FAYETTEVILLE — If Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins keep running like they did against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, new Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema won’t need long to learn all the words to the fight song.
Williams ran 18 times for 151 yards, while Collins carried 21 times for 131 in the Razorbacks’ 34-14 win against the Ragin’ Cajuns in the season opener at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
They are the first pair of Razorbacks to rush for more than 100 yards each in the same game since 2007. That year, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones each topped 100 yards. And Collins is the first true freshman to top 100 yards in his debut game for the Razorbacks since Jones did it in 2005.
“What you guys saw (Saturday) was what I’ve been seeing all fall camp,” Bielema said. “J. Will., nobody takes it more seriously than him. He’s a guy that’s very, very gifted. He’s a guy that’s going to flourish in our type of system. Alex, obviously, is the type of guy who can change the game with a single cut.”
Williams was the early workhorse. The sophomore carried 12 times for 61 yards in the first half. But he left the game midway through the second quarter with a shoulder injury. Williams returned in the third quarter and said the injury was just a stinger.
Whatever it was, it didn’t affect him.
Williams took a third-quarter handoff to the right side. He broke back to his left, got to the corner and charged down the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown run that set the final score.
“It was actually a different play. Brandon Allen checked it when he saw the defensive front,” Williams said. “They’re a really aggressive defense and overflowed, so I was able to cut back. We had some great blocking by the receivers and Nate Holmes ran downfield and got another block.”
However, Bielema said Holmes’ hustle almost cost the team a touchdown.
“We got away with one there,” Bielema said. “I think his hand was a little bit on his back, so I gave him a piece of my mind. That should have been called back.”
Collins only had six carries for 53 yards in the first half. But he blossomed in the second half as he got 15 more carries. He was shocked to find out his name was now alongside Jones in the school’s record book.
“It feels good. I wasn’t aware of it,” Collins said. “I was just out there playing ball, then I hear that, so I’m honored.”
ULL head coach Mark Hudspeth said Williams and Collins lived up the nicknames he gave them during practice.
“We’ve been calling them ‘thunder and lightning’ all camp and I think that’s a pretty good analogy,” Hudspeth said. “One runs strong, is hard to tackle and the other one is really fast and can break it. I think they’ve got a stable of backs. I think their personnel fits what coach Bielema wants to do.”
Williams wasn’t the only running back to score a touchdown Saturday. Fullback Kiero Small caught a short pass in the right flat, stopped to let a Cajun run past, tiptoed down the right sideline and then bulled over two more defenders for a 10-yard touchdown reception early in the third quarter.
Small finished with three catches for 25 yards, along with four carries for 7 yards. While his statistics didn’t match those of Williams or Collins, Bielema said his were just as important to the offense.
“I honestly, going into today, I thought he might be our most productive player and in a certain way, I think he was,” Bielema said. “On critical downs, he made first downs. He made that touchdown all on willpower. He is a very, very gifted player and fits perfectly in our system.
“I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason, I’m so thankful he was injured a year ago because he is going to be an absolute stud for us in our offense.”
Arkansas finished with 292 total rushing yards and 230 passing yards from Allen. Bielema said that balance is a goal for his offense. Learning “Arkansas Fight” is also a goal.
“We’re working on our postgame. I’m a detail guy, some people probably have other words for it, but I had not addressed postgame celebrations,” Bielema said. “They could have told me we go over and sing the fight song. I’ve got to learn the fight song better; I’ve got it hanging in my office.”