ON THE GROUND
The Hogs have used a run-by-committee approach, with six different players getting 10 or more carries the first two games. Quarterback Matt Jones leads Arkansas in rushing (131 yards) and shares the team high in attempts (19) with junior Dedrick Poole.
Senior DeCori Birmingham (18 carries, 68 yards) remains Arkansas' starter at tailback, but the Hogs will continue to use Poole (58 yards), junior De'Arrius Howard (14 carries, 48 yards, 1 touchdown) and true freshman Peyton Hillis (12 carries, 42 yards, 3 TDs).
Louisiana-Monroe's one-back offense counts on sophomore tailback Kevin Payne, who was the Sun Belt Conference's Freshman of the Year in 2003. He rushed for 976 yards and 6 TDs last season and churned out 58 yards in the opener at Auburn, including a 33-yard gallop.
Payne is spelled by backups Mason Denham and Calvin Dawson, who combined for 14 carries and 39 yards last week. Quarterback Steven Jyles can be a threat with his feet and ran for 16 yards on 8 attempts against Auburn.
THROUGH THE AIR
The Hogs lead the Southeastern Conference in passing and are 15th in the nation, averaging 350 yards a game. Jones threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter against Texas, but has completed 26 of 43 passes for 444 yards and a touchdown.
Junior Carlos Ousley (8 catches, 90 yards) leads a group of receivers that made big plays against Texas. Steven Harris (4 receptions, 85 yards), Marcus Monk (4 receptions, 80 yards, 1 TD), Chris Baker (2 receptions, 120 yards, 1 TD) and Cedric Washington (3 receptions, 77 yards, 1 TD) each average more than 20 yards a catch. Birmingham (3 receptions, 50 yards, 1 TD), Hillis (3 receptions, 15 yards) and Poole (1 reception, 50 yards) have been involved as well.
Jyles completed his first 11 passes against Auburn and finished 16 of 22 for 96 yards with an interception. The third-year starter has thrown for 4,526 yards and 31 touchdowns and ranked second in the Sun Belt in passing yards (2,112) last year.
Louisiana-Monroe gets the ball to a variety of pass catchers in three- and four-receiver sets. Sophomore Drouzen Quillon missed 2003 with a knee injury, but led the Indians with 5 catches for 27 yards in the opener. Nine different players caught passes at Auburn.
IN THE TRENCHES
Arkansas' offensive linemen got off to a rough start against Texas, but settled down and led the Razorbacks to a 458-yard effort in their first significant start. Left tackle Tony Ugoh, left guard Stephen Parker and center Kyle Roper were impressive, but the entire group needs to finish more blocks.
Nose guard Jeremy Harrell sprained an ankle in the Texas game, but slowly returned to practice this week and should be available today. Backup Titus Peebles also is banged up. Sophomore Lucas Jackson could earn playing time beside senior Arrion Dixon.
None of Louisiana-Monroe's starting offensive linemen weigh more than 300 pounds, but 6-foot-3, 296-pound left tackle Bruce Hampton recorded six knockdown blocks against Auburn. The Indians start three seniors on their line, one redshirt freshman (LG Joseph Joseph) and one true freshman (RT Kyle Cunningham).
Senior Brandon Guillory led ULM's defensive line against Auburn, collecting 10 tackles and 1.5 for losses. The Indians' 4-2-5 defense also has plenty of support from linebacker John Winchester (team-high 13 tackles) and senior safety Chris Harris.
Place-kicker Chris Balseiro was perfect against Texas, making field goals of 27 and 35 yards, but would've liked one more opportunity in the fourth quarter. Meantime, long snapper Brett Goode launched the ball over punter Jacob Skinner's head for a safety on Arkansas' first attempt vs. Texas.
The Razorbacks didn't get a chance to return any kickoffs against Texas because each was booted deep into the end zone. Birmingham hasn't shown the same past flash as a punt returner, averaging just 5.3 yards in the first two games.
Louisiana-Monroe punter Joel Stelly ranked third in the nation last season, averaging 46.3 yards an attempt. The junior earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors in 2003 and is on the 2004 Ray Guy Award Watch List.
The Indians also field dangerous returner Charles Estes, who was No. 9 in the nation in kickoff returns last season (27.4 yards). True freshman place-kicker Ragan Walters missed the first two attempts of his career from 29 and 43 yards against the Tigers.
The Razorbacks didn't force a turnover against Texas, snapping a streak that stretched for 37 regular-season games. The last time the Hogs failed to force a turnover in a regular-season game was Nov. 11, 2000, in a 63-20 loss at Tennessee.
Coach Houston Nutt wanted his defense to emphasize takeaways this week, while the offense worked on protecting the ball. The Hogs turned the ball over four times against Texas, including three on their last three possessions.
Louisiana-Monroe turned the ball over three times in its season-opening loss at Auburn and committed 33 turnovers last season.
Arkansas will make its season debut in War Memorial Stadium, where the Hogs are 16-0 under Nutt and 134-50-2 all-time. The Hogs face a Louisiana-Monroe team that is 7-30 since 2000 and has won just twice in its past 17 games.
The teams first met in 1996 and Arkansas has won all four times, outscoring Louisiana-Monroe by an average of 41-12. The last two times the Hogs and Indians played (1999 and 2000), Louisiana-Monroe was outscored 96-12.
ARKANSAS 41, LOUISIANA-MONROE 10
Arkansas' young roster will get its first road experience against the home-standing Indians tonight. OK, maybe not. Louisiana-Monroe is listed as the home team, but will get a rude welcome from a sellout crowd in Little Rock.
The Indians might be used to big crowds after opening the 2004 season at Auburn and playing at other SEC locations like LSU, Ole Miss and Florida the past three seasons. But that doesn't mean they've had much success. Louisiana-Monroe has lost 19 straight games against SEC teams and is 2-21 all-time, with its last victory coming at Mississippi State in 1995 (34-32).
The Texas loss hurt, but a young Arkansas team emerged with more confidence as it inches closer to SEC play. The Hogs might show less intensity on the field tonight as they try to shake off last week's draining loss, but Arkansas has enough senior leadership and talent to jump on the Indians, rest starters and begin preparing for next week's SEC opener against Alabama.
THE KEY MATCHUP
LB Clarke Moore (6-foot-2, 247 poundsjunior) vs. RB Kevin Payne (6-foot, 212 poundssophomore)
Nutt said Arkansas' linebackers hesitated too much last week, allowing Texas tailback Cedric Benson to run through holes and gain 188 yards. Moore is the leader of the linebacking unit and must help the group bounce back.
Payne, an Arkansas native, ran for 58 yards against Auburn and hopes for a big game in his home state. He was named Sun Belt Freshman of the Year in 2003 and has rushed for 1,034 yards and 6 touchdowns in 13 games.
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