterback Situation for Arkansas
Speaking of quarterbacks, Arkansas appears to have drastically improved that room over the offseason and seems to be in a better spot in the event of an injury to KJ Jefferson.
Jacolby Criswell, the transfer from North Carolina, is a much better passer than last year’s backup, Malik Hornsby, who transferred to Texas State. That was evident in practices open to the media, but he confirmed it by completing 8 of 12 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. He did have the lone interception of the day, but it came on a pass tipped into the air.
“To be where he is and what he’s done, I mean, he’s thrown some stuff in practice that was like crazy good,” Pittman said. “I think he’s just going to get better and better, so yes, I think part of the question would be can we beat an SEC team with him at quarterback, and the answer would be ‘Absolutely,’ in my opinion.”
Cade Fortin is back as a super senior and was placed on scholarship after initially arriving as a walk-on transfer who was previously on scholarship at North Carolina and South Florida. He was 5 of 7 for 55 yards and one touchdown in the scrimmage.
Saturday also marked the first time Arkansas football fans got to get a glimpse of freshman Malachi Singleton, the four-star from Georgia. On paper, it looks like he had a great day, as he completed all four of his passes for 66 yards and one touchdown, but he also had some moments that reminded you he was a freshman.
It wasn’t called a fumble because he was ruled down by being touched by the defense, but one of his runs ended with the ball on the ground. He also bobbled a snap in the red zone. Pittman said he wasn’t too concerned about the ball security, though, because it was a new issue that hadn’t previously shown up.
“We haven’t seen it in practice, so I’m assuming that there were some folks out there and he knew it was on TV and I would imagine he was a little psyched up, a little nervous out there,” Pittman said. “I told Dan to take him out, but I wanted to take him out so I could talk to him. I didn’t say much to him, ‘Hey, we believe in you. Just relax a little bit.’”
Arkansas Defense Brings the Pressure
One of the more impressive stats of the scrimmage was the fact that the defense was credited with 10 total sacks. That’s a good number for a defense looking to amp up the pressure in new defensive coordinator Travis Williams’ four-man front base defense.
Sam Pittman has talked about that since introducing Williams last December and has consistently brought up the defense’s progress in that area this spring. In fact, it was hit No. 1 takeaway from the Razorbacks’ first scrimmage, which was closed to the media.
It’s worth noting again that quarterbacks weren’t live, so the defense only had to touch them for it to be ruled a sack, but what happened on Saturday didn’t particularly surprise Pittman.
“It’s nothing more than what we’ve seen all spring,” Pittman said. “You know how it is, you can make a mountain out of a molehill one way or the other — if you’re giving up sacks, then you don’t have any tackles that can block them.
“I just think we’re pretty good at defense. I think we’re pretty good at the offensive tackles, too. It’s just we put them in pretty hard situations with situational football that we had, too.”
Two Razorbacks were credited with a pair of sacks, including Landon Jackson. He notched one against the second-team offense, but his other came on a twist against the first-team offense, as he ran free and tagged KJ Jefferson in the open field.
Jackson, who is in his second year at Arkansas after transferring in from LSU, was also the top standout from the first scrimmage and appears to have locked down a starting job at defensive end.
“He’s bigger than he’s been since he’s been here and I think his ACL, his mind is very confident in his legs,” Pittman said. “He’s so long, man. He’s hard to block.”
Sophomore Nico Davillier was the only other player with multiple sacks and his came on back-to-back plays against the second-team offense in a red zone situation. Afterward, Pittman joked that he thought the Maumelle native was one of his assistants because he was in the backfield so many times.
Zach Williams also had a sack and Trajan Jeffcoat got half of a sack via an intentional grounding penalty on Jefferson, while Jashaud Stewart and John Morgan III got extensive snaps. The six defensive ends have rotated freely throughout the spring and each appears to be a legit SEC contributor.
“It’s going to keep every single one of us fresh all through all the games,” Jackson said. “We’ll go into the fourth quarter just as hard as we are in the first, and that will be really good for our whole defense overall.”
The other sacks were made by defensive tackle Taurean Carter and walk-ons Brooks Both, Jon Hill and Mason Schueck. Linebacker Jordan Crook got the other half of the sack with Jeffcoat.
Cam Little = Still Good
Special teams can sometimes be overlooked by outsiders during spring ball, but Cam Little reminded everyone why he’s one of the best kickers in the SEC on Saturday.
Not only did he make his lone PAT, boot a kickoff through the back of the end zone and go 3 for 3 on field goal attempts, but one of those kicks was a 58-yarder. He split the uprights with room the spare.
“I just asked him, ‘Where do you want it?’” Pittman said. “He said, ‘Right in the middle on the 40,’ and I’m starting to calculate that. It was quite a little ways down there. … It had plenty of distance. I mean, he had a little breeze too. So that will build his confidence, as well.”
The other makes were from 40 and 47 yards.
Through two seasons with Arkansas football, Little has made 33 of 40 field goals and is a perfect 96 of 96 on PATs. At 82.5%, he is currently the most accurate field goal kicker in school history, topping Connor Limpert’s 78.6% success rate.
Arkansas better hope he stays healthy, though, because backup Blake Ford made just 1 of 3 field goal attempts Saturday. The redshirt freshman walk-on was successful from 24 yards, but missed from 33 and 38.
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