Arkansas scored only 10 offensive points in its first two games three years ago while managing just 25 and 19 rushing yards against UNLV and Tennessee, respectively, to open the season.
Such a bad start was a distant memory Saturday as Arkansas' all-new offensive line of left tackle Tony Ugoh, left guard Stephen Parker, center Kyle Roper, right guard Gene Perry and right tackle Zac Tubbs paved the way for many of the Razorbacks' 221 rushing yards and protected well enough for Matt Jones and Robert Johnson to complete 18 of 24 passes for 327.
"I was proud of Stephen Parker and Gene Perry making their first starts," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "They didn't have any busts and they had like 44 snaps. They care. They really care. You go in (Parker's) room at 10:30 the night before the game and he's got his play sheet out.
"You've got some guys that have really stepped up and we're proud of those guys."
Arkansas' first two possessions were flawless, penalty-free drives with a nice balance between the pass and run. The Razorbacks' first drive had six passes and six runs capped by Peyton Hillis' 1-yard touchdown run.
The second possession had two passes and four runs, but one of the completions was a 31-yarder from Jones to Cedric Washington on third down to reach the Aggies' 14.
Neither the starting unit nor the backup unit who played the final quarter allowed a sack.
"They were very good at times," Nutt said. "The first two drives were very good. We can build off that."
Not only has Arkansas been able to replace last year's starters with four players (Ugoh, Perry, Roper, Tubbs) who have been at Arkansas for at least two years, but Nutt pointed out the Razorbacks also have something they lacked through the first few games of 2001.
Jones didn't emerge as a real playmaker until the second-half of the 2001 season and now he is an experienced quarterback who commands most of an opponent's defensive preparations.
"He's a security blanket," Nutt said. "He kind of takes pressure off everyone.
"Defenses have to concern themselves with Matt. They're going to keep two guys on each side always leery of, 'Where's he going?'
Nutt cited Jones' two-yard touchdown run as a prime example of a defense's focus on the 6-foot-6 senior. The play was a bootleg designed to take advantage of the defense bunched up at the goal line facing a power formation with three men in the backfield.
When Jones rolled out to try to make the corner, two Aggie defenders were all over the play but still couldn't keep him from sneaking his toes inside the pylon for a touchdown.
"You'd think everyone is pinching in, crashing, and the quarterback would walk in," Nutt said. "Well, they didn't. Because they were right there waiting on him. They just couldn't catch him."
That kind of attention helped on Arkansas' next goal line situation and contributed to De'Arrius Howard's six-yard scoring run to open the four-touchdown second quarter.
The offensive line blew a hole big enough to drive the proverbial truck through and Howard was untouched en route while fullback Brandon Kennedy only had to throw a light shove to move one Aggie and Ugoh was left standing around in the hole just looking for someone to hit.
WINSTON REDSHIRT COMING OFF
Twelve true freshman made their Razorback debut Saturday night and another is likely to do so this weekend against Texas.
The right shoulder sprain suffered by tight end Jared Hicks will likely press 6-6, 225-pound freshman Marc Winston of Little Rock Parkview into duty, Nutt said Sunday.
While redshirt freshmen Payne Hall and Mason Templeton did fine, Nutt knows his team has to be ready if Hicks isn't.
"If Jared can't go the first two days (of practice this week), we'll think about using Marc Winston," Nutt said. "He's a big body you'd love to redshirt, but you're going to need three."
Hicks managed only 17 plays Saturday after injuring his shoulder diving for a catch in the end zone.
Templeton had one catch for 17 yards Saturday while Hall was very solid in his run and pass blocking.
"I was really proud of Payne and Templeton for their first time," Nutt said. "Templeton missed the spring (with an ankle injury). I thought he got more comfortable as the game went on. He was very good at route running and his blocking improved as the game went on."
Junior linebacker Michael Robinson was released from the hospital Sunday after being in intensive care late last week.
"He got out of the hospital, thank goodness," Nutt said. "We don't know when he'll be back with us, but everything is going much, much better. We're really glad he's out of the hospital."
Robinson, who was listed as the backup to Marcus Whitmore at weakside linebacker when the first depth chart came out last Monday, broke out in a cold sweat and was badly disoriented two hours before practice Wednesday.
Arkansas trainer Dean Weber said nothing conclusive has been determined about what caused Robinson's illness and the staff is not sure when he can return to the field, although that is the least of their concerns right now.
"I talked to (Robinson) Friday," Nutt said. "I felt really good about it Friday because he was acknowledging everyone around. He knew (offensive line) coach (Mike) Markuson, myself and (student life coordinator) Rodger Hunter. He was talking to us, so I felt good. I knew he was coming out of it."
Arkansas dedicated its win against New Mexico State to Robinson and Matt Siebenmorgan, a friend of Nutt's son, Houston III at Fayetteville High.
Arkansas backup defensive tackle Titus Peebles, who had two tackles Saturday, had his left ankle in a boot after the game and did not practice Sunday. He is day-to-day.
The most serious injury was to Hicks, but other players like freshman defensive end Marcus Harrison did not practice Sunday with nicks and bumps.
Harrison, who had three tackles (one for loss), as the first freshman to start an opener under Nutt, had his left knee in a sleeve Sunday and didn't practice.
Arkansas' special teams had a successful day in terms of disruption on New Mexico State's kicking game.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Kevin Woods blocked a punt at the New Mexico State goal line and fellow redshirt Chris Houston scooped and scored his first career touchdown to put Arkansas ahead 28-0 just more than three minutes into the second quarter.
Sophomore defensive tackle Jeremy Harrell blocked an extra point on New Mexico State's second touchdown and starting boundary corner Darius Vinnett nearly blocked a field goal in the second quarter, forcing a miss by Aggies kicker Ryan Guardia.
Nutt compared Vinnett to former All-Southeastern Conference cornerback David Barrett, who is now the starting right corner for the New York Jets after four solid seasons in Arizona.
"Darius is the best one we've had on the edge since David Barrett," Nutt said. "I really think he'll get one. He knows how to run the corner and take the angle to the block point. He'll get one."
Junior tailback Kyle Dickerson scored his second career touchdown Saturday and both have come against New Mexico State ... former defensive tackle Chase Pressley moved to the offensive line during camp and saw his first action at right guard against NMSU ... Not every true freshman made his first play a good one as Weston Dacus' personal foul penalty negated a touchdown on a fumble recovery by fellow frosh Dallas Washington late Saturday night. Nutt called it a "foolish, foolish penalty" ... Nutt would rather not see Jones throwing nearly from his knees as he did while being taken down in the second quarter. The pass floated in the air forever before falling harmlessly incomplete. "We don't like that. Don't do that," Nutt said. "Take the sack and go."
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