In its 2015 debut, long awaited and anticipated despite it being a non-marquee game in a virtual crock-pot of a stadium, Arkansas dispatched UTEP as expected, 48-13, and more or less did all the right things. Even when the Miners strung together two nice scoring drives in the second quarter to draw within 21-10, it wasn’t one of those moments where the defense faltered.
UTEP is, of course, a Conference USA member that is projected to hover around the middle of that league, but for fleeting moments their minute quarterback Mark Leftwich and their workhorse tailback Aaron Jones did some great things. Play-calling was creative and got the Hogs a shade off-balance. There really was no shame in surrendering a couple of innocent scores to these guys, particularly because the defense’s second-half adjustments were immediate and profound. Henri Toliver deflected a Leftwich attempt into the air right out of the gate in the third period, gathered it in, and the Hogs punched in a quick touchdown to balloon the lead to 25.
Alex Collins hit the 100-yard mark on the ground. Keon Hatcher did it through the air, and snared two touchdowns on Brandon Allen’s best two throws of a spectacularly efficient 308-yard, four-touchdown performance. There was a lot of electricity generated out of a new wide receiver screen game, namely Drew Morgan and Jared Cornelius turning the modest lateral throws into nearly a full field’s worth of yardage and 12 points. Rawleigh Williams got to grind out some yardage and lead the team in carries in his first collegiate action, and some other newcomers contributed impactful plays. Cole Hedlund popped in all his extra-point tries easily and a couple of short field goals for good measure.
It was a clean game, not too dynamic, but certainly the kind of contest that Arkansas needed. The Hogs escaped both injury and calamity, with no notable dings and no turnovers. The only penalties of note were overcome quickly by solid offensive execution the next down, and best of all, Dan Skipper didn’t draw undue officiating attention upon himself.
So there we have it, a 1-0 start as scripted. The Hogs essentially kept a static position in the rankings, which is also fine, because the opening weekend of action only yielded a couple of Top 25 upsets, neither of which constituted front-page news. Texas A&M did dismantle Arizona State to blow the Devils out of the rankings and thrust itself into the mix, so there’s reason to expect that the Sept. 26 matchup at Arlington will now feature two Top 15 teams unless something goes horribly awry the next two weeks.
For Arkansas, that shakeup shouldn’t occur this weekend, even if Little Rock is the venue. Toledo is the opponent, and the Rockets are reeling from suspensions and the same lack of manpower that afflicted UTEP. There’s no question that fans on the golf course can expect hell-hot conditions and a somewhat laissez-faire kind of game again. Collins will likely take extended time off after halftime, and maybe the only thing that we’ll see changed in the running game is that Kody Walker takes a few more totes in the open field. Williams had a modest yards-per-carry average against UTEP’s smaller, outclassed line, and Walker’s entire 2012 season got whisked away in the Louisiana-Monroe disaster of 2012 on a kickoff return at War Memorial. The fifth-year junior would probably enjoy, and richly deserve, a bit more action this Saturday to push those bad memories aside.
In the passing game, the only unanswered question after Week 1 was how much of a role rangy speedster Dominique Reed would play. Allen targeted him on some long throws, as expected, and just overshot him. Reed’s got raw speed and agility, but perhaps Dan Enos will take a different approach with him against the Rockets by letting him be on the receiving end of some screens or short slants so he can then take flight in open field. Cody Hollister also didn’t get much of a look against the Miners, and Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle may get additional targets underneath this week. The intermediate game was basically unneeded in Fayetteville, so this offers a chance to flex it.
Defensively is where a lot of things may change. Arkansas won’t fear a depleted Toledo backfield, so Robb Smith can and should take more chances in an effort to cause havoc and maybe a giveaway or two. Jeremiah Ledbetter, Tevin Beanum, and Deatrich Wise could realistically get more shots at the Rockets’ quarterbacks (they’re likely to play two, at least) and that may spell more stray balls in the air for the secondary to gather. The Hogs certainly do not fear the Rockets and will not be shaken if they get a couple of blows in like the Miners did.
Little Rock games, as it has been said here before, may not be long for this world. Go out and enjoy what should be the Hogs’ finest moment there in a good four years or so, because a 2-0 start and a possibility to inch forward in the polls is the payoff.