This was to be the romp ‘em, stomp ‘em rear-kicker the Hogs needed following last weekend's helmet-scratching 22-20 loss against then-No. 7 Texas.
Louisiana-Monroe, which managed just one win last season and only 239 yards in a 31-0 loss at Auburn two weeks ago, looked like the perfect sacrificial lamb. The Razorbacks would rip the Indians' heads off like Barbie dolls in the first half, then cruise through the second with subs.
The final score, 49-20, reads like it, but this didn't exactly start out that way in front of 55,652 revved up folks in War Memorial Stadium on a beautiful (89 degrees at kickoff, clear skies) central Arkansas Saturday night.
"We tried to tell them that this is (the Indians') Super Bowl, this is their home game, they had a week off and all these things," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "Sometimes it's hard for someone who used a lot of energy and emotion last week ... you've got to have the same intensity. But it's hard to keep that focus.
"But I thought we really finally woke up by halftime."
The first half was alarming.
The Indians didn't come here to be scalped. Second-year coach Charlie Weatherbie indicated his intentions on the opening kickoff, an on-sider that ULM recovered on its 48. Next play, though, quarterback Steven Jyles mishandled the snap, giving Arkansas the ball right back.
Midway through the first quarter, the Hogs were up 14-0 (1-yard DeCori Birmingham TD run and a Matt Jones to Steven Harris 10-yarder).
About the time linebacker/safety John Jackson was flagged for yapping at some Indians (Nutt hollered at Jackson and benched him the rest of the drive), ULM began fighting back.
Throwing over the middle and downfield against Arkansas' young secondary, the giddy, jumping, arm-waving Indians cut the gap to 21-17 on a nifty below the belt, in-stride catch by dandy 6-foot-6 receiver Drouzon Quillen. Quillen pulled the ball in at the Arkansas 35 a step in front of junior cornerback Darius Vinnett, then bowled over Lerienezo Robinson and an official on his way into the end zone for the 77-yard score.
"They definitely surprised me," said Arkansas senior defensive end Jeb Huckeba. "And they came in here ready to play. I think we were a little relaxed when we came in here, which you can't do."
Arkansas countered quickly, scoring in two plays (the first a 50-yard toss from Jones to Harris, the second an 11-yard De'Arrius Howard run).
Still the Indians came, marching from their 42 to the Arkansas 7 before settling for a 25-yard field goal and 28-20 as the Hogs wondered what the heck was going on.
"Yeah, I really was," Huckabe said. "That first half felt like we played two games.
"But I don't want to focus on the first half."
Just a minute, Jeb.
A 9-play Arkansas drive, capped by freshman Peyton Hillis' 1-yard TD, put ULM out of reach at 35-20 with 51 seconds remaining in the half.
Then came the halftime "talk" after ULM outgained Arkansas 331 yards to 317 by running through the UA line and linebackers and passing over and around cornerbacks and safeties for a whopping 278 yards.
How bad was it in the locker room?
"It wasn't that bad," Huckeba said. "The plays they scored on were big plays. It wasn't like we were just letting ‘em pound us or anything. They were getting lucky.
"(The coaches) just said, ‘Let's start it off in the second half and forget what happened – go three-and-out and the offense is going to get the ball in the end zone.'"
Said Nutt when asked if he was hacked off at intermission: "I was a little upset because I kind of knew by warm-ups our intensity wasn't there like it was the first two weeks, and sometimes you get in that comfort zone where ‘all you've got to do is roll that helmet out there – the crowd's on our side,' and you can't play like that.
"There's so much parity in today's football and they're so excited about playing us. You have to be equally excited and ready to go."
In the second half, the Hogs were ready, willing and able, shutting out ULM and holding the ball most of the rest of the game while chipping in two more insurance TDs (Jones to freshman Marcus Monk for 25 yards and Jones to Harris for 11).
"In the second half, we came out and went three-and-out and got some good things going," Huckabe said. "Our offense moved the ball, we created turnovers and just really played a whole different game the second half."
Good thing. Next week is Alabama and the Southeastern Conference is a whole different ballgame.
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