Everything happened that I thought would happen in the Arkansas Razorbacks’ season opener.
Tyler Wilson was very impressive and commanded the offense like a senior quarterback should. His 367 passing yards and three touchdowns will keep him in the Heisman conversation. With the exception of an early fumble, the Greenwood native put the Hogs’ offense in the best situation and put the ball where it needed to be. That place was in the hands of tight end Chris Gragg.
Gragg was thought to be a top notch tight end when the season started and he quickly showed why. Two second quarter touchdowns sparked the Arkansas faithful and put the Hogs on the road to victory. The emergence of Brandon Mitchell at wide receiver is a good sign for a ‘pass first’ style offense. Mitchell had four catches for a game high 122 yards. The former quarterback provides another big play threat and that will be needed, especially if Cobi Hamilton’s “above the shoulder” injury is serious. Hamilton had two catches before heading to the locker room early against Jacksonville State. Javontee Herndon’s 63 yard touchdown was the biggest play of the game and he was one of nine players with at least one catch.
The running game was good but not great. Arkansas’ offensive front established the line of scrimmage often but not to the point you’d expect against a FCS opponent. Hog fans can’t complain with 164 yards (70 by Knile Davis) but can they get that kind of production against a real opponent. Alabama is looming after all.
The Razorbacks’ defense did leave much to be desired. The Gamecocks piled up more than 300 yards of offense, including several big plays through the air. Every one raved how much better the Hogs defense was going to be but we didn’t see it in the opener. We saw a glimpse of it in last year’s Cotton Bowl but that was also against an average (at best) offense in Kansas State. Defensive coordinator Paul Haynes better hope to see drastic improvement this weekend against Louisiana-Monroe or it may be time to press the panic button.
Arkansas turned over Jacksonville State just once but was able to get to the quarterback three times. Those are two areas Arkansas must improve in if it wants to reach the next level.
All in all, the season opener was a success. The Hogs got a win. No major injuries and fans finally got to see Davis take contact. Defense remains to be the issue and is the most obvious area of concern.
Expect more of the same this week against cupcake No. 2.
OTHER NEWS AND NOTES
I think it’s safe to say that everyone is ecstatic to have football back. High schools scratched our itch throughout the week and then college football kicked it into overdrive starting Saturday. Now the Cowboys kick off the NFL season Wednesday.
*USC (Southern Cal) is very, very impressive in the season opener against Hawai’i. Matt Barkley showed why he is the obvious Heisman favorite. Florida State, West Virginia and Oregon also did not disappoint on opening weekend. And after a convincing 41-14 win against Michigan, defending National Champion Alabama is still the team to beat.
*Oklahoma, USC (South Carolina), Wisconsin and Florida all failed to turn heads in their respective season openers. The Sooners were tied at the half with UTEP and preseason No. 9 ( way too high) South Carolina was anemic offensively. The Gamecocks, again, receive recognition for their coach and not their play.
– Bobby Swofford