FAYETTEVILLE — The Razorbacks dominated the team formerly known as Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday with a balanced wrecking ball in Bret Bielema’s coaching debut at the University of Arkansas.
The Hogs controlled the line of scrimmage, settled into a defensive rhythm, unleashed a double-barreled running back onslaught, threw a touchdown pass to the fullback, utilized the tight end in the passing game and powered to a 34-14 victory over the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns before 69,801 sweating and sun-baked fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Hogs, with backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins working the flanks behind sound blocking, rushed for 292 yards and passed for 230 behind nicely efficient quarterback Brandon Allen, who completed 15 of 22 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns.
It’s the first time since 2008 against Kentucky that the Hogs have rushed the ball more than 50 times in a game.
“Teams I’ve been with in the past who have been great have been over 200 running and passing,” said Bielema. “So many people think if you run the ball, you can’t have an effective passing game. That opens things up for play-action.”
Williams rushed for 151 yards on 18 carries, including a 75-yard touchdown run with a sharp cut across the grain. Collins added 131 yards on 21 carries. The 282 yards represented the first 100-yard game by two backs since Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in 2007. Collins was the first true freshman to rush for 100 yards in his debut since Jones did it against Missouri State in 2005.
“You saw what I see every day in practice,” said Bielema. “‘Jay Will’ will flourish in our system. Alex can change the game with one cut. On the big one with Williams, that was all him with a big cut with vision.”
Arkansas set the tone by taking the opening kickoff and ramming the ball down the Cajuns’ throats on an SEC vintage, 75-yard, 11-play drive for a touchdown.
But they made a statement with two drives and some defensive plays at the end of each half, one drive that didn’t result in points.
At the end of the first half, the Hogs took over at their 4 and Allen passed to Jeremy Sprinkle on third down and hit tight end Hunter Henry on back-to-back passes for 32 yards on a 78-yard, 10-play drive against the clock that resulted in a 34-yard field goal by Zach Hocker on the last play of the half.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the UA ran 13 straight rushing plays to drive from its 40 to the Louisiana 17, taking 8:50 off the clock. It put a punctuation mark on the game even though backup kicker John Henson missed a 34-yard field goal attempt.
The final meaningful play was a sack by Trey Flowers, one of four by the UA defense.
“We knew we would be able to do some things but you don’t know until game day how the players will respond,” said Bielema, who roamed the sideline throughout the game, congratulating players on big plays. “I knew we had what I thought we had, stopped them, took over about the 5 and drove to convert points at end of half — playing beyond the game, setting up things down the road.”
The Hogs also retaliated well.
After the Cajuns, coached by former University of Central Arkansas graduate assistant Mark Hudspeth, tied the game at 7 with a 71-yard, 10-play drive in the first quarter that made the UA defense seemed vulnerable.
The Hogs responded in five plays, highlighted by a 49-yard pass from Allen to Javontee Herndon for a touchdown They added a 22-yard field goal by Hocker on their next possession set up by a 27-yard completion by Allen to Keon Hatcher on third and seven.
Henry lost a fumble early in the second half but Austin Jones got it back for Arkansas less than a minute later at the Louisiana 49. Kiero Small the fullback made a juke and a power move in taking a 10-yard pass from Allen for a touchdown to make it 27-7 with 8:39 left in the third quarter.
The Cajuns then drove 76 yards to an 11-yard touchdown pass from Terra Broadway to Jacob Maxwell, threatening a comeback with 6:20 left in the third.
On the first play from scrimmage after the Lousiana touchdown, Williams broke down the sideline of a 75-yard touchdown run.
“I liked the touchdown responses and the turnover responses,” said Bielema. “And making points after turnovers is huge.”
Going into the fourth quarter, Allen was 14 of 19 for 222 yards.
“You go to quarterback store and find the demeanor and personality you want, he’s got it,” said Bielema. “He handled the huddle very well.”
With his field goal before the half, Hocker, who was a game-day decision to play, because of a groin injury, broke a 43-year old UA career record for total points scored with 296. Bill Burnett (1968-70) held the old mark of 294 for more than four decades.
“I told Zach (who booted five kickoffs into the end zone) that if he was hurt, I want to see him when he’s at full strength,” Bielema said.
Arkansas plays one of two games in Little Rock on Saturday against Samford.