Hogs Roll Over Aggies

FAYETTEVILLE -- Tailback DeCori Birmingham sat in his locker and chomped on a postgame pizza Saturday night, reminding anyone within earshot that Arkansas had plenty of doubters before Saturday night's season opener against New Mexico State.

But when Birmingham was told how many teammates scored touchdowns during the Razorbacks' 63-13 win Saturday night, the senior nearly choked on his meal.

"Eight?" Birmingham asked. "That's unbelievable."

Arkansas' season of curiosity, in which it replaces two dozen seniors and 18 starters with mounds of youth and inexperience, got off to a picture-perfect start in front of 70,114 in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

The Hogs have said all preseason they expect big things despite the youth. But even confident players like Birmingham were surprised by Saturdays' outpouring.

"It's about as close as you can get to perfect for a season opener," he said.

Led by true freshman running back Peyton Hillis, who scored the first two touchdowns of his career, the Razorbacks' eight TDs equaled their biggest onslaught in an opener since the 63-14 win against Pacific in 1988.

Even more impressive was the fact that five Razorbacks -- Hillis, defensive back Chris Houston and receivers Chris Baker, Marcus Monk and receiver Cedric Washington -- scored for the first time in their careers.

"You couldn't ask for better," said receiver Steven Harris. "What impressed me was that it was a first (touchdown) for a lot of them. Now they get a taste for it and want to go back (to the end zone) again."

"If we've got a team of youth, I'm all for it," said senior defensive end Jeb Huckeba.

The Razorbacks (1-0) improved to 7-0 in season openers under coach Houston Nutt and also bumped their mark to 21-0 in regular season nonconference games since he arrived in 1998. On the other hand, New Mexico State (0-1) hasn't won an opener against a Division I opponent since knocking off Texas-El Paso 45-17 in 1995.

The Aggies came to Fayetteville intent on slowing Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones, who ran wild against New Mexico State last November during the Hogs' 48-20 home win. Jones completed 13 of 16 passes for 195 yards and one touchdown and added a team-high 38 rushing yards, but became the least of the Aggies' concerns.

"If a lot of teams start stacking up to stop Matt, it's going to hurt them in the long run because we have a lot of offensive weapons on our team," said Birmingham, who rushed for 31 yards on 6 carries and caught 2 passes for 16 yards.

"We'll just light them up with everybody else."

The Hogs peppered New Mexico State's defense, putting together scoring drives on eight of their first nine possessions.

Arkansas spread the ball to a variety of weapons and grabbed a 42-7 lead when receiver Marcus Monk used his 6-foot-7 frame to outjump a New Mexico State defensive back to score a 38-yard touchdown 17 seconds before halftime.

In all, five different tailbacks carried the ball, with backup Kyle Dickerson leading the way (11 carries, 34 yards). Three different Hogs scored rushing touchdowns including Hillis (2), Dickerson, Jones and junior De'Arrius Howard.

Jones and backup quarterback Robert Johnson combined to complete 18 of 24 passes for 327 yards and 3 touchdowns without an interception. Arkansas flexed some muscle in the passing game, spreading the ball to 10 different receivers.

Senior Carlos Ousley -- who had five career receptions before Saturday's game -- caught six passes for 47 yards.

"What I was so proud of was all the backs that we used," Nutt said. "Just about everybody on that sideline played. And the weapons we have at wide receiver where they just can't gang up on us ... our best weapon was our wide receivers."

But Arkansas' defense also spent the night destroying New Mexico State's upset plans.

"We expected the same thing (as last year) from them, but we were just physically beat up at everything," said NMSU quarterback Buck Pierce. "They are all great athletes."

Said NMSU coach Tony Samuel: "First of all, their defensive front looks better than the one we faced last year. I know they had a bunch of young ones, but they penetrated the line of scrimmage really well and that took away some of the things we thought we'd have time to do."

The Aggies played without suspended running backs Tony Joseph (starter) and Maummar Ali (second-team), leaving them with nothing but Pierce as a running threat. Run-oriented New Mexico State was held without a first down until the 10-minute mark in the second quarter and gained only 14 rushing yards in the first half.

New Mexico State trailed 35-0 before scoring its first touchdown on Pierce's 29-yard touchdown pass to backup quarterback Paul Dombrowski in the second quarter. The Aggies finished with 55 rushing yards on 29 attempts and both quarterbacks combined to complete 17 of 26 passes for 161 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Arkansas' defense recovered three fumbles and recorded four sacks, a year after only collecting 14 in 13 games.

"I was really excited with the way things started rolling and continued to roll for us," Huckeba said. "I didn't really know what to expect. I believe in this team and believe we have special people on it. But, man, that was a good way to start it off.

"That's what you want to do as a defense. You want to keep your legs fresh."

Nutt wasn't sure how his relatively inexperienced team would react in its first game, but watched with delight as young players recorded memorable moments all night. Eleven new starters made their debuts and the Hogs got a solid look at their new offensive line and secondary.

After clearing their first hurdle, Arkansas will get its first serious test next weekend, when No. 7 Texas (a 65-0 winner against North Texas) comes to Razorback Stadium. Arkansas enters the nationally-televised game after a dominant start that was better than most expected.

"It was just really exciting to go out there and play with your teammates against another opponent," Birmingham said.

"To come out and light up the scoreboard like we did, we have a lot of confidence in our offense now."

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