Five Keys Review
1. Run game success
Arkansas had Knile Davis back on the field Saturday night and his talents were evident early, when the junior rushed for 47 yards on seven carries. Davis bumped his rushing total to 80 yards at halftime and was on pace for a 100-yard day.
Then the Arkansas run game slowed down in the second half. The Razorbacks managed just 62 yards on 14 carries (and it included a 27-yard scramble by backup quarterback Brandon Allen). Davis had four attempts for minus-10 yards.
Arkansas finished with 164 yards in its opener, but the longest run from a back was Knile Davis’ 13-yarder. So run game improvement will be emphasized this week.
2. Limit mistakes
The Razorbacks were uncharacteristically sloppy with the football Saturday night, coughing it up three times in the big win. Two of the fumbles came on Arkansas’ first three possessions, contributing to the early 14-7 deficit.
Quarterback Tyler Wilson dropped the ball trying to elude defenders on the first drive, killing a scoring chance. It nearly led to a six points, too, if not for Davis’ touchdown-saving tackle deep in Arkansas territory. Tight end Chris Gragg fumbled two possessions later fighting for extra yards. Running back Ronnie Wingo had another fumble late. The mistakes put a damper on an otherwise strong showing.
3. Sound tackling
Arkansas’ new defense made its debut (if you’re not counting the Cotton Bowl) against Jacksonville State. Coordinator Paul Haynes said tackling, one of Arkansas’ big weaknesses last season, would be an area of emphasis for his group. It’s also an area that will be watched closely with a big test against Alabama looming.
The Razorbacks weren’t terrible Saturday night, but there were a handful of missed tackles that led to second-effort yards by the Gamecocks. Haynes has said one missed tackle is too much for a coaching staff that expects perfection, so there are high standards. Arkansas will try to get closer to that in practice this week.
4. Score early, often
The Razorbacks didn’t exactly get off to a rousing start against Jacksonville State, watching a 55-yard drive end with Wilson’s fumble. But it’s clear that turnovers and other mistakes were the only things that could stop Arkansas from scoring Saturday.
The second quarter was a clear sign of Arkansas’ abilities on offense. The Razorbacks piled up four touchdowns and 222 yards on 19 plays, putting plenty of distance between themselves and the Gamecocks. Arkansas led 35-14 by the time the spurt ended and, while Jacksonville State scored the next 10 points, the Razorbacks never felt threatened again in their 25-point win.
5. Stay healthy
Arkansas didn’t want any of its stars to go down with injuries in the season opener against the Gamecocks. But receiver Cobi Hamilton’s night ended when he caught a pass in the first quarter, cut back to the middle of the field and was walloped by a Jacksonville State defensive lineman.
John L. Smith said after the game Hamilton was held out because of a minor neck injury and ruled out a concussion. Teammates said Hamilton was told he had suffered a concussion. Either way, the Razorbacks are fortunate. The injury isn’t expected to keep Hamilton out of next Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe.
Players of the Game
Offense — QB Tyler Wilson (19 of 27, 367 yards, 3 TDs)
There’s plenty of expectations surrounding Wilson entering his senior season and the quarterback delivered in the opener. He set a school record for passing yards in a season opener, breaking a mark held by Casey Dick. He also equaled a school record for passing touchdowns in an opener. Smith credited Wilson for his performance afterward, saying it was good to see his leader was “in command.”
Defense — S Ross Rasner (11 tackles, 1 ½ TFLs, forced fumble)
He was picked on some by Jacksonville State’s passing attack, but Rasner turned in a fine performance from his safety spot Saturday. He led the team in tackles and had 1 ½ for losses. He also forced a fumble and broke up a pass. The forced fumble helped end a Jacksonville State drive that began with the Gamecocks down 42-24. The Hogs then pushed downfield and stuck the ball in the end zone to put the game away.
Special Teams — KR Dennis Johnson (96 yards on 4 kick returns)
Johnson said the NCAA’s new rules, which moves kickoffs to the 35-yard line and is expected to lead to more touchbacks, wouldn’t deter him from coming out of the end zone in 2012. The senior proved it in the second quarter. Johnson fielded a kickoff six yards deep, but brought it out anyway and returned it 42 yards.
The big play came with Arkansas trailing 14-7. The Razorbacks scored five players later to tie the game, igniting a 28-point second quarter that helped them pull away.
Johnson averaged 24 yards on four kickoff returns Saturday night.
8 – Number of true freshmen who played Saturday. The list included: receivers Mekale McKay and Keon Hatcher, running backs Jonathan Williams and Nate Holmes, linebackers Otha Peters and A.J. Turner, cornerback Will Hines and defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr.
17 — Number of players who made their Arkansas debuts Saturday night. In addition to the true freshmen, safety Rohan Gaines, quarterback Brandon Allen, cornerbacks Davyon McKinney and Kaelon Kelleybrew, defensive end Austin Flynn, tight end Alex Voelzke, offensive tackle Grady Ollison, wide receiver Demetrius Wilson and defensive tackle DeMarcus Hodge earned their first playing time.
34 — Career touchdown passes for Tyler Wilson, which moved him to fifth on the school’s career list. Wilson passed Barry Lunney Jr. (1992-95) with his three touchdown passes Saturday night. Ryan Mallett holds the career mark (62).
49 – Points scored by the Razorbacks in their season-opening win. The 49 points is the third-highest total for an Arkansas coach in his debut. Arkansas scored 59 points in John Tomlin’s debut in 1943 and 53 in Lou Holtz’s first game in 1977.
Arkansas (1-0) will hit the road – sort of - traveling to Little Rock to play Louisiana-Monroe in War Memorial Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Razorbacks are 9-0 against ULM in a series that began with a 38-21 win in 1996.
Arkansas beat ULM 31-7 the last time the programs met in 2010. The Razorbacks never trailed, but didn’t have an easy time with the Warhawks. Arkansas led 7-0 at halftime and 14-0 at the end of the third quarter before pulling away in the fourth quarter behind Ryan Mallett’s 400 passing yards and three touchdowns.
The game serves as the Warhawks season-opener. It’s also the first in a three-game stretch that includes a road trip to Auburn and home game against Baylor.
“We got the win and I’m extremely happy that we were able to get that first one for (Smith). We’ve got many to go still. We handled it very well. I think there’ll be a lot of corrections and things to go over that you kind of don’t get to rehearse in that first. It was a good game for us to kind of get everything under our belt.” — Wilson on picking up Arkansas’ first win under John L. Smith.