GIMME FIVE — KEYS TO TODAY’S GAME
1. Rally Around QB
It doesn’t matter whether Brandon Allen or AJ Derby starts. Both QB’s need help from teammates if Allen plays a week after a shoulder injury or Derby makes his first start. Big plays on both sides of the ball are needed to beat Rutgers.
2. Win Rushing War
Today’s game features three of the NCAA’s top seven rushers (Paul James, Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams). Arkansas’ ability to run vs. a defense ranked fifth in the NCAA (59.3 yards a game) is key. So is stopping the Rutgers ground game.
3. Avoid Turnovers, Penalties
Road games are challenging. They’re even more difficult when the road team commits turnovers and penalties. Arkansas feels like it played a fairly clean game last week and will need a similar effort during its first road test this season.
4. Passing Game Success
Arkansas’ ground game remains the focal point of the offense, but the Hogs must show some threat through the air. Tight ends and running backs could be the answer. Expect both positions to be involved after just 11 pass attempts last week.
5. Sound On Special Teams
Rutgers leads the nation in kick returns, averaging 43.7 yards an attempt. It has 99- and 100-yard touchdowns as well. So Zach Hocker and the rest of the kick coverage team must be ready. Arkansas must have a sound special teams performance today.
TODAY’S KEY MATCHUP
Arkansas RB Alex Collins (5-11, 206, Fr.)
Key Statistics: Team-high 418 rushing yards in three games
Collins’ debut has been impressive. He became the first freshman in SEC history to rush for 100 yards or more in his first three games. He also became the first freshman in the NCAA to accomplish the feat since Adrian Peterson in 2004. The Razorbacks would like the streak tor continue as he and Jonathan Williams prepare to face Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are allowing 59.3 rushing yards a game through three weeks and will provide the toughest test for Collins to date.
Rutgers LB Steve Longa (6-1, 220, RS-Fr.)
Key Statistics: Team-high 29 tackles in three games
Longa is starting in the middle of a Rutgers defense that has been stingy against the run through three games (59.3 yards a game). The redshirt freshman had 12 tackles in his debut against Fresno State and added 12 more against Eastern Michigan last week. He also had a big impact against Norfolk State, forcing two fumbles and recovering one. Longa is learning on the job and will face his biggest challenge since arriving at Rutgers, leading a defense trying to stop Collins and Williams.
EDGE: Arkansas RB Alex Collins
Passing Yds (NCAA Rank)
Arkansas 141.3 (112th)
Rutgers 195.7 (88th)
Arkansas 294.3 (11th)
Rutgers 217.7 (40th)
Arkansas 435.7 (T-58th)
Rutgers 413.3 (65th)
Passing Yds (NCAA Rank)
Arkansas 147.7 (12th)
Rutgers 288.3 (107th)
Arkansas 105.3 (T-19th)
Rutgers 59.3 (5th)
Arkansas 253.0 (6th)
Rutgers 347.7 (46th)
UA has called Brandon Allen’s status a game-time decision because of his shoulder injury, but signs point toward AJ Derby earning his first start as a Razorback; Rutgers is optimistic Gary Nova will play. Backup Chas Dodd is capable, though.
Freshman Alex Collins leads the SEC and is 4th in the nation in rushing yards (418), while teammate Jonathan Williams is 2nd and 7th (393); Rutgers running back Paul James leads the nation in rushing yards (493) and has 6 TDs in 3 games.
UA’s Javontee Herndon has been a one-man show, according to coach Bret Bielema. The Hogs want TE Hunter Henry and others involved today; Rutgers’ WR Brandon Coleman is a big target (6-foot-6) and playmaker who leads a productive group.
UA hopes to have RT Grady Ollison back after the sophomore suffered an ankle injury last week. Denver Kirkland would start if Ollison can’t play; Rutgers should have C Betim Bujari back from a head injury that sidelined him last week.
UA DE Chris Smith had 3 sacks last week and is tied for the NCAA lead with 4 ½ in 3 games. Smith, Trey Flowers and Robert Thomas have combined for 13 TFLs; DE Marcus Thompson has 4 TFLs and 3 ½ of the Scarlet Knights’ 10 sacks this season.
UA’s Jarrett Lake returned from suspension to lead the Hogs with 13 tackles last week, including a key stop on a fake field goal; Rutgers starter Jamal Merrell is doubtful (kidney). First-year starter Steve Longa leads the team with 29 tackles.
UA’s secondary wants to make amends for last season, when Nova torched the Razorbacks for 397 passing yards and 5 TDs; Rutgers has struggled against the pass, entering today’s game ranked 107th in passing defense (288.3).
OVERALL: Arkansas 20, Rutgers 17
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau