Plain vanilla soothes Hogs sweet tooth in season opener

There are more exotic treats out there, but sometimes pound cake, Coca-Cola, a glazed donut or vanilla ice cream hit the spot and are hard to beat. That was the case Saturday in the second half of the No. 18 Arkansas Razorbacks’ 48-13 season-opening victory over Texas-El Paso.

With its defense setting the table for two quick, third-quarter touchdowns with an interception and a fumble recovery inside the Miners’ 10-yard line on UTEP’s first two possessions of the third quarter, the Razorbacks (1-0) had the game well in hand.

Bret Bielema and his first-year offensive coordinator Dan Enos knew there was no benefit in showing off any more of the Razorbacks’ offensive repertoire than it had up to that point in the game. It was time to burn the clock, play some younger Hogs and get out of the game with as little risk as possible.

There was no reason to push for a 200-yard rushing performance by Alex Collins (12 carries for 127 yards) or a 400-yard passing game by Brandon Allen (14 of 18 for 308 yards and four TDs). If either of those had been goals, the Razorbacks could have accomplished them, but stats for the sake of stats are meaningless. It was smarter for the Hogs to save the effort it would have taken to accomplish such numbers for a day when it is actually needed.

Bielema did lament that Collins was pushed out of bounds on a 70-yard carry that ran out the second-quarter clock, supposing that the fresh legs of freshman Rawleigh Williams might have netted a touchdown in that situation. Bielema also said he had hoped Williams might have popped a TD run while running between the tackles in the fourth quarter, but that he was working with a combination of the second- and third-team offensive lines.

By that point, too, Enos had tucked away his playbook saving the finer points of his offense for a time when it would be needed. Enos’ aggressive yet basic playcalling in the first half not only helped the Hogs put the game away, but it also documented that the Razorbacks have no problem putting the ball in the air if a defense plans to pack the box.

UTEP deployed seven to nine of its 11 defenders to attempt to halt the Razorbacks’ rushing attack for much of the ball game, and instead of banging the team’s head against the wall, Enos dialed up successful pass after pass in the first half.

“He didn’t try to pound a square peg into a round hole,” Bielema said of Enos. “He saw that they were committing to stopping the run, and he didn’t take two quarters to adjust.”

The Hogs’ passing game wasn’t perfect. Allen missed a couple of could-have-been touchdowns to his tight ends Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle, but got the points back on subsequent TD throws. Overall Allen looked as sharp as he ever has as a Razorback, and his receivers performed well with Keon Hatcher leading the way with 6 catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

The one luxury of Arkansas’ schedule this season is that Bielema could work his Razorbacks into playing shape in the first two games before the temperature of the season is turned up a couple of notches Sept. 19 when Texas Tech, which defeated Sam Houston State 59-45 last Saturday, visits Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Bielema said there was less live tackling in preseason camp following the game which led to some defensive mistakes that he said will be quickly corrected this week in practice as the Razorbacks prep for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game with Toledo at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. The Rockets’ game with Stony Brook was called at halftime last Thursday with Toledo leading 16-7 after a three-hour lighting delay from thunderstorms that struck the Chicago area.

Bielema credited the Hogs defensive lineman for more disruptive play in the second half and pointed to Arkansas’ depth across the front as the reason. Some might be a bit concerned about a few big plays the Miners made and that the Razorbacks gave up 13 points in the opener, but as good of a unit as the Razorbacks defense developed into last year, they were not a dominant group. They were solid and opportunistic. The Razorbacks defense may not have picked up right where it left off a year ago, but it was far sounder than where it started last season. Expect the Razorbacks defense to only improve as the season moves along.

Corrections need to be made in all phases of the their game, but nothing happened Saturday that indicated the Hogs won’t be very competitive by the time SEC play begins.