FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ rout of Jacksonville State was completed so quickly that some troubling moments on pass defense can get buried under the plethora of points.
Nineteen plays worth 222 yards and 28 points in barely 11 minutes will do that.
Considering the Southeastern Conference opposition in the weeks to come, the negatives merit review.
At 7-7 late in the first quarter, Jacksonville State’s quarterbacks had completed 4-of-6 for 65 yards, including a 31-yarder over Darius Winston and a 19-yarder to running back Troymaine Pope, who was apparently invisible to the defense. On the two incompletions, the receivers were open.
Trailing by 21 late in the half, Marques Ivory completed a 28-yarder and a 16-yarder at a time when the defense had to be looking pass considering the score and the clock. From the UA 7, Ivory scrambled and Alan Bonner caught his pass in the end zone a full yard in front of Tevin Mitchel.
During the first 30 minutes, the Gamecocks completed 13-of-22 for 163 yards. The disconcerting note is that they had no running game to speak of — 17 tries for 30 yards — to entertain the defense.
On top of that, Arkansas veterans Tyler Wilson and Chris Gragg lost first-half fumbles, precisely the thing an inferior opponent needs to be encouraged.
Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe knows how that feels and I wondered if Sept. 5, 1992, crossed his mind when his team converted a fumble into a 14-7 lead. Twenty years ago, he was on the West sideline, in charge when Arkansas lost to The Citadel, which returned a fumble for the game’s only touchdown.
Forty minutes prior to kickoff, Crowe and Arkansas’ head coach, John L. Smith, talked for several moments. During warm-ups, Smith moved among his players, dispensing an occasional pat on the back or head.
Once the game began, he blended in, unlike his predecessor, Bobby Petrino.
Arkansas’ positives on offense were numerous in the 49-24 romp, but nothing more than an experienced unit should accomplish against a defense with a 212-pound defensive end, one quality lineman, a senior walk-on at one corner, and an inexperienced player at the other corner.
That said, Wilson performed like the All-SEC quarterback he is, running back Knile Davis appeared fully capable of complementing Wlson, and tight end Gragg was reliable.
For those of us who had only heard about Brandon Mitchell’s transformation from quarterback to wide receiver, No. 17 stole the show.
He might not be a blazer, but his stride is long and fluid and he covers some ground. On his first catch, he went up like he was pursuing a basketball rebound and caught one for 34 yards. Next time, he did a nice impression of a wide receiver, getting inside position on the defensive back on a deep slant and snagging the ball for 37 yards.
In the third quarter, Mitchell went across the middle — a trait coveted in a wide receiver — and converted on third down. For the night, he grabbed four for 122 yards, most of the time working without Cobi Hamilton, who was injured in the first quarter.
Despite a drop in the second half, Mitchell looked like the surest answer to any of the questions on this Razorback team.
Perfect on his first six throws, Wilson was 15-of-18 in the first half for 246. In three quarters, he threw for 367 yards, the record for an Arkansas season opener.
Tackled to the ground only a few times in more than a year, Davis often provided the impetus for contact. His first carry, good for 4 yards, was warmly applauded. He finished with 18 attempts for 70 yards.
The best thing about the Gamecocks is that they tried hard. A team from the second tier of college football, they are not supposed to go toe to toe with the likes of Arkansas.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.