Fans’ rosy-red cheeks grew numb as they waited to see more than just their breath April 7 in Little Rock. A few thousand die-hard fans braved the cold, rainy conditions to get their first in-person look at the Razorbacks with Chad Morris at the helm. They left War Memorial Stadium a lot colder and possibly more confused.
College football spring games often leave fans with more doubts than assurances. The Razorback spring game this weekend was no exception. If the offense does well, then people wonder if the defense is any good. If the defense does well, then fans worry about scoring and quarterback play. In Arkansas’ case, the cold temperatures seemed to cause more problems than what was seen in past years, making those who already questioned the system have even more firepower.
Spring games are a fun way for the fans to get a glimpse of college football in the middle of the offseason. People need to take spring games for what they are though: practices, not games.
The spring “practice” that happened Saturday in Little Rock was informational. It showed everyone the stark difference between Chad Morris’ offense and his predecessor Bret Bielema. It also exhibited the growing pains the Razorbacks will undergo this entire offseason, switching from a ground-and-pound offense to a much faster-paced, no-huddle offense.
During the game, the Hogs consistently took too long to line up at the line of scrimmage. Morris would like to have all offensive players set and ready to snap the ball within the first 8-10 seconds of the game clock. The Razorbacks tried to go without a huddle, but they consistently were over the 8-10 second mark. The offense will work on the no-huddle game plan during the offseason, but right now, the Hogs just don’t look comfortable in the Morris’ desired scheme.
Another glaring problem for the Razorbacks is the quarterback position. Nobody set themselves apart as the premier starter during this game. In fact, there was little separation in the stat line, as both starting quarterbacks, Ty Storey and Cole Kelley, threw for 127 yards and one touchdown.
Both bring something different to the field. Storey is mobile and can get out of the pocket and hit receivers. He showed off this skill, as he threw a strike to tight end Cheyenne O’Grady for the first touchdown of the game. The right-handed Storey rolled to his left and threw across his body to hit O’Grady streaking across the field. The tight end did the rest, rumbling 53 yards for a touchdown.
What Kelley brings to the table is a strong arm. The 6-foot-7-inch, 263-pound sophomore looms large in the pocket. He uses his arm to rifle balls into receivers hands, but his style is much more of a fit for a Bobby Petrino-style offense, not an offense like the one Morris wants to run. The main difference between the two is Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock love to call RPOs, run-pass options. This type of scheme is more suitable for Storey and not Kelley.
How the quarterback battle will shake out remains to be seen, but what everyone will see come fall in Fayetteville is a defense that blitzes the quarterback. The past few years the Razorbacks’ defense tried to cover downfield instead of pressure the signal caller. This will change under new defensive coordinator John Chavis, who dialed up a number of blitzes during the game.
The backfield for the Razorbacks will be a big key to their success. Despite the spread scheme, Morris’ offensive plan is to run first. Devwah Whaley looks set to have a big year toting the rock for the Hogs. Another name that stood out was Maleek Williams. The redshirt freshman seems to have taken over the second-string running back spot for now.
The spring game was a good chance for Arkansas fans to see how the team would look. Now, they hope Morris and his staff can clean up the mistakes and give the Razorbacks a chance to win in 2018.