FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas 34, Louisiana-Lafayette 14 comes with a warning: sip, don’t slurp the Kool-Aid.
Raised months ago, many questions will continue percolating for a few weeks or more while the Razorbacks bow up against Samford and Southern Mississippi. For now, Razorback fans should enjoy 1-0 while continuing to debate expectations for the defense and the personality of the offense.
Before documenting the positives, the 20-point margin was a surprise. I thought the Ragin’ Cajuns, with dual-threat quarterback Terrance Broadway and three very experienced offensive lineman returning, would give the Razorbacks’ defense fits. Broadway made some plays, but not as many as expected. Much appreciated was that the people charged with putting pressure on Broadway stayed in their lanes — a sure sign of discipline — with containment at a premium.
Broadway is not Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, but being in the proper position works wonders against a quarterback who is willing to run. Broadway was sacked three times in the second half.
The flow of the game indicates the Razorbacks comprehend Bielema’s mantra. How many times has Arkansas’ new coach said, “It’s not what happens, but how you react to what happens.” For almost 14 minutes in the second quarter, the Razorbacks lived it to the hilt.
Arkansas was leading 7-0 early in the second quarter when Jarrett Lake — one of the Razorbacks’ many inexperienced linebackers — was beaten badly by running back Elijah McGuire on a 31-yard pass that set up a tying touchdown. At 7-7, I wondered about the response of a team that has been panned by most in the media.
The retort was darned near perfect, an unruffled five plays for 75 yards. Javonte Herndon got a step on a cornerback and Brandon Allen’s throw was on the money for the final 49 yards. ULL’s next possession lasted all of 27 seconds — three incomplete passes will shorten time of possession.
Zach Hocker field goals ended Arkansas’ next two possessions. The first series underlined Bielema’s preaching and the second was a blatant vote of confidence for Allen and the offense.
At 14-7, after Allen was sacked for 10 yards, Alex Collins ran for 10, and Allen threw to Keon Hatcher for 27 more — a positive reaction to adversity. Sitting on a 10-point lead with the ball on the Arkansas 5 and the clock winding toward a minute, Arkansas called time on third-and-9. Out of the shotgun, Allen to Jeremy Sprinkle was good for 17 yards and three more completions led to a 34-yard field goal.
One play after ULL closed to 27-14 in the third quarter, Arkansas’ answer was a cut against the grain that sprung Jonathan Williams for 75 yards and a TD.
I’m pretty sure that’s what Bielema has in mind.
Williams carried 18 times and Collins’ number was called 21 times. The jewel of Bielema’s first recruiting class, Collins looked a half-step quicker, but both appeared more than capable against a defense that will not be confused with the one at Alabama or LSU. It is encouraging that neither ducked contact.
Collins was not the only freshman impossible to ignore. Although tight end Hunter Henry lost a fumble and dropped another pass, he can run and he looked more like a wide receiver than a tight end on one catch down the middle.
Discipline on the pass rush was mentioned earlier, but the minimal number of penalties, one turnover, and a couple of isolated moments say these guys are well coached:
• ULL did not come close to picking off one of Allen’s 22 passes.
• Downfield on the punt receiving team in the second quarter, Tevin Mitchel realized the kick was wobbly, dangerous to handle, and exited the field rather than hover as the ball bounced toward the Arkansas goal.
• On a rollout away from the flow, wide receiver Julian Horton busted a much bigger defensive player, leaving Allen an easy throw for Arkansas’ first touchdown.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.