Bret Bielema talks about running the ball when everyone in the house knows you are going to run the ball, and still doing it successfully.
That defines what Arkansas did to Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns in Bielema's season opener Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. How about right out of the chute n a 34-14 victory?
Quarterback Brandon Allen wasn't sure how long it took the Cajuns to figure out there would be nothing spicy to the Arkansas offense. I know. It took about four plays before the UL safeties loaded the box against the smash-mouth Razorbacks.
The 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that Arkansas opened the game began with runs of 14, 13, 6, 14 yards. Then, after the Hogs were slowed to 8, 6 and 2 by a 9-man front, Allen went to the air for the last three plays for 5, 12 and 6 yards, the final one a bootleg pass to Javontee Herndon. It was clear that the Hogs were the more physical team and had imposed their will over the Cajuns.
"You get that many in the box, that's a great compliment to our offensive line," Allen said. "That opens up the passing game and you saw that today."
You can pick out more than that in the opening victory to see the physical play that Bielema wanted to display, along with the balance that he promises is so critical to his offensive plan. He had preached about responded to adversity and a passing game that could make a defense pay for loading up against the run.
The Hogs answered UL's first touchdown with a five-play roar on Allen's 49-yard bomb to Herndon. They capped a fine opening half with a 79-yard march for Zach Hocker's 34-yard field goal at the intermission horn. Then, the defense answered with a sack and fumble takeaway just two plays after the only UA turnover of the game.
A potent UL offense that averaged 455 yards last year – 29th in the country – was limited to 274. Bielema pointed out that there was a great coaching point in that 31 came on the wheel route completion, a no-no for his defenses.
"I know we held them way down," said Trey Flowers, the defensive end who tomahawked the ball away from quarterback Terrance Broadway in the sequence that salted the game away for the Hogs in the third quarter.
"Coach B talks all the time about how you respond to adversity. I just came on a level rush, a bull rush inside. I think I surprised the tackle. Coach (Charlie) Partridge teaches us to go for the ball, chop down. I got it.
"It was time to make a play. I think that's the way Coach B talks about doing it. Make that play. I thought we did that other times today, respond to adversity. Our offense was backed up at the end of the half and got points at the other end. All of that is big for us."
The Hogs raced 49 yards in six plays after the Flowers fumble, recovered by Austin Jones. Allen found Kiero Small in the flats on a play-action pass for the final 10 yards. Small squared up on the sideline and rolled through three Ragin' Cajuns. He planted Corey Trim at the 2-yard line, sinking his hips and smoking the defensive back.
Bielema got a good look at Small's clinching play. It made him smile because it was just the kind of defining play that he thought the senior fullback could bring in his system.
"I thought he might be the most productive player in our system," Bielema said. "It is easy to see that he is very gifted and perfect in this system. I saw him power in for that touchdown."
Travis Swanson, the lead man as a pulling center in so many of those outside plays, missed that one.
"I'm looking forward to seeing it on tape," Swanson said. "That's the fun part tomorrow. I know it's going to be pretty good."
Swanson used the F-word a lot in the post-game interviews, fun. He kept himself from looking at the replay board or the in-game stats because he knew without a glance they were all good.
"It was so much fun," Swanson said. "It was fun to see Jonathan Williams go 75. That's fun for an offensive linemen. It's fun to get that many rushing yards, and have two backs go over 100. I don't know when we've done that here before. It's been awhile.
"It was fun to pull and show people what I could do. That's fun for a center to get out front. It's fun to be out there on the edge with Grady Ollison, so fast. We thought we might hurt them on the edge today. That was the plan.
"It's fun to see Brandon Allen play like that. It's fun to win the way we did."
And, it was all about the way Bielema advertised, lower pads, tougher line play and physical play all the way around. It didn't take long for Bielema to answer when asked if he thought the Hogs won the physical hitting match.
"We won," he said. "I thought (UL head coach Mark Hudspeth) was complimentary of that area afterwards."
Indeed, Hudspeth said afterwards, "Our young secondary got exposed pretty early, especially when you have to put so many in the box to stop the run. They don't have much underneath help, so they get on an island pretty quick."
Bielema can talk about responding to adversity, but honestly, there wasn't that much. The Hogs had only two lost yardage plays, not counting a kneel down at the end. The tailbacks combined for just one, a play of minus 1 yard late in the first half.
Some of that has to be credited to Allen, almost perfect on his checks at the line of scrimmage. Jonathan Williams praised his quarterback.
"He did a great job," Williams said. "He was calm in the huddle. He checked to the right plays. A lot of those plays he checked to, we were able to make some big runs and a lot of people don't know that. We had a different pay called and he made the right decisions to run the best play against the defense."
Herndon said simply, "Thank you, Brandon Allen. The first one (of his two touchdowns), we've been working on a lot in practice. That was a route that I ran. The second, he just threw the ball and I made a play.
"I thought we showed a lot of balance. It was fun to see the running game."
That sounded like Swanson again. Fun, fun, fun.
Swanson said it was fun proving some national pundits wrong. He said the team knew that the trendy pick on the day was Louisiana pulling the upset.
"We get the sense that no one likes us," Swanson said. "Maybe, for whatever reason, some have it out for Arkansas. End of the day, we had fun proving them wrong. That's kind of the goal for the season, prove everyone wrong.
"I thought it was great out there. Hot? No, I thought it was great."
It's amazing what fun can do to you on a hot day. The Hogs made it that way right out of the chute Saturday.
State of the Hogs: Fun in the Sun
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