First Game Jitters or Deeply Ingrained Problems for the Hogs?
When the Jacksonville State Gamecocks scored their second touchdown Saturday night, it was as if all of the oxygen in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium was sucked up in a simultaneous gasp by the 71,062 fans in the stands.
The Gamecocks, a Football Championship Subdivision program, were leading the No. 10 Razorbacks 14-7 on Arkansas’ home turf in front of the largest season-opening crowd in school history.
This was not what was expected out of a team that considers itself a National Championship contender.
The Razorbacks came back to even the score and eventually pulled ahead to win the game 49-24, but it was not the win they had envisioned.
“Our guys walked off the field tonight pleased that it was a win, but they’re not pleased with how well we played because we can do a lot better,” said interim head coach John L. Smith. “They know it, and we know it as coaches.”
Smith added that “it could have been a very very exciting night offensively,” but three turnovers quelled the momentum that the offense was trying to build.
The first turnover came from team captain and senior quarterback Tyler Wilson on the first drive of the game. The Gamecocks were not able to convert the possession into points, but the turnovers did highlight an issue of ball security for the Razorbacks.
“We’re going to have to work with ball security without a doubt,” Smith said. “And continue to work (on) stripping the ball. What we have to do is probably get our scouts to try to do that as well and put more emphasis on ball security in drills and in teamwork.”
“That was not a good thing. We have to continue to work better in ball security,” he added.
The Razorbacks did shine brightly in their area of expertise: the passing game. Wilson threw for 367 yards until he was replaced by Brandon Allen in the fourth quarter, who added 33 yards to bring the total passing yards to 400.
In an interesting turn of events this summer, Brandon Mitchell started training as a wide receiver, and had 122 yards on four receptions. Chris Gragg had the second most receiving yards with 110 yards on seven receptions with two touchdowns.
“I think you saw a lot out of Mitchell,” Smith said. “I think everybody can see now that he’s a legit guy. He’s going to help us a bunch. He stepped up big tonight.”
The defense proved to be less than impressive for Smith with only 1.5 tackles coming for a loss in yards.
“I was not overly pleased with our tackling as a defense,” Smith said. “We have to play a lot better on our coverages.”
The Razorbacks only recorded a total of 26 tackles in the game. The Gamecocks recorded 23.
Though Saturday’s game wasn’t as perfectly executed as planned, the Razorbacks are going to use it as a building block to continue improvement.
“Now we know where we are,” Smith said. “There are going to be a lot of positives on that (game) film, but there are going to be some negatives as well.”
“Our expectations are to better than we did,” Smith said.