LITTLE ROCK - Regardless of how anyone feels about Arkansas playing a game in Little Rock every year, one thing is for certain - they are not ending well for the Razorbacks in Central Arkansas these days.
Toledo took advantage of an Arkansas blocked punt and an interception in the end zone to down the Razorbacks 16-12 on Saturday before an announced crowd of 49,591 yards at War Memorial Stadium.
That means Arkansas is now just 1-5 in its last six trips to Little Rock since 2011 and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is 1-3 at War Memorial.
“There are a lot of things out there today that I feel overall that the good news is they are very correctable, they will be corrected and all those things fall on my shoulders,” Bielema said. “I am embarrassed for our fans, people that traveled today to Little Rock for this game that means a lot to them and means a lot to us.
“To not play here for the second year in a row is very frustrating and something I know that we are going to have to correct.”
Bielema was quick to praise the effort of Toledo (1-0) and head coach Matt Campbell, whose program had been 0-3 against SEC teams before this win.
“I am certainly disappointed, but I have to give credit to Toledo,” Bielema said. “Matt has a good team and they have been good for a number of years.
“We knew that we were going to face a team that was very well-coached and came here expecting to win and obviously they didn’t disappoint. The only ones that were disappointed today were us and that started with myself.
“…We really hang our head on the five edges that we built this thing on and will continue to build it on moving forward and the fifth one is the most telling - it’s you earn everything in life, you earn victory and your earn defeat and today we earned that defeat by what we weren’t able to do and obviously allowed them to do.”
Campbell was obviously thrilled with the win, which came nine days after his team’s game with Stony Brook was canceled at halftime due to weather with the Rockets leading 16-7.
“Obviously a big win for our program,” Campbell said. “Great win for our University and great win for the city of Toledo. I don’t think people expected us to come down here and never win, even compete as 21-point underdogs.
“I think our kids believed the entire time that we had a chance to come down here and play with these guys and give ourselves a chance to win the football game.
“…I thought the senior leadership really showed and it came through today. We think Arkansas is a tremendous program. I think they’re prepared to have a tremendous season, and I think they will."
Arkansas’ Brandon Allen was 32-of-53 passing for a career-high 412 yards, but threw a critical interception in the end zone in the third quarter and overthrew a potential game-winning pass to Hunter Henry (8 catches, 117 yards) with one second left.
The Razorbacks (1-1) rushed for just 103 yards on 31 carries - with Alex Collins having 54 yards on 20 carries - and also had a blocked punt that turned into a touchdown for the Rockets (1-0) and missed a field goal
There was also Jared Cornelius’ 59-yard punt return in the third quarter called back because of an illegal block by Eric Hawkins, who was carted off with an injury late in the game.
Former Alabama quarterback Philly Ely was 21-of-38 passing for 237 yards with a touchdown on a day when Arkansas had a 515-318 yards total offense advantage.
“I think it was a classic example of how you are going to look at the statistical sheet - and I am not a big stats guy as the only thing I worry about is the win and loss column,” Bielema said, “but to see the number of yards we gained, the time of possession, the first downs, we didn’t really turn the ball over a lot, but our one turnover was critical. It was in the red zone and it not only swung huge momentum, but obviously left points off the board.
“The most frustrating thing was that came right after we had just put it into the end zone and had points taken off the board because of a penalty.
“We had nine penalties (for 85 yards), they had eight (for 55 yards), but ours were absolutely critical, taking away yardage and a couple of them on big plays that came back and obviously nothing more critical than that punt return."
Toledo took a 16-7 lead with 5:09 left in the third quarter when Damion Jones-Moore scored on an 11-yard run after the Rockets marched 80 yards in 10 plays after Allen’s pass intended for Keon Hatcher (7 catches, 92 yards) was intercepted in the end zone.
Arkansas, who got just three points from being inside the Toledo 10 yard three times, cut that to 16-10 when Cole Hedlund booted a 25-yard field goal with 9:30 left.
Allen’s 412 yards passing is the third-best single-game total in school history behind Tyler Wilson’s 510 vs. Texas A&M in 2011 and his 419-yard effort against Rutgers in 2012.
His 720 yards passing through the first two games is the most ever by an Arkansas quarterback in the first two games of a season, topping the 717 of Ryan Mallett back in 2009.
But he and Arkansas’ running game both struggled in the red zone throughout the day.
That included getting to the Toledo 4 with just three minutes left, but a holding penalty and four incomplete passes had them come up empty.
The Razorbacks then had one more shot after Toledo took an intentional safety, taking over at their own 32 with Allen going 3-of-5 to get to the Toledo 16 with six seconds left.
His pass for an open Henry was high in the end zone, leaving time for one more play another incomplete pass out of the back of the end zone.
Hawkins, Demarcus Hodge, Josh Williams, Josh Liddell, Denver Kirkland and Kody Walker were among those getting hurt during the game.
“I think the biggest thing we got is that we also had some guys getting injured,” Bielema said. “Hopefully everybody will come back out of that all right because we are going to need the 70 guys that came over here today to get better in a hurry starting with tomorrow’s practice."
Bielema did see Hawkins after his injury.
“I know that when I walked out to see Hawk that he was moving his hands and extremities,” Bielema said. “It was just a pretty big precaution there. He had some pain in his stomach and was a little light-headed. I don’t know is there was anything more than that."
Toledo took a 6-0 lead when Ely hit Corey Jones with a five-yard touchdown pass with 6:59 left in the opening quarter, but failed on a two-point conversion attempt when Ely’s pass was picked off by Jared Collins.
Arkansas took a 7-6 lead on Collins’ 21-yard run Hedlund’s PAT with 7:53 left in the first half.
But Toledo’s Jameson Vest hit a 38-yard field goal with 1:06 left in the first half to give the Rockets a 9-7 lead at halftime.
For the second straight game, Arkansas started it down a couple of players as both Cornelius and Dominique Reed were both suspended for a half for being late to a team meeting on Friday.
JoJo Robinson, who was suspended for last week’s 48-13 win over UTEP, did play, but did not have any stats.
“That is probably another indicator that our number one team goal this year is zero distractions and if we were distracted today to start the the game in any way, it was very evident that we weren’t ourselves in the first half.
“At times we flashed back, but it just wasn’t good enough."
Arkansas will host Texas Tech (2-0) Saturday night at 6 p.m. in Fayetteville.
Texas Tech beat UTEP 69-20 on Saturday.
Eric Hawkins was carted off the field in the fourth quarter
Hunter Henry caught 8 passes for 117 yards