Arkansas 49, Missouri State 17

Arkansas unleashes its stable of tailbacks with three of them topping 100 yards in a 49-17 season-opening win over Missouri State, who joined with the Razorbacks in having half of the game's 10 turnovers.

It's clear that the University of Arkansas has an abundance of wealth at the tailback spot with four guys making a bid for playing time with their efforts in the season opener.

The one that plays the most might just be the one who holds onto the ball.

The Razorbacks had three running backs - true freshman Felix Jones, sophomore Peyton Hillis and senior De'Arrius Howard - all top the 100-yard rushing mark and true freshman Darren McFadden made a run at it late as the Razorbacks rolled up nearly 600 yards total offense and scored seven touchdowns in downing the Division I-AA Bears 49-17 before a crowd of 66,424 fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

That was the biggest positives in game that was marred by 10 turnovers - eight of which were split between the two teams in the first half - and where the visitors had 338 yards total offense in new UA defensive coordinator Reggie Herring's first game at the helm of the Razorback defense.

"There's nothing like winning," Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. "We kicked off the season on a good foot, but our defense was piut on some bad situations. We did a good job, but I am so upset about the fumbles because we work so hard on not doing that."

"I'm so upset by the turnovers," Nutt added. "We just can't live with that. We will get that rectified."

Missouri State head coach Randy Ball noted that he was happy with getting some turnovers in a game where he was down 28-3 at half but rallied to within 28-17 in the third quarter, but not with giving away the same amount.

"Our kids showed great character at an SEC school on the road," Ball said. "Turnovers kept this game from being blown open. I'm happy the way our kids came out in the second half. We missed too many tackles on defense and turned the ball over way too much on offense.

"We just challenged our kids at halftime to show their character," Ball added. "Our guys got confidence as the game went on. We thought they might press a little bit after we got it close , but they didn't buckle and made plays in the second half." It was the first time the the Razorbacks (1-0) - who led 28-3 at half - had three players go over 100 yards rushing in the same game since Matt Jones, Fred Talley and Cedric Cobbs all did so in the famed seven-overtime win at Ole Miss in 2001.

Jones led the stats with 8 carries for 137 yards a touchdown while Hillis had 14 carries for 135 yards and three touchdowns with both topping 100 yards before halftime.

Hillis, who didn't rush for more than 66 yards in a game last season, had 106 of his by the break while Jones had already rolled up 116 of his own on just three carries before intermission - including an 80-yard touchdown dash.

Howard - whose 60-yard second-half run was the longest in his UA career - had 12 carries for 120 yards while McFadden ended the night with 70 yards on nine carries and a score of his own.

"Arkansas' running backs are right where they belong, which is in the SEC," Ball said. "We knew we would have a difficult time stopping their running game."

Those four backs had 43 carries for 462 yards among themselves - an average of over 10 yards per carry.

"We think all of them are very, very special," Nutt said.

Nutt, whose team sported new uniforms praised the offensive line's effort as well.

"I thought our offensive line had a real good night," Nutt said. "They created a lot of space and we had some big holes there.

New UA starting quarterback Robert Johnson, taking over for the legend that is Matt Jones, finished the night 12-of-22 passing for 88 yards and a touchdown to Marcus Monk while throwing one interception. Both back-ups Alex Mortensen and Cole Barthel also played during the contest.

Mortensen was 1-of-3 passing for 20 yards while Barthel did not attempt a pass after entering on the last series of the game.

"I was really proud of Robert Johnson's first start," Nutt said. "I thought he did a good job of managing game and executing. I thought he had passes dropped by receivers that don't normally drop them. We'll get that corrected."

The game didn't start as well as it finished for the Razorbacks when the opening line-drive kickoff bounded off UA freshman Freddie Fairchild and right back to Missouri State kicker Jon Scrifes, we should have known the first game of the Razorbacks' 2005 season was going to be a turnover fest.

"You sure don't like starting that way," Nutt said. "It was a kick of the foot and they take it. But I think our defense did pretty well. We put them in some tough situations, but we really only gave up one big play."

Missouri State - who was known as Southwest Missouri State until Aug. 28 - didn't score on its opening drive because former Arkansas tight end Payne Hall fumbled after being hit at Razorback 13, but turned Johnson's interception into points as Scrifes hit a 29-yard field goal with 8:31 left in the first quarter to put the visitors up 3-0.

It was the 16 consecutive made field goal by Scrifes, who owns his school record, and also the Division I-AA Bears only lead of the night.

Arkansas quickly responded on top on a 9-play, 70-yard dash that was capped by Hillis' 32-dash to paydirt at the 4:51 mark that combined with Chris Balseiro's PAT to give the Razorbacks a 7-3 lead.

There were then three straight turnovers with the last one of those being a Scottie Reddix fumble of a pass reception that Razorback cornerback Darius Vinnett picked up and raced 44 yards for a score. Balseiro was true again with just 11 seconds left in the opening quarter as Arkansas led 14-3.

Jones, who scored 48 TDs last season for Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington, took the second carry of his college career for 80 yards and a score as Arkansas moved ahead 21-3.

Balserio drilled a 39-yard field goal on Arkansas' next possesion, but a delay of game penalty wiped that out and he missed from 44 yards out.

But Arkansas would take a 28-3 advantage to halftime after Michael Coe picked off a pass and Johnson hit Monk with a 5-yard scoring strike with just two seconds left before halftime.

Monk had 6 catches for 77 yards on a night when Arkansas punted just once - a 39-yarder by Jacob Skinner.

Missouri State would score first in the second half as the Bears marched 75 yards in 7 plays, culminating when quarterback Scott Carroll tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Nicholson and Scifres with 8:40 remaining in the third quarter.

The Bears then closed to within 28-17 when P.J. Ikner ran 86 yards on a draw play and Scrifes booted the extra point with 5:38 remaining.

"I think Missouri State played really hard," Nutt said. "I'm always a little nervous. But I am more concerned about us, stopping ourselves and giving up the turnovers. If we don't have the turnovers it is a totally different game."

With the crowd growing a little restless at that time, the Razorbacks regained control of the game at that point with a 9-play drive that covered 53 yards and culminated with a Hillis 1-yard run and Balserio's PAT, which put Arkansas out front 35-17 with 13:09 left in the game.

Hillis and McFadden - who ripped off a 37-yard dash at one point - then punched in short scoring runs in the fourth quarter to make the score much more asthetic.

Michael Coe had an interception, a fumble caused and a fumble recovery while fellow cornerback Michael Grant also added a pick late.

Sam Olajubutu and Vickiel Vaughn led the UA tackle charts with 10 each while Pierre Brown added 7, Weston Dacus 6 and Fred Bledsoe, Coe and Clarke Moore with 4 each.

Arkansas will open SEC action by hosting Vanderbilt (1-0) on Saturday night at 6 p.m.

Vanderbilt opened its season with a 24-20 win at Wake Forest on Thursday night.

"We'll get better and we are going to have to get better in a hurry," Nutt said. "We are playing Vanderbilt, who has a lot of confidence. They went on the road and they already have a two-day head start on us."

Felix Jones races towards a touchdown.

Peyton Hillis rolls through the Bears' defense.

Robert Johnson fires a pass in the opener.

Peyton Hillis finds daylight.

Michael Grant breaks up a pass intended for Payne Hall.

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