LITTLE ROCK — Trailing Samford by three points entering the fourth quarter, Arkansas turned to the one-two running punch of running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. They ran for 145 yards and two touchdowns in the final quarter as the Razorbacks avoided an upset by a Football Championship Subdivision team with a 31-21 win at War Memorial Stadium.
“We just wanted to wear them out and wear them out and wear them out,” Collins said. “You could tell in the third and fourth quarters, you could see them start to slow down and get tired. We took advantage of that. We talked about pounding the rock and getting back on track.”
Collins finished with a game-high 172 rushing yards on 24 carries with one touchdown — his first for the Razorbacks. Williams ended with 17 carries for 126 yards and one TD, but he also fumbled early in the third quarter.
In the season-opening 34-14 win against Louisiana-Lafayette, Williams was the high man with 151 rushing yards to 131 for Collins. With their efforts against the Bulldogs (1-1), Williams and Collins became the first duo in team history to run for more than 100 yards each in the first two games of the season. And Collins is the first true freshman to top the century mark in rushing in both of his first two games.
“To have the one-two punch, I’m telling you … I think our guys are getting it,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. “Our offensive guys knew what they needed to do, stop talking about what you’re going to do, and just went out and did it. I think our offensive line mentality took over.”
Collins’ first touchdown came midway through the fourth quarter. With Arkansas (2-0) leading 24-21, Collins broke down the left sideline for 55 yards on the second play of the drive. He was tripped at the Samford 14 as he tried to cut back against the grain. Collins thought he was going to score on that play.
“I gave it my all. I cut back upfield, but I got tripped up,” Collins said. “That was my first big run, I wanted to score.”
Collins took a breather for two plays as Williams move the ball to the Samford 2. Then Collins bulled into the end zone for his first TD in an Arkansas jersey.
“It felt great. I wanted it. I wanted it bad, so I just gave it everything I’ve got,” Collins said. “My offensive line had a great push and I just followed right behind my fullback — Kiero Small — and looked up and I was in the end zone.”
After scoring though, Collins kept running. He jumped onto a tarp rolled up behind the end zone and high-fived some fans — which resulted in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. When he returned to the sideline, he was greeted with a blistering lecture by Arkansas running backs coach Joel Thomas.
“I learned my lesson early and I won’t ever do it again,” Collins said. “Next time I’ll just stop right in the middle of the end zone. After the penalty, I felt bad and apologized to the team.”
Bielema was bothered by that penalty and another by Tevin Mitchell. Late in the third quarter, Mitchell drew a personal foul penalty after shoving a Samford wide receiver after the play was over. Bielema said both have been warned.
“Alex Collins will not do that again; if he does he will not be here and playing with us,” Bielema said. “And Tevin Mitchell has to learn to control his emotions. I’m not calling anybody out, I’m just saying it is what it is. I’ve pointed it out to both them and they’ll grow from it.”
Collins’ TD was preceded by a 1-yard TD plunge by Williams early in the fourth. It was one of 21 rushing attempts by Arkansas in the fourth quarter to zero passes. Along with Small, the Razorbacks totaled 163 rushing yards in the final quarter.
“It’s exciting when they put it on your back and you have to show what you can do,” Williams said. “They put it on me and Alex’s back and we came out with a victory.”