Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel certainly showed off his diverse talents in the first half in Fayetteville Saturday night with 23 passes and then turned it over to his mates to play ground and pound after intermission.
Manziel passed for 261 yards and rushed for 69 more and No. 10 Texas A&M went ground heavy in the second half with just seven passes while downing Arkansas 45-33 on a rainy Saturday night before 72,613 fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Despite falling down 14 points early, Arkansas rallied to within 24-20 by intermission and had a trio of chances in the second half to take the lead, but came up empty on all three opportunities.
"I am obviously disappointed," Razorback head coach Bret Bielema said. "But I told our guys after the game that no one can say anything about the way they prepared, the way they competed. We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game. We knew it was going to (need to) be an offense, defense, special teams effort to win it."
Injured Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen (17-of-36 passing, 282 yards, 3 TDs) made a gritty return from a shoulder injury and had career-highs in terms of attempts, completions, passing yards and scoring tosses while Alex Collins rushed 14 times for 116 yards and fellow true freshman Hunter Henry had four catches for 109 yards in the loss. Jonathan Williams added 53 on the ground, 67 receiving.
"We knew we basically needed to score every time we had it and had to monopolize the football," Bielema said. "I thought BA was outstanding to come in the way he did with a limited amount of practice. He was impressive. I thought Alex provided a spark again and he and (fellow tailback) Jonathan Williams did some good things."
Bielema had said earlier this week that Allen – who was injured against Southern Miss and missed the entire Rutgers game - had not thrown in practice, but set the record straight after the game that he actually did.
"What basically happened on Tuesday, Brandon Allen did no throwing whatsoever," Bielema said. "We wanted to see if he could hand the ball off, move around and function as a quarterback. He had no issues Wednesday and he practiced half the practice like he was a normal quarterback.
"We needed to see how he reacted," Bielema added. "The doctors were really concerned that, after he did all the normal things a quarterback does, how he'd feel the next day. He was a little bit sore on Thursday, but felt better on Friday."
Bielema released the news that Allen was going to play via twitter on Friday night and noted that he did so after getting some encouragement to pump up the fans, who he described as awesome for Saturday's game.
The Arkansas coach noted that Allen's shoulder was taped up with significant padding and that he took some pain medicine, but not a shot to play.
"He was cleared," Bielema said, "and I was going to take it all the way up to game time, but someone told me 'You should announce B.A., you might get the crowd jacked up.' I didn't know it had that kind of power. I give credit to this good news.
"The crowd was awesome," Bielema added. "I thank everybody for showing up today. It was an absolutely unbelievable environment and our kids responded very, very well to it."
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said his team was prepared for Allen or AJ Derby, the starter at Rutgers.
"We were prepared for whoever showed up," Sumlin said. "I've known (Arkansas offensive coordinator) Jim Chaney a long time and I worked with him at Purdue. I thought they had an excellent plan. They kept us off balance, wheel routes, reverses, you name it. We got the kitchen sink tonight. There were balls all over the place and just a really diversified attack. I wasn't surprised.
"I thought that they protected him," Sumlin added. "The change in protection was good and gave him one or two receiver routes when they needed to and got him comfortable early. Like I said, I thought their plan was excellent and free-wheeling and something I would expect coming from Jim."
Arkansas (3-2, 0-1) certainly put forth a better effort than it did against the Aggies (4-1, 1-1) in College Station last season when the Aggies put up 713 yards total offense – 557 of which came via Manziel's arm and legs.
Manziel was 23-of-30 passing for 261 yards and three touchdowns this year and rushed nine times for 69 yards while receiver Mike Evans had six catches for 116 yards and caught both scoring passes.
"I think Johnny is a great player, a great competitor," Bielema said. "He made some things happen out of nothing."
Texas A&M had 523 yards total offense to Arkansas' 483 in the game with the Razorbacks having the game's only two turnovers, but showing heart after getting down 14 points early.
"I'm excited about this group," Bielema said. "If they continue to give me the effort they did this week during practice and the way that they played on Saturday, we will be able to win some games. Obviously, the schedule isn't going to get any easier with Florida coming up, but I think they understand the effort that they need to put in to make it a game and win it."
Arkansas started two true freshmen on the offensive line at guard in Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper with Travis Swanson at center, Grady Ollison and Brey Cook splitting time at one tackle spot and David Hurd manning the other.
"With Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland, we made the decision last week on Sunday that we were going to go with those two young guys inside," Bielema said. "I thought that gave us some mojo on Tuesday. Just the whole practice was awesome and upbeat and I thought those guys were a big part of it. They are very, very talented.
"Brey Cook, on the flip side, here is a guy we replaced him as a starting guard, but he popped in at the tackle and was outstanding all week," Bielema added. "He competed and practiced and shocked us all with the way he looked at right tackle. Grady is still probably still not 100 percent healthy so that is why we needed to sub him in there today."
They also started three tight ends in Henry, redshirt freshmen Jeremy Sprinkle and Mitchell Loewen.
Bielema also gave true freshman Korliss Marshall his first action of the season on offense as he returned kickoffs (two for 74 yards) and also showed off his electric speed on a 16-yard carry after lining up at tailback.
"There was a point where we were going to play him (earlier), but he got a little banged up and had some things going on outside of football so we backed off a little bit," Bielema said. "He just continued to impress us on the scout team as a kick return guy. He made a couple of nice breaks last week as a defensive player.
"We thought 'What are we doing with this guy? Can he help us win games?' I had another conversation with him and he was all in," Bielema added. "We were going to keep him at safety except the offensive coaches, when (tailback) Nate Holmes went down, they suggested we play him at running back and obviously he did an outstanding job. He's very explosive, a powerful runner and an SEC type of athlete."
Manziel and the Aggies raced down the field on their opening possession with a 9-yard scoring toss to Evans capping a six-play, 75-yard sprint to paydirt.
Arkansas answered with Marshall providing a spark by returning the kickoff out to the 38.
Allen's 12-yard pass to Keon Hatcher culminated a nine-play drive that took almost five minutes and then kicker Zach Hocker's PAT tied it 7-7 with 7:43 left in the first quarter.
"I think to get him (Allen) out there running around that he took a big step forward as a football player today and hopefully that will give us an indication of what type of football team we can be," Bielema said.
Texas A&M went up 17-7 by scoring on its next two drives with Ben Malena scoring on a 2-yard run out and then Josh Lambo drilling a 39-yard field goal with 1:47 remaining in the opening quarter.
Hocker hit his own field goal from 28 to cut it to 17-10 early in the second quarter, but Manziel and Evans would soon hook up again. Manziel avoided pressure and lofted a pass to a well-covered Evans, but the 6-5,225-pound receiver simply went up and got the ball away from Arkansas defenders for the score.
Lambo's PAT kick made it 24-10 with 11:14 left before halftime, but it would be the last points the Aggies would get before intermission. Chris Smith and Deatrich Wise combined to sack Manziel and force the first A&M punt of the half with just over two minutes to go.
"Their offense is good and Johnny Manziel, no matter what anybody says about him, is a great player," Razorback senior defensive end Chris Smith said. "He made plays and created some plays at times. As far as our effort we had effort and it was there, but we made a couple of mistakes and you can't do that against a great team."
Arkansas cut it to 24-20 when Allen hit Jonathan Williams with a 19-yard TD pass at the 6:02 mark and Hocker drilled a 39-yard field as time expired in the opening half.
The Razorbacks did get pressure on Manziel in the second quarter – in which they gave up just 100 yards compared to the nearly 200 in the first quarter.
"We had a good key there on what we were thinking if they were going to run or pass," Bielema said. "On second down and third down, when we knew he was throwing the football, somehow you literally can't tackle that guy – we wanted to put four guys that could at least try to put him down if we got the chance to. But then they just starting running the ball all the time."
Arkansas had a chance to take the lead with the option to start the second half, but disaster happened early.
Allen's pass was picked off at the Razorback 34 by Deshazor Everett, who raced into the end zone untouched for the pick six.
Lambo's PAT made it 31-20, but Allen responded by hooking up with Henry for gains of 21 and 26 yards and Collins eventually raced in from 9 yards out as Arkansas cut it to 31-27.
"That was a big play for them," Bielema said of the interception. "The guy made a nice break, capitalized on it. But for our offense to respond that way speaks volumes."
Once again, the Razorbacks had the ball and a chance to take the lead, but went three-and-out and gave Manziel and his mates the ball back.
This time the Aggies used nine straight runs to march 68 yards with Trey Williams' 17-yard run capping things and combined with Lambo's PAT to push A&M ahead 38-27.
Jonathan Williams then turned a short screen pass into a 19-yard TD catch-and-run for a score to cut it to 38-33 before the third quarter ended, but a two-point conversion pass from Allen to Drew Morgan failed.
Arkansas once again got the ball and a chance to take the lead, but the third time was not the charm as A&M then put the game away when Malena scored on a 1-yard run and the Aggies took a 45-33 lead with 10:08 left in the game.
Alan Turner led the Razorbacks with 12 tackles while fellow safety Rohan Gaines made his first start of the season after returning from injury and senior safety Eric Bennett had eight stops.
"I think Rohan Gaines was back and Alan Turner continues to make plays, breaking on the ball, Eric Bennett was doing a nice job aligning and making the calls on fast, technical plays being lined up and in the right position."
The Razorbacks had just one penalty for five yards a week after having six for 55 against Rutgers.
"We made a big effort going back to last week about how we had to change that," Bielema said.
Arkansas will travel to Florida next. Game time is 6 p.m. for ESPN2.
"I know everybody wants to win games, but I can tell you this – this team is going forward and it is going to continue to go forward," Bielema said. "As a head football coach, I know where we are going and when we get there it is going to be a really nice day."
Javontee Herndon fights for yardage after the catch.
Hunter Henry finishes a 52-yard pass reception.
Brandon Allen fires a pass.
Korliss Marshall returned a kickoff 38 yards.
Zach Hocker follows a successful 28-yard field goal.
Deatrich Wise closes in on a tackle.
Brandon Allen scans the field.
Johnny Manziel dips to elude pressure.
Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated
Texas A&M 45, Arkansas 33
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