FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas defeated New Mexico State 42-24 Saturday afternoon inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Razorbacks (2-2, 0-1 SEC) led 28-10 at halftime behind 322 yards of offense in the half. They finished with 494 yards.
Here’s how SEC Country graded the performance of each position group from the win Saturday:
This was about as good as Arkansas’ passing game can be. Were the Hogs helped by the opponent? Sure. But as we saw in the season opener against Florida A&M, the passing game is prone to struggling against anyone.
Obviously, it all starts with the play of quarterback Austin Allen. The senior was really good Saturday. He completed 19 of his 26 pass attempts for 264 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception. His first half was nearly perfect, completing 13 of his 15 attempts for 203 yards.
Allen had one terrible play, throwing too late to an open Cheyenne O’Grady which resulted in an easy interception for the Aggies. Other than that, he was basically flawless.
His big day was in large part a result of the offensive line consistently giving him time to throw. That had been lacking in previous games. He wasn’t sacked Saturday for the first time this season. Allen has proven when he has time, he’s as good as any quarterback in the SEC.
Credit to the receivers is deserved as well. Jonathan Nance led the way for a third straight game with 6 catches for 58 yards and 2 touchdowns. Deon Stewart and Jordan Jones, two players the Hogs really needed improvement from, had breakout performances. Stewart had a 38-yard touchdown catch in which he did most of the work himself. Jones’ 84 receiving yards led the team.
The running game wasn’t great, but it was plenty good enough. Devwah Whaley led the way 119 yards, Chase Hayden added 48 and David Williams had 47. That group continues to show it has a chance to be special when the offensive line holds up.
Some other impressive stats from the offense:
- 41:35 time of possession
- 9 of 13 on third down
- 2 of 3 on fourth down
- 4 of 4 in the red zone
Maybe a D+ is a little harsh considering the weapons New Mexico State has this season. Quarterback Tyler Rogers, running back Larry Rose III and wide receiver Jaleel Scott are really good players. But giving up four scoring drives of at least 7 plays and 65 yards to New Mexico State is bad for an SEC team in any year. There was also an 8-play, 76-yard drive that ended in an interception as a result of Rogers trying to throw into a tight window.
The Aggies’ 344 passing yards came in large part as a result of allowing Rogers too much time to throw. Coach Bret Bielema said postgame the plan was to essentially contain Rogers from scrambling outside the pocket and making big plays rather than getting immediate pressure on him. Based on what we saw, that argument holds water. But that doesn’t mean it was necessarily a good plan. It made Rogers look like Aaron Rodgers and Scott had 174 receiving yards with an average of 19.3 yards per catch.
The silver lining was the run defense. Arkansas limited Rose to just 25 yards on 8 carries (an average of 3.1 per carry). He’s rushed for over 1,000 yards twice in his previous three seasons at New Mexico State and is capable of having a big day against anyone. So, if nothing else, at least Arkansas’ defense made the Aggies one-dimensional.
Special teams: B
What we saw of the special teams was pretty good. Punter Blake Johnson’s only punt was pinned inside the 20. The kick coverage unit limited New Mexico State to a 15-yard average on its 5 kickoff returns. However, the Hogs didn’t kick a field goal, which is the greatest concern for that phase of the game right now.
The offensive game plan, led by offensive coordinator Dan Enos, was great. Arkansas got most of its key skill players involved, the offensive line looked improved and the wide receivers had their best game of the season as a group. The third- and fourth-down play calling was especially effective and key to helping Arkansas pull away.
As mentioned, the defensive plan left something to be desired. Maybe defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads is just aiming to the best he can with the talent he has, and that meant giving up a bunch of passing yards but getting a win. That’s all good and well against New Mexico State, but better opponents are looming.
This was the type of performance Arkansas needed. Allen, the offensive line and the receivers gained an important confidence boost ahead of four consecutive SEC games. Again, the defense wasn’t great, but it’s a three-score win over a likely bowl team from the Sun Belt. That deserves a slightly above average grade.
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