Those hoping that the Razorbacks would start their second season under Bobby Petrino off with a bang got their wish and then some on Saturday.
Dennis Johnson took the opening kickoff of the 2009/2010 season 90 yards juking, jiving, and stiff-arming his way to the end zone for a touchdown.
Hog quarterbacks Ryan Mallet and Tyler Wilson combined for a school record 447 yards passing, the defense held Missouri state to only 205 total yards, and the Hogs beat Missouri state 48-10.
I’d say that qualifies as a bang.
The Razorbacks have a lot stiffer competition on their upcoming schedule than what they faced on Saturday, but there were a lot of encouraging signs that the Razorbacks will be able to improve on last year’s 5-7 record this season. Here are some of them.
- Improved quarterback play: Ryan Mallet looked like the 5 star quarterback he was advertised to be. He completed his first 8 passes, finished the game 17-22 for 309 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly, his passes were on the money all game. Regardless of competition, if your quarterback is hitting his receivers in stride consistently, that certainly bodes well for the future. The fact that Hogs backup Tyler Wilson looked impressive is also encouraging. When was the last time the Razorbacks had two legitimate SEC caliber quarterbacks on their roster?
- Better defensive pressure on the quarterback: The Hogs sacked Missouri State quarterback Cody Kirby 3 times, and the defensive line was consistently in the backfield putting pressure on Kirby. Consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback, no matter who we are playing, is a good thing.
- More catches for the wide-outs: During the Houston Nutt era, Hog fans at Reynolds Razorback stadium applauded even an attempt to stretch the field with a long pass to the wide receivers. In the opener vs. Missouri State, Hog quarterbacks completed 21 passes to the wide receivers. Our quarterbacks were looking downfield early and often, and the Hogs’ wideouts were able to take short passes and turn them into big plays. No matter who you are playing, being able to get the ball into the hands of your playmakers on the outside is a good sign.
- A stable of running backs: Last year, the Razorbacks relied heavily on running back Michael Smith to carry the load. Against Missouri State, Smith only carried the ball 4 times for 43 yards (that’s an average of 10.8 yards per carry), and freshmen Ronnie Wingo along with transfer Broderick Green showed promise as well. Wingo and Green proved that they may be able to spell Smith, as well as contribute their own talents to the running game this year for the Hogs. Smith and Wingo combined carried 18 times for 81 yards, and Green was able to help the Hogs on short yardage, bulling his way into the endzone from the 1 yard line for the Hogs’ third first quarter touchdown.
Questions for the Hogs remain. On special teams, Razorback kickers sent three kickoffs out of bounds, allowing Missouri State great field position starting on the 40 yard line on those occasions. The Hogs’ kickoff coverage team also allowed a 45 yard return by Missouri State’s Jermain Saffold.
The Razorback secondary played well in their first game, allowing only 107 yards passing against dual threat quarterback Cody Kirby, the longest play going for only 26 yards.
Whether they will be able to keep that up against some of the great passing quarterbacks they will face in the Southeastern Conference will play a huge part in the Hogs success this season.
But after struggling against early season foes W. Illinois and La. Monroe last year, it was nice to see the Hogs dominate Missouri State to kick off the 2009 season.
It’s a long season, and the Razorbacks will certainly have their ups and downs this year, but there was a lot to like in the Hogs win over Missouri State on Saturday.