FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas might never lead the Southeastern Conference in passing yards with coach Bret Bielema’s balanced approach to offense.
Led by senior Brandon Allen, the Razorbacks could just have the conference’s most efficient aerial attack this fall.
Allen was once again at his experienced best on Saturday, finishing 17-of-21 passing for 230 yards to highlight Arkansas’ end-of-spring Red-White game. The third-year starter added three touchdown passes in leading the predominantly first-team Red to a 62-18 win — including a 65-yard strike to Keon Hatcher.
The performance capped Allen’s fourth spring with the Razorbacks, one in which Bielema said he didn’t throw an interception throughout Arkansas’ 15 practices.
“I’ve been in situations, I’ve been in lots of games,” Allen said. “I think the confidence comes from that experience, and so I’m very comfortable going into the season. I don’t like throwing interceptions, and one of my goals is being smart with the ball and throwing it where it should be.”
Allen threw for 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions last season, a marked improvement over his sophomore campaign in which he had 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The senior was nearly perfect for much of the first half on Saturday, leading the Red to touchdowns on all five of its first-half possessions against the second-team defense.
His first two incompletions were both the result of drops, and he ended the half by leading the Red on a 10-play, 87-yard drive in 1 minutes, 48 seconds — capped by his second touchdown pass of the day to Hatcher.
Arkansas was 11th in the SEC in passing yards last season, averaging 190.3 yards per game through the air, but Saturday provided hope that will improve in the fall. The Razorbacks were 7-6 last season, dominating Texas in their first bowl game in three seasons, and they return nine starters on offense this season.
“We can lead the league in passing, that’s fine by me,” Bielema said. “… There are very few times this spring a defensive guy even got a hand on a ball.”
Five things to know about the Red-White game:
RESTED RUNNERS: Arkansas played without its top two returning rushers on Saturday, with running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins being held out for precautionary reasons. The duo was the only running back tandem in the country to each rush for more than 1,000 yards last season.
WALKER’S DAY: Without Williams and Collins, senior Kody Walker emerged as the primary running back option for the Red. The senior saw action at tailback and fullback last season, finishing with 149 yards rushing on 31 carries, but he led both teams with 174 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 26 carries on Saturday.
DEFENSIVVE HOGS: Junior defensive end JaMichael Winston helped quell any doubts about Arkansas’ defense by finishing with three sacks. The Razorbacks improved from 76th nationally in total defense in 2013 to 10th last season, but they entered the spring without graduated All-SEC standouts Matrell Spaight at linebacker and Trey Flowers on the line. Winston credited last year’s back-to-back shutout wins over LSU and Mississippi, as well as the bowl win over Texas, for aiding with this spring’s continued belief. “We just want to keep that momentum going,” Winston said.
HOLDING BACK: Arkansas announced a crowd of 41,220, with many turning out to watch how the offense looked under first-year offensive coordinator Dan Enos. The former Central Michigan coach spent much of his time this spring working with Allen’s footwork to improve accuracy, the results of which were seen on Saturday. Bielema said afterward the Razorbacks showed only about “50 percent” of their new playbook in the game.
TIGHT END UNIVERSITY: In what is likely a look at how Arkansas’ offense will look in the fall, tight ends Jeremy Sprinkle and Hunter Henry led the Red with four catches each. Henry’s production was no surprise for the All-SEC performer, while Sprinkle’s capped a spring in which the 6-foot-6 junior made possibly the biggest jump in improvement for the Razorbacks. “I think we’re one of the best (tight end groups) in the country, just to be blunt,” Henry said.