State of the Hogs: Laugher

Arkansas followed the script in almost every way in a huge victory over Nicholls. It was the right medicine, a true laugher for a team -- and a quarterback -- with nothing funny on his watch in quite some time.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Sometimes it's good to laugh. Brandon Allen got one of those ironic chuckles earlier in the week when his mom gave him a toy corvette in a big birthday card envelope.

Remember, Allen is driving a rental after losing his truck in an arson incident the week of the season opener. He'll have to give the rental back Monday, when he plans to trade the toy corvette for his younger sister's ride.

“I don't think she'll appreciate it, but at least she's getting a 'vette,” Allen said. “I'm not sure she's going to appreciate the humor any more than I did.

“I think it was my mom's joke because I'm sure that my father is not that clever.”

There may not be tons of laughter Monday, but there was fun everywhere in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas “toyed” with Nicholls in a 73-7 victory that could have been double that margin.

It was clear after just one play that the Colonels, perhaps bottom rung of the Southland Conference, were not capable of any pranks, arson or otherwise. Keon Hatcher took a simple wingback sweep 82 yards, one of five one-play scores for the Hogs.

Courtesy of the big advantage the Hogs had up front, Allen was required only to hand off for most of his short day. He completed 4 of 5 passes for 117 yards, including a 50-yard TD strike to Hatcher early in the second quarter.

There wasn't any doubt that the Hogs wanted to get Hatcher involved early after he dropped the ball on a big-play chance the week before at Auburn. He said it made him feel good to see the confidence coaches felt in him.

“I knew when we practiced that one this week, it was easy points,” said Hatcher of the opening play. “It was a pretty big hole and all I had to do was run.

“The coaches showed a lot of confidence in me. I just thought, don't get caught and score for my team.”

Allen was just as glad to look down the field on the TD pass and see the safety swing towards the other vertical route, leaving Hatcher open.

“I wanted to get Keon that one,” he said. “I under threw it and tried to make it easy for Keon. I wanted to make sure he got that one.

“I never doubted him and it was good to see him bounce back. Keon is a big part of what we do. He made big plays for us all during camp, just like today.”

The big run by Hatcher came on a look that had been good for big gainers against Auburn, mostly sweeps with two tight ends and Hatcher to the same side.

“It's a three by one set,” Allen said. “We came out of the huddle and (Nicholls defenders) were yelling, 'Sweep, sweep!' I knew it was going to be a big play. We faked the sweep and handed it to Keon coming back. It was a big hole. Really, we had big holes all day with our line. We were a lot bigger, a lot stronger and faster than them. It was obvious early in the game.

“We needed a big win and we needed to do just this and we did what we were supposed to against a team like this. We so needed a big win.”

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema figured as much when he saw the Nicholls tape from last year. He didn't see anything that would slow the Hogs, deciding early in the week to hold some injured players – running back Korliss Marshall, defensive end Deatrich Wise and safety Davyon McKinney.

“I popped in a tape of (Nicholls) in the spring,” Bielema said. “I knew what they had.”

Perhaps a better description might be that he knew what the Colonels didn't have.

“No size, no speed,” Bielema said. “They were slight. I saw that (in the spring) and again from the (Air Force tape in the opener). We knew if we executed and stayed away from lots of mistakes, we could hold out those guys.”

The execution was solid, even as the Hogs cleared the bench early. Bielema promised to play his young talent.

“We have a little more (depth), but what we need to do to step forward, without a doubt is to continue to add offensive and defensive line depth,” Bielema said. “What we wanted to do was execute with the depth. Sometimes when you have repeated failure – and I know we had lost 10 in a row – you just need to get some success with young players.”

Rewards were everywhere to be seen, including with D. J. Dean, the proud owner of a pass interception and a 63-yard punt return. Dean carried the football to Bielema after the interception.

Bielema said that was the result of an assistant coach challenge – possibly Joel Thomas – that a turnover football should be carried to the head coach.

“I was nervous and we told the officials it was going to happen,” Bielema said. “We had such a big emphasis on ball disruption that I told them we'd get a trophy case and they could bring them to me. If I'm getting balls handed to me, it's a good thing.”

Dean knew where the ball was going as soon as it was in his hands.

“I was going straight to Coach Bielema,” he said. “I was going to be the first to hand him a football.”

Defensive end Trey Flowers chuckled when he saw Dean carrying the ball to the sideline.

“I knew, too,” Flowers said. “I thought I had one earlier. I got to the quarterback and thought I had the ball. I was going to take it to Coach B. All of us wanted to be the first one to give him a football. That ball is special to us.”

The football may be going in a trophy case, but the toy corvette is changing hands – soon.

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