LITTLE ROCK – During the first quarter it appeared that only the University of Arkansas' punt defense has showed up ready to Rock the Rock.
But right before and certainly after halftime, the lights started to come on for entire squad and thus it was soon lights out for the University of Louisiana-Monroe, who got battered in its "home" game.
Darren McFadden and Felix Jones combined for 270 yards rushing and had a hand in three touchdowns, Marcus Monk and Mitch Mustain both accounted for two scores and Michael Grant picked off three passes as No. 13 Razorbacks drubbed the Warhawks 44-10 before 55,420 fans at War Memorial Stadium.
"We played good enough, but we realize that there are still things we need to improve on," Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. "We were keyed up and the Central Arkansas fans kept us keyed up. The fans were ready tonight. We have to give them credit.
Arkansas (7-1, 4-0 in SEC action), who won its seventh straight for the first time since it started 8-0 in head coach Houston Nutt's first season in 1998, was making its first Central Arkansas appearance this season although the game is classified as a home game for nonconference foe ULM (1-7).
The win set up SEC-leading Arkansas for a big November, beginning with a 6:45 p.m. at South Carolina (5-3, 3-3) next week.
That will followed by a run of games with Tennessee(7-1, 3-1), at Mississippi State (2-7. 0-5) and against LSU (6-2, 2-2) in Little Rock in the season finale.
"We are looking forward to the month of November," Nutt said. "We are in the driver's seat. We are the only unbeaten team in the SEC. It's going to take everybody on our team to uphold that."
Jones rushed 9 times for 141 yards and a score while fellow sophomore tailback McFadden carried the ball 18 times for 129 yards and a touchdown and also threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Monk.
McFadden - getting several smaps as a shotgun quarterback again - also handed off to Jones on a few plays.
"Darren McFadden is really talented," Nutt said. "I love the way he runs. He runs with authority and power. He is a good threat. He can run, throw and hand it off. It's nice to have that threat. We are fortunate to have two caliber backs."
Mustain was 7-of-18 for 71 yards with two touchdowns and two picks, one that went off a teammate's hands, while sophomore back-up Casey Dick was 2-of-4 for 17 yards.
"We have been winning on the ground," Nutt said. "We have to improve in the air. The true freshman all around the nation are struggling. Ours will learn from their mistakes and improve."
Arkansas, playing without injured All-American linebacker Sam Olajubutu, got its first two touchdowns via two bad snaps that resulted in 88 yards lost yardage for ULM on a night when six different Razorbacks found paydirt.
In addition, the Razorback defense came away with five interceptions in a game in which Arkansas had 428 yards and gave up just 261.
"I have to give my defensive line a lot of credit for my interceptions because they were getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback and forcing him to throw some balls quicker than he wanted to," Grant said. "I was probably playing a little deeper than I usually do as well."
The game started inauspiciously for the Razorbacks when Calvin Dawson, who rushed for over 100 yards, ripped off a 66-yard run up the gut and then Kinsmon Lancaster tossed a 17-yard touchdown pass to LaGregory Sapp.
When Cole Wilson booted the PAT through, the Warhawks led 7-0 with less than four minutes gone in the game.
"They started playing faster than we expected," Grant said, "but it is always good to be tested a little bit to get the rust off."
On its next series after a Mustain interception, ULM's punt snap went way over the punter's head and resulted in a loss of 50 yards.
That left only 10 yards to cover which McFadden handle the first three and Jones the final seven for a score that with Jeremy Davis' PAT tied it 7-7 with 7:04 left in the opening quarter.
A few possessions later, another high snap cost the Warhawks 38 yards and set up the Razorbacks with just 14 yards to cover.
Mustain capped that short drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Monk that coupled with Davis' boot got Arkansas ahead 14-7 with 13:12 remaining in the second quarter.
The second of two straight Jacob Skinner punts downed at the ULM 1 by Chris Houston resulted in a safety when linebacker Matt Hewitt trapped a ballcarrier in the end zone for a 16-7 advantage with 4:12 left before halftime.
Arkansas took the resulting free kick with Dick taking over the offense only to see the third person playing quarter in McFadden tossing a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Wes Murphy.
Davis was true again with 2:24 left before intermission to make it 23-7, which is the way it stood at halftime when – after the first of Grant's picks - he missed a 48-yard field goal attempt as time ran out.
"Our defense played well after that first drive," Nutt said. "We kept them out of the end zone, but we have to improve."
Arkansas wasted no time in putting the game away in the third quarter with McFadden racing in for a 24-yard score and Mustain hitting Monk for a 12-yard score after Grant's second of the Razorbacks four interceptions on the night.
Third-string tailback Michael Smith scored on a 3-yard run midway through the fourth quarter to push it to 44-7 before Cole Wilson's 30-yard field goal with 2:26 remaining in the game capped the scoring.
The game in Little Rock was a homecoming for several Razorback players, including the starting defensive line of Marcus Harrison, Jaamal Anderson, Keith Jackson and Antwain Robinson.
"It was real special to come back to Little Rock for me personally," Anderson said. "The environment and fan support were unbelieveable from the beginning."
Arkansas 44, ULM 10
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