Arkansas played its 15th and 16th first-time starters against Kentucky on Saturday. Linebacker A.J. Turner replaced Alonzo Highsmith Jr. after Highsmith suffered a season-ending injury against Auburn.
Turner, a freshman from Lepanto who played both ways in high school at East Poinsett County, was credited with five tackles — three unassisted — against the Wildcats.
Jonathan Williams, the freshman from Allen, Texas, started in the backfield along with Knile Davis.His first play was a 74-yard TD pass from Tyler Wilson. Williams also had a 77-yard TD at the end of the first quarter, becoming the first Arkansas freshman with two touchdown receptions of 74-plus yards in the same game.
The other first-time Razorback starters this season are Brandon Mitchell, Brandon Allen, Kody Walker, Mekale McKay, Brey Cook, David Hurd, Tyler Deacon, Luke Charpentier and Morgan Linton — all on offense. Other first-time defensive starters in 2012 are Davyon McKinney, Kaelon Kelleybrew, Rohan Gaines, Alan Turner and Will Hines.
Arkansas started four freshmen - Williams, Turner, McKinney and Hines - against Kentucky.
The weather-related ending marked the first time a Razorback game had been terminated as a result of inclement weather. The game ended officially at 10:07 p.m. after two weather delays, the last coming with 5:08 left in the third quarter and Arkansas leading 49-7.
Unofficially, the delays lasted 1 hour, 47 minutes, not including a 10-minute warm-up before a first-half resumption and a 15-minute halftime.
The first-quarter weather delay of 1 hour, 6 minutes came with 3:22 left in the first quarter. It was the first time since 2010 a weather delay had occurred in an Arkansas game. Arkansas defeated Ole Miss, 38-24, that day. It was the third weather delay game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. In 2001, the Tennessee game was delayed by storms. Tennessee defeated Arkansas, 13-3, in that one.
Arkansas scored on its first possession with some regularity a season ago, but the 74-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Wilson to freshman Jonathan Williams on the first play from scrimmage marked the first time this season that Arkansas has scored on the opening possession. The TD pass took 15 seconds off the clock.
There were no turnovers in the Arkansas-Kentucky game — close to remarkable considering the weather conditions. Arkansas is minus-10 in turnovers, but began working its way out of the NCAA cellar a week earlier against Auburn. In that game, Arkansas got five turnovers, but gave two back after starting that game at minus-13, bad enough to be ranked No. 120 in all of Division I NCAA statistics in that category.
In Joker Phillips’ three seasons at Kentucky’s coach, the Wildcats were 9-2 in games in which they won the turnover battle.
The much-maligned Arkansas unit was coming off its best game of the season, recording eight sacks and allowing Auburn only 40 rushing yards. Trey Flowers was named defensive lineman of the week in the Southeastern Conference after recording 3 1/2 sacks against the Tigers. Arkansas also recorded five turnovers against Auburn, but gave two back for a net three.
Arkansas remained one of the worst defensive teams in the country in last week’s NCAA rankings, but gained some ground in a couple of categories Saturday. For example, in total defense, the Razorbacks moved up to 113th from No. 120. Arkansas gained four spots in allowing opponent red zone possessions after allowing Auburn just one. That meant moving from last (No. 124) to No. 120 with 32.
The only move in the other direction was total passing defense. Arkansas went from No. 121 to No. 122. And, the Razorbacks stayed steady in passing yards allowed — 2,028. That figure kept Arkansas at No. 124 out of 124 Division I teams in the nation.
Ronnie Wingo was listed as questionable but did not play Saturday. He and defensive tackle DeQuinta Jones were not in uniform against Kentucky. Jones has started every game. There was no indication of why he was out.
Add senior Tenarius Wright to the list of starters who suffered season-ending injuries this year. Coach John L. Smith announced on Wednesday that Wright would not return as a result of a shoulder injury, which, in effect, ends his collegiate career. Wright first hurt the shoulder in preseason drills, but started the first three games at inside linebacker.
He moved back to his original position of defensive end, but played sparingly in the next two games. He was held out of the Auburn game. Alonzo Smith also suffered a season/career-ending injury at middle linebacker against Auburn.
Others missing the season with injuries are fullback Kiero Small, who is a senior but would qualify for a redshirt season, and his then-backup at fullback, redshirt freshman Kody Walker.
Gragg Still Out
Chris Gragg, the senior tight end from Warren, missed a third straight game against Kentucky with a bone bruise to his leg suffered against Rutgers. Despite missing the Texas A&M and Auburn games, Gragg remained the team’s second-leading receiver behind Cobi Hamilton going into the Kentucky game.
Gragg had 19 receptions for 234 yards this season, an average of 4.8 receptions per game and 58.5 receiving yards per game. Gragg got some work in with the team last week and will have an open date to prepare for Ole Miss on Oct. 27.
Owning The East
Arkansas added to its school-best number of consecutive victories over teams from the SEC East. The lopsided win over Kentucky gave the Razorbacks their eighth straight against Eastern Division opponents, the longest current interdivision win streak in the SEC and the longest winning streak against teams from the Eastern Division in school history.
Arkansas’ previous record for consecutive victories against the Eastern Division was three, which was accomplished twice — in 1992-93 and again in 2006.
Jeb Huckeba, who played for Arkansas from 2001-04, was the team’s honorary captain for the Kentucky game. The Searcy product was a linebacker and defensive end for Arkansas. He is an assistant coach at Fayetteville High School.
— Dennis Byrd • Arkansas News Bureau