True freshman tailback Alex Collins rushed 24 times for 172 yards and sophomore Jonathan Williams added 17 carries for 125 yards and each added a short fourth-quarter touchdown run as Arkansas rallied past FCS school Samford 31-21 Saturday night before 47,358 fans at War Memorial Stadium.
Brandon Allen was 9-of-17 passing for 125 yards and had two touchdown tosses on the first two drives of the game for the Razorbacks (2-0), who then had several drives killed with two lost fumbles and six penalties for 65 yards.
"I think we defined several things to show them how you can lose a football game," Bielema said. "There are a lot of teams that would have lost that game right there, but give them (the Razorback players) credit. They took over in the fourth quarter when it mattered and I think we rushed for over 150 to their 10 so it really speaks to what both sides of the ball were able to do."
The Bulldogs (1-1) rallied from a 17-7 halftime deficit to take the lead on Fabian Truss' 16-yard touchdown run with 5:09 left in the third quarter.
But Williams scored on a 1-yard plunge – after a 55-yard dash by Collins - and then Collins dented the goal line with a 2-yard dash as the duo combined to go over 100 yards for the second straight week – the first time in school history to open the season.
Arkansas rushed 53 times for 333 yards, had 458 yards total offense to Samford's 231 and had only one lost yardage play – an 11-yard sack of Allen, who also had a 13-yard scramble.
"It's nice to have them," Bielema said of Collins and Williams. "To have the one-two punch, I'm telling you. Nate Holmes, we will get him in there and get him involved. (Senior fullback) Kiero Small had that nice little belly play that hit for nice yards. He made some nice plays to solidify the game there at the end. I think our guys are getting it."
Samford Associate Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator Bill D'Ottavio, filling in for head coach Pat Sullivan (back surgery), was happy with the fight he saw in the Bulldogs.
"First off, I am proud of our team," D'Ottavio said. "Our kids fought the whole game. They played hard. They didn't back down an inch. No one gave us a chance coming in here, but they believed they could win this football game...Arkansas is a good football team and they played really well down the stretch."
It was the first game of the Bielema era in Little Rock, where Arkansas lost to Louisiana-Monroe and Ole Miss during a 4-8 campaign last season.
While it was the smallest crowd in the stadium for an Arkansas game since the 2002 Troy game that 42,814 attended, Bielema lauded the fans that did show up as "unbelievable."
"We did our walk through this morning about 11 o'clock and people had been going since 6," Bielema said. "I have to hire some of them. They are obviously ready for the fourth quarter as well.
"I really thought they were engaged the whole time," Bielema added. "I told our guys that if they wanted to boo you they should have, but they battled through it and the crowd was awesome. Our guys took over in the fourth quarter."
He was miffed at two players after the game – Collins, who got an unsportsmanline penalty for faking a Lambeau Leap into the crowd – and cornerback Tevin Mitchel, who got a personal foul away from the ball that kept Samford's go-ahead drive alive.
"Obviously way too many penalties," Bielema said. "Two of them were inexcusable. Alex Collins will not do that again. If he does, he will not be here and playing with us. Tevin Mitchel has got to learn to control his emotions. I'm not calling anybody out, I'm just saying what it is. I've pointed it out to both of them, they'll grow from it and we'll see better things ahead."
Arkansas took the last 7:35 off the clock and did not throw a pass in the fourth quarter while mauling the Bulldogs into submission and now moves on to Saturday's game in Fayetteville with Southern Miss.
"So many positives and so many negatives that we can turn into positives in the next seven days," Bielema said. "Everybody in the world of college football gets 12 guaranteed games. We took two steps forward now. We took a step forward last week when we won a game. We took a step forward, but we can't afford to go back anymore."
The Razorbacks played without three defensive starters – injured defensive end Trey Flowers, injured safety Rohan Gaines and suspended linebacker Jarrett Lake.
Junior safety Alan Turner played a night after his father passed away from cancer the night before the game.
"Defensively, we had three new starters that have never played football or started a game and that was a big concern coming in," Bielema said. "We pretty much knew that Ro and J-Lake were not going to make it with us, but we didn't know if Trey would. Trey just didn't feel like after pre-game warm-ups that he could go. He hurt his knee a week ago, but he'll be back. He was right on the cusp, but in a couple of days he should be with us for Southern Miss. We will have all three this week."
Arkansas zipped down the field on its first two possessions with Allen throwing for 65 yards on the opening drive – a six-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with the quarterback tossing a 24-yard pass to tight end Mitchell Loewen for the sophomore's first career touchdown.
The Razorbacks then went 78 yards in eight plays on the next drive with Allen's 7-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver Javontee Herndon capping things and Hocker's PAT making it 14-0.
It was the third touchdown catch of the season for Herndon, who had three coming into the year.
Kelsey Pope's two2ening stanza a 21-point first quarter.
"We started off great, the first quarter we were really, really good and the kids were ready to play," Bielema said. "Then we they scored on us defensively, we kind of hit a funk."
The only points in the second quarter came when Arkansas senior Zach Hocker booted a career-long 53-yarder at the 11:54 mark to push Arkansas ahead 17-7.
"You know I think going in at halftime I was so excited for Hock to hit that 53-yarder," Bielema said. "He's got the leg and just to go out there and execute obviously was a big point in the game...I thought that gave us a little mojo and then we come out and fumble on the opening drive."
Indeed, Williams fumbled on Arkansas' first play of the third quarter and Samford quickly turned that into a score and cut it to 17-14 when quarterback Andy Summlin hit Zeke Walters on a 2-yard touchdown pass.
The Bulldogs then took the lead just over six minutes later when tailback Fabian Truss (16 carries, 103 yards) raced in from 16 yards out to put the visitors up 21-17 and wake up both the crowd and the Razorbacks.
Arkansas would pile up 163 yards rushing in the fourth quarter while Samford had just 10 yards total offense from that point on.
"They made the plays to beat us so you have to give them credit," D'Ottavio said. "I thought their coaches did a great job adjusting, too. They ended up beating us. But I am really proud of our football team."
Bret Bielema asks for a grounding call.
Jonathan Williams turns the corner for a big gainer.
Robert Thomas comes free for pressure on the quarterback.
Brandon Allen fires a touchdown pass.
Chris Smith closes in for a tackle.
Javontee Herndon makes a one-hand catch.
Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated