Arkansas 45, UAB 17
FAYETTEVILLE -- For the first time in over one month and after a series of three tough losses, the Arkansas football team finally won a game and had a lot of fun doing it with a 45-17 rout of non-conference foe UAB before an announced Homecoming crowd of 61,800 fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Brandon Allen threw for 205 yards and a pair of touchdown passes, offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola had a scoring toss of his own and a trio of tailbacks found the end zone as well as the Razorbacks (4-4, 0-4) jumped to a 35-0 lead by intermission ahead of a clash at unbeaten and No. 1 Mississippi State next week.
"I really thought our guys came out ready to play," second-year Razorback head coach Bret Bielema said. "They responded well after last week against Georgia. Fall break came at a good time for us, we had some more time Monday and Tuesday with class out to really focus. We had a time to look at our team and they really responded with a good week of practice.
"They came out and played well on offense, defense and special teams in the first half as we built a 35-0 lead going into the locker room," Bielema added. "I thought we were a bit off in the second half and that's natural. We had a chance to play some of our second string today and I think they responded well."
Arkansas - just 3-9 last season - will enter that game against Mississippi State with a 16-game SEC losing streak over the past three seasons, but at least on a winning note after not tasting victory since a 49-28 win at Texas Tech back on Sept. 14.
"I didn't come here to beat UAB," Bielema said. "I came here to win SEC games. I know that sounds crazy with 16 SEC losses.
"We're a 4-4 team, (but) when we are locked in we can be a really good football team. I told them that when they are locked in and play with a little bit of an edge they could compete with anybody, but right now the problem is all between the ears and they need to respond, which is what they did today."
Arkansas senior linebacker Martrell Spaight, who had a team-high nine tackles and led a defense that limited the Blazers (4-4) to only 195 yards total offense, was named the Crip Hall Award winner as the outstanding senior Razorback player in the Homecoming game.
"Martrell is a great story," Bielema said. "...He is the second-leading tackler in the SEC. He is playing lights out. When you turn on the film, you notice 47. When the scouts flip on the film, they notice 47. One of them - who I have known for some time - asked me last week 'what happened to that kid, he is like a different person?' I said you know what, he grew up.
"A year ago we would have loved to have redshirted him, but I couldn't do it. He was kind of like a guy out there running around. Now he is locked in and he trains as hard as anybody in the off-season and he obviously looks great. Defensively, his eyes are always in the right place. He makes all the right reads and it gets him involved in all the right plays and then he makes a couple of plays just because he is arriving in a bad mood wherever he goes. He is very explosive."
The home squad scored on its first five offensive possessions while rolling up 346 of its 484 yards total offense before intermission against a team that lost 47-34 at Mississippi State earlier in the season.
"I give Arkansas all the credit in that first half," UAB head coach Bill Clark said. "They were as good as advertised. I thought we had a good scheme defensively. Obviously it hurt us not having our starting quarterback out there. To their credit, their defense was outstanding in the first half."
Jonathan Williams (18 carries, career-high 153 yards) and Alex Collins (15 carries, 82 yards) each scored on 3-yard runs on their team's first two series before Allen – 15 of 24 passing on the day - hit Williams on a 17-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second quarter as the Razorbacks went up 21-0.
Allen, who set up the first TD pass with a 44-yard toss to Drew Morgan, now has a career-high 14 touchdown passes this season while Williams and Collins got plenty of work with sophomore tailback Korliss Marshall suspended.
"He has been that guy since I arrived here," Bielema said. "J-Will is a phenomenal football player. I sat him and his family down a couple of weeks ago because when the season is done we will put in the application process to see what those NFL people think of him. But the big thing is that he has been Steady Eddy.
"Alex came around a little bit today. I would like to see him finish a little bit better and Korliss' deal is what it is. It just like a guy getting hurt and you just roll with the punches. The good news is we have a guy redshirting in Juan Day, who is a phenomenal player, and we have a couple of guys committed to us that we think can do things.
"One thing we should be able to do is recruit running backs here off the tradition of what we have done and offensive lineman should be excited about coming here as well."
That set the stage for the play that brought the 6-5, 340-pound offensive lineman Tretola in at quarterback, something that resulted in a play that had already brought him a wealth of national publicity before halftime.
With Arkansas apparently set to go for a field goal on fourth down and and goal on its fourth possession of the day, Tretola rolled right and hit deep snapper Alan D'Appollonio for a 6-yard touchdown.
Tretola chose D'Appollonio - out of the four receivers he had running routes - with the snapper hauling in the touchdown pass to an overjoyed team and crowd.
"He (Tretola) immediately fit into our program," Bielema said. "You can tell he has charisma and is a character. I saw him winging the ball around and I said 'let me see that.' Of course then he starts giving me roll right and roll left. I can't say we practiced the back foot throw that much."
The play is called "Tretola Left" and Bielema told Tretola to take his glove off on the previous third down play.
"We have had it in for a couple of weeks now and you just look for the right opportunity," Bielema said. "We had a timeout going into third down and I said 'what do you think?' and Tretola just lit up. He claimed that he could throw with his glove on, but I didn't believe him so I made him take the glove off on third down.
"I told him that he couldn't tell his mom Mary Tretola, who was probably sitting on the edge of her seat back home," Bielema added. "I told him he couldn't tell her because I knew that she would tell everybody. So we kept that under warps.
"A play like that is a way for me to interact with the team because I design all those," Bielema continued. "Sometimes they don't work. But it is a fun way for me to get up in front of the team and have a little fun with them and bring some energy. The kids were so pumped when A, that got called and B, when it was executed. It was pretty fun."
Bielema, who said his team had practiced the play four times, took the opportunity to use it as a recruiting tool during a halftime interview when he said "Come to Arkansas and if you are an offensive lineman, we will make you famous."
It was actually the second reception in the career of D'Appollonio, who caught a pass on a fake punt last season in a game at Rutgers.
"Something that gets lost in the mix is obviously the guy that caught it," Bielema said. "He made an outstanding catch if you guys remember back to Rutgers a year ago. He made a nice catch. He is a very good snapper, a very good athlete when NFL teams come in they ask about him because he is so consistent. The only error I have seen was obviously the snap against Alabama and that was with a really wet ball."
Arkansas then capped off its five-for-five first half with tailback Kody Walker busting in from five yards out and Adam McFain adding the PAT for a 35-0 edge with just 58 seconds left before intermission.
"I think our guys play better when you have fun," Bielema said. "You have got to have a delicate balance there. You can get away from your edge if you get a little too loose. There are certain guys that can handle it and some guys can't. I thought today was a good example of having fun kicking somebody's tail and then you have a little too much looseness and the sideline gets away from you and you have a muffed punt and some things that against an SEC opponent will bite you.""
McFain – just inserted as the full-time PAT and field goal kicker – got big cheers from a crowd that had seen Arkansas miss field goals and PATs in the losing streak.
But perhaps the biggest one he received on the day was for drilling a 49-yard field goal that made it 38-0 less than two minutes into the second half, a score set up by senior Tevin Mitchel's interception.
It was just the Razorbacks' third made field goal of the season out of only five attempts.
"That was huge," Bielema said. "He has hit the ball extremely well and is very, very confident. He is a kid that gets height on the ball very quickly which was a little bit of an issue with some of our blocked PATs. I don't think there has ever been a standing ovation for a PAT until today and our first one. I even clapped. I think that is a positive thing and going the right direction."
A punting switch from Sam Irwin- Hill to Toby Baker did not go as well with his debut in the third quarter being a line-drive 35-yarder that was returned to the Arkansas 10.
The Razorback defense stiffened, including a 18-yard sack by Jared Collins on third down, before Ty Long broke the shutout with a 47-yard field goal that cut it to 38-3 with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter.
When Arkansas had to punt away again on the next possession, Irwin-Hill returned and delivered a booming 54-yard boot and ended the day with four punts for a 43.4 yard average after averaging 10 yards less than that against Georgia.
Allen made his last series of the day a good one with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Sprinkle that combined with McFain's PAT pushed it to 45-3 with 2:57 left in the third quarter.
"I made a mistake in the first half," Clark said. "I should have played more press (coverage). But to give Arkansa credit, their quarterback was very accurate. We had some third downs we should have got him off the field on." J.J. Nelson immediately responded by taking the kickoff back 100 yards and Long's PAT cut it to 45-10.
Arkansas' defense did step up in the fourth quarter after a D.J. Dean punt return miscue eventually found the Blazers with a first-and-goal at the UA 2-yard line. They stuffed three running plays before Deatrich Wise forced UAB quarterback Jeremia Briscoe into a incompletion on fourth down and 3.
"We had a lot of fun today," Mitchel said. "It was an early game so we had to build ourselves up and draw a lot of energy within each other. We are having our ups and downs, but we still have the maturity level to keep everyone up and just have fun. For the seniors, this is our last chance to do something."
Briscoe, playing for injured starter Cody Clement, did hit Nyiakki Wright with a 33-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute left and Long's PAT capped the day's scoring. He finished just 6-of-18 passing for 62 yards on the day while Jordan Howard rushed 19 times for 90 yards for the Blazers.
Cody Hollister churns for yardage after a catch.
Deatrich Wise rushes UAB quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe.
Brandon Allen looks down the field.
Jonathan Williams went over the century mark in the first half.
Drew Morgan tries to stay in bounds on a 44-yard pass play.
Kendrick Edwards had a fade pass tipped away.
AJ Derby had a 20-yard reception.
Bret Bielema said the Hogs had worked on the Sebastian Tretola pass for a few weeks.
Davyon McKinney started at strong safety.
Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated
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