FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema summed up things pretty well following his team’s unexpected nail-biting 21-20 victory over Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
“There’s going to be half the teams in college football (that will) lose today, or lose this week,” Bielema said. “That’s the simple math of college football. Half win, half lose.
“We won, and we won by one, but in the record books for the rest of time, it’ll say a ‘W’, and you’ve got to appreciate those.”
No holes in that theory.
Still, Saturday’s victory left much to be desired, especially considering the tough schedule Arkansas must face moving forward.
Here’s a quick look at each position group’s performance in the season opener.
Austin Allen threw some really nice balls, and he came through when it mattered most. But he also threw a pair of pretty ugly — and costly — interceptions in the first half. It didn’t help that there were a few drops and his offensive line didn’t do a great job of protecting him, but Allen will have to be better himself when the Hogs travel to TCU next week.
RUNNING BACKS (B)
Rawleigh Williams III took over as the main ballcarrier — which was unsurprising — but that senior Kody Walker was the No. 2 option was a little bit surprising. True freshman Devwah Whaley got only two carries, something that surely will change as the year progresses.
RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS (C)
Senior Keon Hatcher’s primetime performance in his first game back from last year’s broken foot substantially raises the overall grade for this unit. He caught six passes for 86 yards, including some really tough, clutch grabs in key situations. Jeremy Sprinkle came through with the game-winning 4-yard touchdown, but he was largely a nonfactor otherwise. That must change moving forward.
OFFENSIVE LINE (C-)
This grade probably would be a D or an F is not for that game-winning fourth-quarter drive. The offensive line struggled to keep Allen off his back and to create holes for the backs. We’ll see if offensive line coach Kurt Anderson changes up his starting unit ahead of next week’s TCU game.
DEFENSIVE LINE (B+)
The Arkansas defensive line is the deepest unit on the team, and that showed Saturday. The Hogs recorded 3 sacks and held Louisiana Tech to 3.4 yards per rush.
Dre Greenlaw forced Arkansas’ only takeaway with his first-half interception, but Arkansas’ linebacker group still isn’t as deep as it needs to be and missed some tackles. A solid but not spectacular performance.
Some of the problems that haunted Arkansas last season reared their ugly heads Saturday against Louisiana Tech — a team with a freshman quarterback who wasn’t even supposed to start. Safety Santos Ramirez made several mistakes in coverage and sophomore corner Ryan Pulley’s foolish late hit out of bounds late in the third quarter — which put the Bulldogs at the Arkansas 26-yard line — could have really cost the Hogs. Fortunately for Arkansas, Louisiana Tech’s kicker missed a 39-yard field goal to end that drive, allowing the Razorbacks to march down the field for the game winner.
SPECIAL TEAMS (C)
Punter Toby Baker averaged 47.5 yards on four punts. Kicker Cole Hedlund didn’t get any opportunities to kick field goals but made all three extra-point attempts. Adam McFain sent only one of his kickoffs into the end zone, something Bielema referenced after the game, saying Arkansas could make a change there.
Skip Holtz and his Louisiana Tech staff out-coached Arkansas, plain and simple. A game between these two teams never should have been this close, and ultimately the responsibility for that falls on Bielema and his staff. The Hogs did come away with the victory, but the lack of preparedness for this season opener was a little staggering — especially considering the early season struggles of the last few seasons.
A win’s a win, as they say, but this one wasn’t pretty. Facing a Louisiana Tech team with virtually an entirely new defense, a freshman quarterback and new running backs, Arkansas needed a missed field goal and a late comeback to pull out the victory. This sort of performance won’t cut it next week at TCU, much less against the Hogs’ SEC West schedule.