A.J. Derby – a once highly-touted recruit who started his career off at Iowa after having offers from Miami, Alabama, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and a host of others – replaced injured starter Brandon Allen (shoulder bruise) late in the first quarter.
The current walk on did just enough through the air (4 of 6 passing for 36 yards) as the Arkansas tailback duo of Jonathan Williams (16 carries, 116 yards) and Alex Collins (25 carries, 115 yards) once again flourished in what turned into a 24-3 win over Southern Mississippi before 63,067 fans Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"I couldn't have asked for him (Derby) to handle that second half any better," Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. "I thought our coaches did an excellent job at half getting some plays that were comfortable for him.
"He executed at times," Bielema added. "I know he was a little bit rattled coming in there, but to get out with a W and to play the fourth quarter the way we did and have Alex and J-Will both go over 100 again."
It also helped that the Arkansas' defense did not give up up a touchdown for the first time in 26 games and held Southern Miss to 254 yards total offense – the first time since 2007 the Razorbacks have held three consecutive opponents under 300 yards total offense.
That helped extend the Eagles' losing streak to 15 straight - the longest currently in the FBS - in a game that was maybe symbolized best by a defender's helmet getting attached to Collins' jersey.
"Not a real sexy game," Bielema said. "A very, very unusual first half highlighted by a helmet that was stuck in a guy's jersey. Never seen that before. Just kind of a sign of the times.
"Again this is just a group that keeps moving forward, it's a group that learns every day," Bielema added. "I know they weren't clean in a lot of different things, but we just keep making baby steps and if we keep playing a four-quarter game and keep getting wins in the right column, we will be okay."
Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken is in his first year at the school after Ellis Johnson was fired after an 0-12 campaign in 2012.
The Eagles (0-3) have lost to Texas State (22-15), at Nebraska (56-13) and now at Arkansas (23-3) with a date at Boise State looming next week.
"I think it played out about like I thought it would," Monken said. "Sometimes that doesn't work out. I thought they had a good football team. I still believe we have a good football team. I thought our guys, again, fought and played hard. But obviously you are going to have to score more than three points to give yourself a chance."
The Razorbacks had 258 of their 327 yards total offense via the ground game with Collins becoming the first SEC freshman to rush for over 100 yards in each of his first three games and the first in the country since Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson in 2004.
"A lot of great players have come through this league obviously so that is a nice feather in his cap," Bielema said.
The duo also became the first pair of Razorbacks in school history to both top 100 yards in each of the team's first three games with each getting over the century mark in the fourth quarter of this game.
"We did the same thing we do every week," Collins said. "...I am honored. I have to give my offensive line credit and my whole offense. The defense had a good stand out there today. I just appreciate all the things everybody has been doing for me."
Razorback center Travis Swanson said it's a pleasure blocking for the pair with Collins now having 418 yards and Williams 393 for the season.
"It's great to have those two guys go for over 100 yards," Swanson said. "As an offensive line we didn't do exactly the things that we needed to do today to help them. They should have had more yards. It's a pride thing for us and when AJ came in we wanted to rally around him."
Arkansas has held the ball 36:52 of a possible 45 minutes in its three fourth quarters this season, rushed 56 times and passed just three in that time all while its defense has not given up a first down in the fourth quarter of the last two games.
"I think it is about imposing your will and we just wear some people down," Bielema said. "I don't know if a lot of people want to play four quarters of football the way we do."
Arkansas lost Allen, starting tackle Grady Ollison – who was replaced by true freshman Denver Kirkland - and back-up cornerback Jared Collins in the first half. Offensive tackle David Hurd left in the final minutes.
"As far as Brandon, I don't have any information other than it's an AC that is bruised," Bielema said. "I didn't want to put him back in there today because it was a little tender. He seems pretty convinced he will be back by the start of next week. We'll see where that goes.
"Grady Ollison was an ankle, but nothing appeared on x-ray so I don't know how long he will be out," Bielema added. "But to have a couple of guys step into those positions, I am really proud of them."
Jared Collins went down and had to be carted off during a special teams play.
"Nobody really knows what happened there, but they are treating it as a head injury," Bielema said. "He was a guy that was on the field and they called the penalty on. I think he may have went down in a heap there. I saw him get up and run...and he just kind of went down.
"I know he was in the shower and locker room there and is up and running," Bielema added.
Allen – after throwing his first interception of the season on the second series – found the end zone himself on the third drive of the game.
He capped a 12-play, 89-yard drive with a 5-yard scoring scamper and Zach Hocker added the PAT for a 7-0 lead with 3:52 left in the first quarter.
That would be his last play of the day as he apparently injured his shoulder diving into the end zone.
"I think AJ went in there and did a great job for getting thrown in the fire so suddenly like that," Swanson said. "I thought he did great."
Southern Miss cut that to 7-3 early in the second quarter when Corey Acosta drilled a 27-yard field goal at the 12:01 mark.
Hocker answered that with one of his own from 42 yards out with 6:05 left before intermission to push Arkansas ahead 10-3.
Arkansas had gained 111 of its 159 first half yards before Allen got hurt and Derby – who Bielema recruited as a tight end/athlete at Wisconsin - came on.
"I was pretty comfortable," Bielema said of Derby entering. "AJ has played a lot of football. Obviously he started off at Iowa and I played football with his dad and I have known the kid forever, which is scary.
"But AJ is a football junkie and he prepares very, very well and he is a very detail guy," Bielema added. "But AJ is AJ. He is going to do some things at times that will make you wonder ' what are you doing.' I guess all quarterbacks are like that in some ways.
"I think our kids like AJ, which makes it that much better," Bielema continued. "He has really done a nice job of bonding and gelling and I thought BA (Allen) when he was done playing ought to be a coach. He did a great job in the second half of calming him (Derby) down on the headset. Our kids had confidence, which was the main thing."
He would throw only two passes – completing one for four yards – as the Razorbacks gained just 48 yards on its final 21 plays of the first half with Derby under center.
Allen would spend the second half in a sling and on the sidelines in street clothes helping Derby along via the headset.
The offense managed 168 yards in the second half and the two scores.
"Things came easy to me," Derby said. "I thought the offensive line and all of the players really supported me me and it felt right being out there with those guys."
"I felt really good in the second half," Derby added. "Our offensive line stepped up and our running backs did a great job. It took the pressure off of me and we did a great job offensively."
Southern Mississippi's Alan Bridgeford was 17-of-33 passing for 133 yards while being sacked three times – all at the hands of Razorback defensive end Chris Smith.
"That is one of the things the coaches do well," Smith said of his career-high day. "They put us in the right position and I am just blessed to go out there and get it."
After going just 7-of-20 in the first half, Bridgeford did come out and hit his first five passes before the drive bogged down and Corey Acosta missed a 49-yard field goal to keep it 10-3.
Derby completed both of his passes when Arkansas got the ball and Williams finished off a 5-play, 68-yard drive with a 45-yard scoring dash.
Hocker's PAT put the Razorbacks up 17-3 with 7:29 left in third quarter.
The Eagles looked to have scored a touchdown late in the third quarter, but a holding penalty negated Kendrick Harvey's 49-yard run.
The Arkansas defense would end up holding Southern Miss out of the end zone and snuffed a fake field goal attempt on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Arkansas then pounded away on a 14-play, 81-yard drive that last seven-and-a-half minutes and was capped by Collins' 7-yard touchdown run behind a block by Kirkland, who dumped his man into the end zone.
Hocker was true again for the 24-3 lead with 7:20 left in the game.
Monken knew that his program has some work to do.
"Some things I think are encouraging, but at the end of the day there are no moral victories," Monken said. "...We are improving as a football team. I told our team today that I couldn't be prouder of their effort. That's all we can ever ask for is that our guys buy in, play hard, continue to fight and they do that. That's all you can ask for as a coach."
Arkansas will now hit the road for the first time this season as it travels to face Rutgers (2-1) at 2:30 pm next Saturday at Piscataway, N.J.
Jonathan Williams rushed for 116 yards.
Brandon Allen grabbed headsets in the second half to help with the communication.
Alex Collins finished with 115 yards.
Brandon Allen pops up after scrambling for a touchdown, but he left the game with an injured shoulder after the play.
Tevin Mitchel makes a tackle.
AJ Derby scrambles for 10 yards in the first half against the Golden Eagles.
Bret Bielema works the sideline in the first half.
Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated