Playing a team with a 14-game losing streak can be a no-win situation. That’s sort of the situation Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks faced Saturday.
Oh, the Hogs (3-0) won the game, defeating Southern Miss, 24-3, to extend the Eagles’ losing streak to 15, but no doubt some Hog fans will grouse and groan that the victory wasn’t more dominating despite the circumstances.
The Hogs took a 7-0 lead with a 5-yard touchdown scramble by sophomore quarterback Brandon Allen with 3:52 left in the first quarter, but the score was costly. Allen injured his right shoulder on the play and did not return to the game. Bielema said on Arkansas’ radio broadcast following the game that Allen’s shoulder was bruised, but there was no structural damage. Bielema added that he thought Allen would be able to play next week. Allen completed 2 of 5 passes with an interception before being injured.
Senior Razorback kicker Zach Hocker answered a Golden Eagles field goal with a 42-yarder of his own to give Arkansas a 10-3 lead in the second quarter, which they managed to protect until the half. Hocker is 4-of-4 on field-goal attempts this season.
After surviving the loss of Allen in the first half, Hog back-up quarterback A.J. Derby softened up the stacked Southern Miss defense with short completions to Julian Horton and Kiero Small. That led to a 45-yard, off tackle touchdown run by sophomore tailback Jonathon Williams for a 17-3 lead.
A holding call brought back a long touchdown run by Golden Eagles tailback Kendrick Hardy. Southern Miss faked a field goal, but the Hog linebacker Jarrett Lake stopped the play short on the first play of the fourth quarter.
While Derby appeared uncomfortable early in his first duty as a Razorback, he began to find his stride in the fourth quarter with nice play fakes and connecting with Small for a first down on a screen pass. Freshman Alex Collins capped the drive with a strong, stretching 7-yard touchdown run with 7:20 left in the fourth quarter for the 24-3 final margin.
The Hogs gained 258 yards on 56 carries and passed for 69 yards on 6 of 11 completions with one interception.
Arkansas held the Golden Eagles, who had averaged only 42 yards rushing a game, to 119 yards on 31 carries. Southern Miss completed 18 of 34 passes for 135 yards.
For the third consecutive game, the tandem of sophomore Jonathan Williams and freshman Alex Collins each rushed for more than 100 yards. Collins became the first freshman in Southeastern Conference history to rush for 100 or more yards in each of his first three games. Of course, the Razorbacks have yet to play an SEC opponent.
Williams gained 116 yards on 16 carries against the Golden Eagles for an average of 7.3 yards per carry, while Collins carried 25 times for 115 yards and a 4.6 ypc average. Williams broke a 45-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, while Collins long run went for 23.
Offensive Play of the Game
Unquestionably, the most impactful play of the game came on third-and-goal at the Southern Miss 5 with 3:57 left in the first quarter. Sophomore Razorback quarterback Brandon Allen dropped back to pass but saw an opening to the right and scampered to the end zone.
To avoid a direct hit, Allen plunged into the end zone to give the Hogs a 7-0 lead, but he injured his right, throwing shoulder when he hit the turf. The injury, a bruise according to Bielema, kept him out of the rest of the game, cramping the Razorbacks’ offensive game plan. Allen was not hit on the play, but evidently injured his shoulder when he struck the turf. Allen’s arm was in a sling while he was on the sideline during the second half.
Defensive Plays of the Game
With Arkansas holding a tenuous 10-7 lead, Southern Miss mounted a late first-quarter drive in attempt to tie or take the lead, but senior Razorback left defensive end Chris Smith closed the door on the Golden Eagles with back-to-back sacks of Southern Miss quarterback Allen Bridgeford. Sophomore right defensive end Trey Flowers, who halted an earlier Golden Eagles drive with an athletic interception, was in on the second sack.
Offensive Player of the Game
The easy call would be to name either Alex Collins or Jonathan Williams since both went over 100 yards and scored touchdowns, but back-up quarterback A.J. Derby was the hero of the day. Having never played a down of FBS football, the junior college transfer kept the Razorbacks’ ride on the road. Though he did have some trouble with shotgun snaps in the first half, he collected himself and executed under center in a pressurized situation without a turnover. He completed four of six passes, including a perfectly thrown screen to Kiero Small that kept a touchdown drive alive.
Defensive Player of the Game
Chris Smith made five tackles, but three of them were for sacks. After missing last week’s game for an undisclosed reason, Jarrett Lake made 13 tackles, including stopping a Golden Eagle fake field-goal attempt.
Along with Allen’s injured right shoulder, starting sophomore offensive tackle Grady Ollison suffered a ankle injury and freshman cornerback Jared Collins fell to the ground on the sidelines and was driven to the locker room by golf cart in the first half. Collins has a head injury. Starting offensive tackle David Hurd went to the sideline with an injury in the fourth quarter. Junior cornerback Carroll Washington also left the game hurt. Arkansas closed the game with freshman offensive tackles Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper in the game.
Flushed out of the pocket, Brandon Allen threw into triple coverage and was picked off for the Hogs’ lone turnover. Arkansas was penalized four times for 49 yards.
The Razorbacks make their first road trip of the season when they travel to New Jersey to face Rutgers at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday. The Scarlet Knights are 3-0 after defeating Eastern Michigan, 28-10. Like the Razorbacks, Rutgers lost their starting quarterback Gary Nova to injury Saturday, but held on to win. The ESPN family of stations or ABC will telecast the game. The announcement will be made Monday.