Johnson Earns Passing Grade

FAYETTEVILLE — Robert Johnson's expression changed little as the final ticks ran off the clock of Arkansas' 49-17 win in Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday.

The Razorbacks' sophomore quarterback stayed level-headed throughout his first career start, something which inspired quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke.

"The thing that was the most pleasing is that he handled himself well the whole game," Wittke said. "There was never a time where he got confused. He never got down on himself. He kept a real even-keel attitude and he never displayed a dazed or starry-eyed look based on my conversations with him between series."

On the Hogs' opening series, Johnson had his second pass attempt intercepted. Because it was a designed play to Cedric Washington on a deep route, Johnson was forced to throw into double coverage.

"They rolled the safety over," Wittke said. "The ball just didn't come out of his hand cleanly and so he didn't get the ball out there well enough.

"But for something like that to happen to a kid, he didn't let it get to him. He already had put it behind him and was looking ahead to the next series, which is what we've got to have."

Johnson offered no excuse for his miscue. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.

"I did a lot of things pretty good and I did some things not so good, so there's a lot of room for improvement," said Johnson, who claimed no nervousness before the game. "I just tried to stay relaxed and play within myself. That's a big thing for me, not trying to go for the home run on every play and just take what the defense gives me."

Teammates said they could see Johnson's confidence growing with every snap.

"He handled himself very well," said receiver Marcus Monk, who caught Johnson's touchdown pass. "He didn't let anything stir him up and as far as running the offense, he got better with every series."

Johnson appeared to be at his best on the fly. He executed the Hogs' two-minute offense to near perfection with time ticking down in the first half. It started with Johnson zinging consecutive passes to Dedrick Poole and ended with a 5-yard touchdown strike to Monk.

Johnson was 4 of 5 on the drive, which covered 49 yards in just over a minute.

"He did a nice job of directing the offense there and really the entire game." Wittke said. "He could have been a little cleaner with a few things in the two-minute (drill), but he got us into the end zone — bottom line."

Alex Mortensen was solid in his only series of the first half. After several running plays moved the team into scoring position, Mortensen completed his first career pass to Monk over the middle only to have Monk fumble it away.

Mortensen, a redshirt freshman, led a scoring drive midway through the final quarter to create the final margin. He was 1 of 3 for 20 yards.

Third-string quarterback Cole Barthel, a 23-year-old true freshman, took over for the Hogs' final series and received three snaps, all running plays.

"The game circumstances were going to dictate what we did," Wittke said. "It was a good experience for Robert and we were able to get some reps for those other guys and they did a nice job of directing our offense."

Welcome to College Football

Less than a second into his college football debut, Arkansas' Freddie Fairchild received a rude welcome when Jon Scrifes' squib kick deflected off the back of Fairchild's right leg and into Scrifes' hands for a quick turnover to open the game.

Fairchild redeemed himself when he "took out some frustrations" by leveling MSU returner Michael Sparks on an early second-quarter kickoff return.

"We had went over it the whole time, but I didn't expect it to come that hard," Fairchild said. "Besides that, it was a great experience for my first time out."

Including Fairchild, there were three true freshmen on the field for the opening kick. The others were Felix Jones and Elston Forte.

Jones logged plenty of snaps at tailback as well and slipped two tackles for a 12-yard gain on his initial carry. Thanks to a nice down-field block by receiver David Thompson, Jones didn't have to break any tackles on his second attempt, an 80-yard touchdown run. He finished with 137 yards on eight carries.

Tailback Darren McFadden displayed some power running midway through the second quarter and late in the game. He tallied 70 yards on nine carries.

Another true freshman, Brian Vavra of Bentonville, handled kickoffs for the Razorbacks. He even recorded a tackle on a return early in the fourth quarter.

Reggie Fish returned a punt and saw action late at flanker while fellow true freshman Jose Valdez received some late work at left tackle. Jamar Love also saw some action on special teams.

Tackling Improves

Missed tackles were few and far between in the first half, but there were several in the third quarter including at least three on an 86-yard touchdown run by P.J. Ikner.

For the most part though, tackling was much improved from last season.

"I'm trying to enjoy this win, anytime you win it's a positive," said first-year defensive coordinator Reggie Herring. "I just felt like we could do a little bit better. I think the biggest thing is we tackled well as a team with the exception of the long run where nobody touch him.

"That run was basically embarrassing."

The defense allowed 338 yards, an average of five yards per play. That fact concerned Herring since the Hogs were playing a Division I-AA team.

"We had some missed assignments," Herring said. "We had lack of focus, we were inconsistent with our discipline and that's why there were some big plays.

"But those are things that we can and will correct."

Between The Tackles

While juniors Keith Jackson and Jeremy Harrell started at the defensive tackle positions, it didn't take long for the Hogs to substitute as Marcus Harrison and Fred Bledsoe came in on the fourth play.

"I think me and Keith feel comfortable because we've played together so much," Harrell said. "We had a nice first half, but there were some things we could have done better in the third quarter.

"And we've got to get better. If we play like that next week (against Vanderbilt), we're going to get beat."

Jackson, Harrison and Bledsoe traded series for most of the second half as Harrell suffered a deep thigh bruise. Jackson had three tackles while Harrell had one. Bledsoe led the group with four stops while Harrison had one.

"I played at only about 75 percent because of the foot injury (that's been nagging him throughout the preseason)," Bledsoe said. "But the D-line as a whole, we played well. We slipped a little in the second half, but this is just the first game and I promise we'll get better."

Coe Capitalizes

On the Bears' opening drive. Hogs cornerback Michael Coe had an interception nullified as he was called for holding on the receiver. He finally got an interception that counted late in the first half.

"It was nice to get one," Coe said. "I don't know what happened on that first one. Coach said it was because I blocked the guy out on his route, which I didn't know I couldn't do."

Coe, who moved up from third- to first-team cornerback during the preseason, caused a fumble that was recovered by Vickiel Vaughn. He also had four punt returns for 61 yards.

"I'm glad the coaches trust me back there (at punt returner)," Coe said. "Since I don't play receiver (which he did in high school), it's the next best thing."

No Sophomore Jinx

After a stellar freshman campaign, Monk shined in his sophomore debut with a team-high six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. His only miscue was a second-quarter fumble.

Monk was clearly Arkansas' go-to guy when it mattered most as three of his receptions come on third down.

What A Payne

Former Razorback tight end Payne Hall's return to Fayetteville wasn't pretty. He fumbled the ball on the Bears' opening drive inside the Arkansas 5-yard line and dropped a pass late in the third quarter that would have been for a first down.

New Threads

Arkansas debuted new red uniforms on Saturday with "ARKANSAS" across the front of the jersey, above the numbers. The look is similar to that of Oklahoma's traditional home red uniforms that have "SOONERS" on the front above the numbers.

Under Review

Another debut was made Saturday as the Southeastern Conference's version of instant replay was instituted for the first time.

It first came into effect after a Bears' first quarter field goal and was later used on Monk's fumble. The original calls on both plays stood after being reviewed.

Deuces Wild

The Razorbacks had two players on the field for a fourth-quarter punt return wearing No. 2. They were Fish and Chris Houston.

Ole Hog

Vann Brown, who lettered at Arkansas from 1934-36, was honored prior to the game as the oldest living former Razorbacks football player. He's 92.

Sideline Stragglers

Six Razorbacks did not dress for Saturday's game because of injuries. They were Zac Tubbs (ankle), Chris Baker (knee), Cody Green (back), Dallas Washington (stomach virus), Rick Culbert (shoulder) and Korey Sutton (knee).

Harrell's deep thigh bruise and tight end Lance Thompson's sprained knee were the only injury reported after the game.

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