One of the question marks going into 2012 was “How will the offense perform in 2012 under Paul Petrino?” If the first game is any indication, the answer is, “So far, pretty good!” The offense rolled up 564 total yards, including 400 through the air against Jacksonville State. Arkansas’ 49 points also was better than last season’s average of 36.8, but less than the 51 scored in the opener against Missouri State. Last season, Arkansas led the Southeastern Conference in passing offense with an average of 300.7 per outing, in total offense — 438.1 per game — and in scoring offense.
Arkansas’ “improved” defense didn’t show much against Jacksonville State of the Ohio Valley Conference and the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). The Gamecocks ended with 322 yards, including 227 on pass plays. JSU piled up 20 first downs against the Razorbacks.
Freshmen on field
Freshman wide receiver Mekale McKay got the start against Jacksonville State and had one reception for 8 yards while freshman running back Jonathan Williams had one carry for 1 yard. Nate Holmes, another freshman running back, had no carries but had a long punt return for a touchdown called back when replay showed his elbow hit the ground. Officially he had 12 yards on four returns.
They were among eight true freshmen who played Saturday. The other five: Wide receiver Keon Hatcher, linebackers Otha Peters and A.J. Turner, cornerback Will Hines and defensive end Deatrich Wise.
Senior kick returner Dennis Johnson returned four kickoffs for 96 yards in the season opener against Jacksonville State. He went into the game as No. 5 on the all-time yardage list of Southeastern Conference kick returners and the record-holder at Arkansas with 2,475. He moved to No. 3 on the list with 2,571 yards, ahead of Chris Culliver (South Carolina), 2,476 and Derek Pegues (Mississippi State), 2,498. The conference record holder is Brandon James (Florida) with 2,718 yards. Georgia’s Brandon Boykin is second with 2,663 yards.
Since Johnson already holds the school record for kickoff return yardage, he’ll set a record with each return this season.
Petrino on field
As expected, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino spent all game on the sideline against Jacksonville State. Most of Petrino’s career has been spent in the press box watching for tendencies and recommending or calling plays from that perch. During a stint as offensive coordinator at Illinois before returning to Arkansas, Petrino worked from the sideline for two games. He said last week that he looked forward to interacting with players on the sideline, especially quarterbacks and receivers.
Ealey vs. Arkansas
Senior running back Washaun Ealey of Jacksonville State had only 9 yards on four carries against the Razorbacks Saturday. Two other Gamecocks had more carries and three had more rushing yards.
The Georgia transfer rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown the last time he faced the Razorbacks — a 2010 game his Bulldogs lost, 31-24. Ealey put up big numbers at Georgia, gaining 1,528 yards rushing with 14 touchdowns before transferring to Jacksonville State. Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe said Ealey during the week he did not plan to overuse Ealey with the conference season ahead.
As No. 10
The Arkansas Razorbacks moved to 3-0 for the past two seasons as the No. 10 team in the nation. The Razorbacks were ranked No. 10 in two polls a year ago. Overall, Arkansas is 106-60-2 as a Top 10 team. The preseason ranking marked the 11th time in history the Razorbacks have begun a season in the Top 10 and the highest preseason ranking since 1980, when they were No. 6. Arkansas began the 2011 campaign ranked No. 15 and finished the year at No. 5. The Razorbacks went into Saturday’s game as a Top 10 team for 12 straight polls. Arkansas has been ranked in the Top 25 for 33 consecutive polls, dating back to the one released prior to the 2010 season.
Tusk on the road
Razorback mascot Tusk lives at Dardanelle but makes it to Reynolds Razorback Stadium for home games in Fayetteville and travels to others places around the state from time to time. His trip to Saturday’s game was postponed for a time when the truck hauling his trailer broke down on I-540 between Alma and Fayetteville. Speculation was that he might not make it by game time. He did, however, entering the stadium from the southeast corner with cheerleaders on the platform above him. There was no word on what was wrong with the truck.
It’s in high def!
When Frank Broyles took steps to put in the biggest replay board in football at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, he had no idea how soon it would be outdated. By 2010, even Mississippi State had a huge high definition scoreboard that outshined the one at Arkansas, and Jerry Jones’ monster scoreboards at Cowboys Stadium are second to none. The part about the boards at Cowboys Stadium hasn’t changed, but the replay board in Fayetteville is now of the high definition variety. The new screen takes up more of the board space that was part of the original structure. The high-def screen was installed just in time to take advantage of additional replays sanctioned by the Southeastern Conference. The SEC allowed only one real-time replay in prior years, but under new rules video boards can carry multiple replays, including controversial calls under review.
A lot was written about Jack Crowe’s return to Fayetteville — his first to lead a team at Razorback Stadium since he was dismissed as the head coach of the Razorbacks one game deep in the 1992 season. Then-athletic director Frank Broyles sent Crowe packing after a 10-3 loss to then-Division II The Citadel. Crowe is 81-53 at Jacksonville State after the first game of his 13th season at the helm. His Gamecocks were champions of the Ohio Valley Conference last season — his third league title at the school. Saturday marked the first time the two schools had met. Crowe gave credit for the scheduled game to former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino. Jacksonville State earned $450,000 for its appearance.
Only on game day …
Is Coach John L. Smith superstitious? Anyone reviewing the pregame notes produced by the Arkansas Sports Information Department would have to agree the answer is “yes.” The two-sentence tidbit apparently was the first public notification of one of Smith’s game-day rituals. After a particularly good game as a player, Smith noticed his left sock was inside out. Since that day, he’s always worn his left sock that way. The tradition continued Saturday.
—Dennis A. Byrd • Arkansas News Bureau