Arkansas Offense Enjoys Feel-Good Performance

FAYETTEVILLE -- Coach Houston Nutt glanced at the scoreboard, looked at his bench and decided that six touchdowns were more than enough during the third quarter of Arkansas' 44-15 win against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday night.

After all, the Razorbacks had built a 36-point lead without two injured starters, center Kyle Roper and receiver Cedric Washington. They put together 440 yards of offense, had two running backs eclipse the 100-yard mark and scored 14 more points than in their previous two games combined.

So Nutt pulled his starters, put in the reserves and called off the dogs.

"We said, 'Let's get them out,'" Nutt said. "We have a long season."

Nutt and the Razorbacks saw all they needed from an offense two weeks removed from the discouraging, 24-13 loss at Alabama. The ground game remained dominant behind two true freshmen, the passing attack was efficient and the costly mistakes that killed scoring opportunities at Alabama disappeared against the Indians.

Sure, Louisiana-Monroe entered the game surrendering an average of 31.4 points and 431 yards a game. But Nutt said it was the kind of feel-good performance the Razorbacks needed before stepping back into Southeastern Conference play this Saturday with an important home game against No. 21 Auburn.

"When you get beat three weeks in a row and everybody says, 'You can't do it,' there's nothing like going out on the field and saying, 'We can do it and we're not far off,'" Nutt said about Saturday's win.

Once again, Arkansas leaned on its SEC-leading ground game, churning out 321 rushing yards behind true freshmen tailbacks Darren McFadden (125 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Felix Jones (102-2). But Nutt said Arkansas executed better with Jonathan Luigs starting his first game at center, right guard Chase Pressley earning his first start this season and flanker Cedric Logan getting his first start, period.

Arkansas, which committed seven, drive-stalling penalties against Alabama, cut the number to two before starters were pulled Saturday. Johnson, who was roughed up against the Crimson Tide, was sacked in the end zone for a safety in the first quarter and took a few shots, but was protected better by the offensive line Saturday.

"You're a little nervous when you go into the game," Nutt said of the offensive injuries. "I'm really proud of the offensive line. Tight ends, (starter) Wes Murphy really did a good job. And Robert Johnson, I thought he handled himself very well."

Nutt said Arkansas was at its best on two, first-half scoring drives that ate clock and kept Louisiana-Monroe from gaining momentum.

Arkansas led 10-2 before Johnson led the Razorbacks on a 16-play, 87-yard drive that lasted 6:10. The Hogs kept the ball on the ground for 13 of the 16 plays, getting in the end zone with De'Arrius Howard 4-yard touchdown run.

Louisiana-Monroe scored a touchdown on a trick play in the second quarter to cut the lead to 16-8, but Arkansas immediately responded with a lengthy drive.

Johnson hit receiver Marcus Monk for a 15-yard gain on the first play, scrambled 13 yards a little later and even drew a 15-yard, roughing-the-passer penalty that gave the Hogs a first down.

The penalty set up tailback Darren McFadden's 15-yard touchdown. The 6-play, 80-yard drive gave Arkansas a 23-8 lead with 2:15 left in the half.

"Every time they did something we answered with long drives without foolish penalties," Nutt said. "The things we emphasized was no foolish penalties. Let's don't stop ourselves.

"Each time we answered (a ULM score). That's a good sign right there."

Johnson took a few unsuccessful shots downfield and his longest completion was 23-yard screen to Jones. But, after an erratic performance against Alabama, the sophomore was efficient against the Indians. He completed 12 of 17 passes for 119 yards, found success on several screens, hit six different receivers and didn't throw an interception for the first time this season.

He hung in the pocket and took some big hits, but also added 11 rushing yards on well-timed scrambles. Johnson was sacked in the end zone by Louisiana-Monroe defensive end Brandon Guillory and fumbled a snap, which he recovered, but Nutt said the quarterback made solid decisions all night.

"He had a really good look in his eye Saturday night," Nutt said. "Each time they answered or scored, he was encouraging the team, leading it. He's not forcing it. He is taking what the defense gives us and he's completing balls.

"If he'll just keep doing that, that's going to (help us) win."

The Hogs will need everything they can get against the Tigers, who are No. 1 in the SEC in scoring defense (9.4 points a game) and passing defense (148.6 yards). They're also No. 2 in total defense (256.2) and sixth against the run (107.6).

Auburn surrendered 23 points in its season-opening loss to Georgia Tech, but has given up only 24 in the past four games. In fact, its two SEC opponents -- Mississippi State and South Carolina -- have combined to score 7 points and gain 406 yards.

"This game will be a rock 'em, sock 'em type game," Nutt said. "Buckle up both chin straps. But we're going to have to execute in the passing game. We're going to have to be able to protect against a very good defensive line. When you watch South Carolina and you watch Georgia Tech and the teams they're playing, Mississippi State, I tell you what, they don't give up much on defense.

"They have not given up much at all."

Nutt is hoping Roper (strained knee) and Washington (hamstring) will return in time for Saturday's game, but said the Razorbacks will be prepared to play without them. He said Arkansas must find ways to make more plays through the air against Auburn, which also is second in the SEC in first downs allowed (69).

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said he has his most talented team in seven seasons with the Tigers. Nutt can see why. He said the defense is leading an Auburn team playing with a lot of confidence this season.

But after Saturday's win, Nutt is hoping Arkansas' offense will feel the same.

"We need the same thing (against Auburn)," Nutt said about the offense. "Take care of the football. Let's don't beat ourselves. And let's execute."


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