FAYETTEVILLE — Korliss Marshall lived up to his “freak-show” billing, providing Arkansas’ offense with a much-needed boost of excitement.
The sophomore, who moved from part timer to full-time running back during the offseason, had 99 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns on six carries during the Razorbacks Red-White game on Saturday.
On a day when Arkansas’ anemic passing game continued to struggle, Marshall’s 59-yard touchdown burst ignited the predominantly first-team Red to a 61-22 win over the White in front of an estimated 30,000 fans in Razorback Stadium.
Marshall split time between safety and running back during the Razorbacks difficult 3-9 record last season, but he had earned the “freak-show” designation from Arkansas coach Bret Bielema this spring — thanks to his explosive speed and moves.
Everyone saw exactly what Bielema was talking about on Saturday
“It feels really good considering I didn’t get a touchdown last season,” Marshall said. “So, I got to get in here, show some of my skills and let everybody see the real speed.”
While Marshall provided the biggest highlight of the day, the game led to more questions about a passing game that was last in the Southeastern Conference with an average of 148.5 yards through the air last season.
Junior quarterback Brandon Allen struggled against the second-teamers in the first half before recovering in the second to finish 12 of 21 for 108 yards. Allen had a 5-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to Patrick Arinze, but that came after a pair of first-half interceptions.
“I was very frustrated the first half, but we said we had a clean slate at halftime,” Allen said. “It wasn’t what we wanted, but we came back in the second half and did a lot better.”
Allen’s backups didn’t fare much better against a retooled Razorbacks defense under new coordinator Robb Smith, with Austin Allen throwing two interceptions while finishing 11 of 17 for 139 yards playing for both teams.
Freshman quarterback Rafe Peavey, a midterm enrollee, was 4 of 9 for 42 yards.
“I thought the part that was frustrating for me, just the first half we kind of looked like we were sleepwalking a little bit,” Bielema said. “Some guys weren’t ready to roll.”
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While the White offense was stagnant for much of the first half, it was with good reason.
Deatrich Wise, eager to fill the defensive end spot vacated by the NFL-bound Chris Smith, was seemingly everywhere for the Red. The sophomore had five touch sacks of the White quarterbacks in the first half, and his strip of Allen in the second quarter led to a 19-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Darius Philon.
“(Wise) is so long that it doesn’t matter how good of a pass blocker you are,” Bielema said. “If he gets a hold of you, he is going to cause problems.”
Standout defensive end Trey Flowers sat out the game for precautionary reasons.
Much has been made this spring by the Razorbacks about the new, more physical approach on defense brought by Smith.
The results of the swarming attack were evident on Saturday, with four defenders — Rohan Gaines, Carroll Washington, Davyon McKinney and De’Andre Coley — grabbing interceptions.
Arkansas was last in the SEC in forced turnovers last season, finishing with 14, but the Razorbacks hope Saturday was a sign of things to come defensively.
Marshall’s continued emergence was the story of Saturday, but it also led to questions about how Arkansas will use the sophomore next season.
The Razorbacks were third in the SEC with an average of 208.7 yards rushing per game last season, with Alex Collins (1,026 yards) and Jonathan Williams (900) leading the way.
Both return for next season, with Williams rushing for 78 yards on 8 carries on Saturday and Collins gaining 12 yards on 4 carries. That led to questions about how Bielema plans to use all three.
“The neat thing for us, those three guys give us valuable ready-made guys right now going into fall came, and we can spend the entire summer thinking through that process,” Bielema said.
Despite throwing two interceptions, Austin Allen likely entrenched himself as his older brother’s backup at quarterback by throwing a pair of touchdowns.
Longtime Arkansas fan Canaan Sandy earned his place in the ESPN Fan Hall of Fame last year, thanks to his longtime devotion to the Razorbacks.
The Cave City, Ark., native earned a spot in the Arkansas spring statistics on Saturday — running 50 yards for a touchdown through the retreating defense to put the Red ahead 54-22 late in the third quarter.
After being mobbed by the entire Arkansas team in the end zone, Sandy blew kisses and flexed his muscles for the remaining crowd.
Bielema said he had the idea while playing catch with Sandy during a fan club meeting.
“You talk about a ham,” Bielema said. “He wasn’t about to come off that field.”