Arkansas did precisely what it came to do – and that wasn't to paint.
Joe Adams tied an SEC record with two punt returns for scores and fellow senior wideout Jarius Wright hauled in two scoring tosses from Tyler Wilson as the Razorbacks drilled the 1-AA Bears 51-7 Saturday night before 70,607 fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"I was happy with our team,"Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. "It was a good start, how we were supposed to start. As you say, mission accomplished."
The Bears lone score – a 33-yard pass after a Brandon Mitchell fumble late in the third quarter – finally got them near the century mark.
"We didn't do everything right and there are a lot of things to work on and get better at here during a short period of time and get ready for next week's game," Petrino said, "but when you control the line of scrimmage like our defense did and run to the ball, I was proud of our defense. I think we had six three-and-outs and they had one first down in the first half. We did a good job coming out of the locker room and playing defense."
Arkansas had 364 yards passing and 102 yards rushing with one turnover, two sacks and only two punts on the night.
"Offensively, I thought we threw the ball well and caught the ball well," Petrino said. "We have some work to do in the run game. We understand that, but I don't feel too bad about it because everything they did was to blitz to stop the run. When they do that, you just throw the ball more."
Wilson made his first career start and was 18-of-24 passing for 260 yards with the two touchdowns and no picks with Wright (6 catches, 106 yards) hauling in both of his scoring tosses.
"I thought he did a good job," Petrino said of Wilson. "I thought he was real poised, very under control and really executed what we wanted him to. He moved the ball well. He did a good job in the critical zone, in the red zone."
One of his few mistakes according to Petrino was trying to dive into the end zone after a 9-yard run. He was met by a Missouri State defender who knocked him back.
"I thought he showed his toughness, competitive sprit and maybe his stupidity in diving and landing on his head," Petrino said. "We have to get a little bit better so he will maybe not want to do that."
Mitchell was 10-of-11 for 104 yards with his first career touchdown pass – a 4-yarder to tight end Chris Gragg.
Wilson played five possessions while Mitchell – who was on the field in both the first and second quarters – handled four possessions under snap.
"I thought he (Mitchell) executed well at times, but at times he miscalled a couple of plays and that really hurt him," Petrino said. "He had a couple of good drives and some nice throws. One thing with Brandon, I don't expect him to miss calling a play. He really knows our offense."
There were two possessions wiped out with Adams' brilliant returns. He had a school-record 174 yards on six punt returns, including touchdowns of 61 and 69 yards – the latter which he caught on a bounce after it went over his head.
"I will say that the punt returns were fantastic, especially with Joe able to find space and use his speed to his advantage," Petrino said.
On each occasion, fellow returner Marquel Wade threw a block that started the return and he actually threw another one – on a helmet-less Bear – at the end of the second one that assure the score.
"Both times my groups set up the blocks well," Adams said. "I didn't think the second one was going to go. I did a lot of shaking and baking. I was really tired at the end. I was about to score and looked to my left and saw the guy with no helmet on and I knew he couldn't catch me. Marquel Wade came and picked him up. I love Wade for those blocks."
It was a pleasing site for Petrino, who decided to put two guys back deep this season.
"He is a tremendous athlete," Petrino said of Adams. "We decided to put two guys back there because both of those guys are really good punt returners. I think it helps him get started. Marquel always made a good block."
Adams also caught one pass for 11 yards, something that kept his streak alive of having a reception in every game he has played during his Arkansas career.
The Razorbacks scored on all of their first half possessions with Wilson hitting Wright for 33 yards, Adams ripping off his first return, freshman Kody Walker bulling in from the 1-yard line, Gragg catching Mitchell's short fling and Zach Hocker drilling a 32-yard field goal for a 30-0 lead at intermission.
It was more of the same in the second half as Wilson hit Wright on a 29-yard pass – one that was initially ruled out of bounds in the end zone.
But after the Razorbacks' huge jumbotron showed Wright clearly had his foot down in bounds, Petrino challenged and the play was reviewed officially and overturned.
Adams then raced all over the field on his 69-yard return and Hocker's PAT surged Arkansas ahead 44-0 with 4:15 left in the third quarter.
The Bears did avoid the shutout when they turned Mitchell's fumble into a 33-yard pass from former Texarkana quarterback Kierra Harris to Jermain Swofford.
Harris was starting because the regular signal caller was suspended for the first game.
"Overall I think we did a good job as a team," Harris said. "I learned to be calm and cool. I know on a couple of plays I was the reason why we didn't get the play off right, so I had to be just calm and cool and execute the plays."
Walker – the Razorbacks' 240-pound freshman tailback – scored on his second 1-yard run with 12:20 left in the game.
Junior Ronnie Wingo led the rushing attack with 11 carries for 43 yards and also had 3 catches for 51 yards while De'Anthony Curtis added 5 carries for 37 yards and Walker 9 carries for 33 yards.
Walker had the two scoring runs as he played with the injured Dennis Johnson not dressing out for the contest.
"He is hungry," Petrino said. "He wants to get in there and get more touches, but he just needs to be more patient. I really thought he took huge strides forward the last two weeks and got better and better each day. He got faster and faster. He is going to have to get his pads down a little bit. He is a big man, but he did take two pretty good shots. We tell him every day – run lower. He'll get it."
Missouri State head coach Terry Allen knew his team faced a monumental challenge on Saturday night.
"We're going to be alright," Allen said. "I was disappointed obviously, but I was pleased with our guys up front defensively. I was disappointed offensively in the first half, but we probably held them back a little bit. We tried to huddle a bit with Kierra and that's not what we do. So we went out in the second half and went back and did the things that we do and we obviously executed a little better."
Arkansas linebacker Jerico Nelson picked off a Harris pass and was part of a strong defensive effort.
"On that play (Arkansas defensive coordinator) Coach (Willy) Robinson made a call and we came out and did what we needed to do," Nelson said. "The quarterback threw the ball my way and I was able to catch it. I feel like both sides of the ball we looked fast. Our defense was out there running around getting to the ball and our offensive speed looked good as well."
Byran Jones and Elton Ford led the way numerically for the defense with six tackles each, but it was new linebacker Alonzo Highsmith (4 tackles with 2 for lost yardage) that caught Petrino's attention.
"I was real happy with Highsmith," Petrino said. "He has got a lot of flash to me. He is able to run and tackle. To be able to rotate those guys inside (the defensive tackles) I really believe that is going to help us."
Petrino said he wants to see the tape to judge how the offensive line did, but did see one thing he didn't like.
"We had a couple of errors in protection and got the quarterback hit a couple of times," Petrino said. "I don't know right now if it was the tackle's fault or the guard's fault in not covering the gap he was supposed to. We don't accept getting the quarterback hit. That is something that we can not do."
Springdale freshman Mitch Smothers became the first true freshman to ever start his first college game in the offensive line at Arkansas in the modern era when he opened at tackle.
Other freshman who played included Wade, Walker, receiver Keonte Minor, offensive lineman Brey Cook, defensive ends Trey Flowers and Tyler Gilbert, cornerback Tevin Mitchell, deep snapper Alan D'Appollonio and defensive tackle Lonnie Gosha.
Arkansas will host New Mexico next Saturday in Little Rock.
"I see a lot of things we have to get corrected," Petrino said. "First and foremost is the substitution (two timeouts called because of that). That should never happen. We have those (early) plays scripted and we go through them. We were just a little lax in communication coming off the sideline. We have to make sure we get that corrected."
Alonzo Highsmith makes one his four tackles.
Cobi Hamilton had 3 catches for 38 yards.
Joe Adams takes off on one of his two punt returns.
Ronnie Wingo had 94 yards in total offense with 51 receiving and 43 rushing.
Bobby Petrino makes a point in the first half.
Byran Jones slams into a Missouri State back.
Jarius Wright makes a catch against the Bears.
Jerico Nelson snares an interception.
Joe Adams slides away from the Bears.
Marquel Wade eludes a would-be tackler.
Ronnie Wingo churns for yards.
The defense controlled the line of scrimmage.
Cobi Hamilton flies down the sideline.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated