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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Spring game provides intel for coaches

by Wally Hall | April 18, 2021 at 2:30 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Sam Pittman knew exactly what he wanted from his first Red-White Game.

Only he and his staff know whether they got everything they had hoped for.

It could not have started better and ended stranger as the Red team, behind the No. 2 offense, won 30-20.

The twos are supposed to win about as often as the Washington Generals do against the Harlem Globetrotters. They not only won on the scoreboard but also in almost every offensive statistic.

First-team quarterback KJ Jefferson completed his first 4 passes for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns to take a 17-3 lead, as most would have expected.

He would throw only 9 passes in the first half, completing 6 for 153 yards. But the first-team offense could not establish a running game, and it was obvious that's where most of the day's work would be done.

When you have receivers such as Treylon Burks, Mike Woods and Trey Knox getting wide open it would be easy to dictate a score, but that's in a scrimmage, not an SEC game. So the Hogs went to work between the tackles.

Not just the ones but the twos, too. It did appear the defensive lines were not at full speed most of the game, by design, so the score was tied at the half 20-20.

The second-team offense already had more yards (281-207) and first downs (15-6), and the second half remained mostly Red.

The second unit would finish with 424 yards to 299 for the first-teamers. The Red team also had a 228-88 rushing yard advantage, and 26 first downs compared to 9.

Not saying Pittman was frustrated, but he made it clear all week he wanted a fast game.

If you are going to play fast, you have to practice fast. The clock wasn't supposed to stop until the final two minutes of each half.

What he got was some long delays. Once he even looked up where the clock keeper was and gave the signal to run the clock. The signal apparently wasn't received.

So Pittman shortened the final quarter from 15 minutes to 10.

The coaches wanted to see where the Hogs are with Jefferson running the show, and by then they had an idea. He passed twice in the second half, then gave way to others.

It seemed like that every quarterback who dressed out got into the action, and running backs, too. Eight different guys caught at least one pass.

No doubt Red-White Games are not for keeps.

It is a final exam for spring practice, and Pittman and Co. probably got a ton of information, but there is no doubt there is work left to do.

There always is when you have to play Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M every year.

Without Jefferson, the ones struggled to move the ball, going three-and-out several times. The first-team offense didn't seem to have much spark after Jefferson and some other starters departed until there was a little more than six minutes to play and the White team was faced with a third and 12.

A Red team defender jumped offsides, and quarterback Kade Renfro knew instantly what that meant -- free play. He passed 38 yards to Jaedon Wilson, but the long-awaited fireworks from the first team ended there.

Pittman was on the field and consulting with his assistant coaches from start to finish.

They had a rhyme and a reason for what they were doing. While it may not have been obvious, it was what they needed to gauge where they are with a bunch of players and what to work on.

This team could help itself a lot by working out on its own all summer. The NCAA limits how much time coaches can spend with their players, but it can't tell the players how to spend their free time.

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