FAYETTEVILLE — Yes, it was against a Sun Belt team and not a SEC team that Arkansas’ offensive line stepped up and kept quarterback Austin Allen upright and throwing to several receivers picking up the slack for senior Jared Cornelius’ now permanent 2017 absence.
But consider this: It was a Sun Belt team, Troy, that burned the SEC’s nationally No. 25 LSU Tigers, 24-21 last Saturday night at LSU’s alleged Death Valley in Baton Rouge, La.
And the New Mexico State Aggies took Troy to the wire of a 27-24 Sun Belt loss to Troy earlier this season in Las Cruces, N.M. Before that on the road in Tempe, Ariz. New Mexico State surprisingly took traditional Pac 12 power Arizona State to the wire rallying from down 37-13 in the the fourth quarter to come within a touchdown and PAT of winning their 37-31 loss.
So after getting six times sacked by the Texas A&M Aggies in the previous Saturday’s 50-43 overtime SEC loss at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, it was an Arkansas achievement for Allen to be kept sack-free last Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium even if it was against Sun Belt Aggies instead of SEC Aggies.
“We didn’t want Austin getting hit anymore,” Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said. “Asked our guys to play a little bit cleaner up front on offense.”
New Mexico State Coach Doug Martin had devised various blitzes for his Aggies to exploit what the Texas A&M Aggies had exploited the previous Saturday sacking Allen like groceries at your local supermarket.
They didn’t work, Martin said.
“He’s a great game manager and I think he understands defenses really well,” Martin said. “We thought we had some blitz packages that might could get there and either he was checking protections into it or he was just doing a great job of getting rid of the ball before we could get there.”
It helped that his receivers were getting on open on time so Allen didn’t hold the ball too long. He got rid of it quickly except, it seemed on the lone interception he threw.
Otherwise he was superbly effective, 19 of 16 for 264 yards and three touchdowns stopping a 2-game losing streak off the 28-7 nonconference loss to TCU in Fayetteville and the overtime heartbreaker against Texas A&M.
“The TCU game, we had it there in the fourth quarter, Allen said during the New Mexico State game postgame noting the Hogs trailed TCU just 14-7 with three minutes to play and were tied 43-43 by a Texas A&M field goal at the end of regulation. “It’s not like we’re getting blown out every game. We just had to get over the hump, and today we played a four-quarter game on offense, defense, special teams.”
Other than junior college transfer Jonathan Nance, 9 catches for 200 yards going into the New Mexico State game, it seemed the Razorbacks weren’t much compensating for losing Cornelius three games into the season for the season.
With 32 of last season’s returning 35 wide receivers catches, Cornelius was counted upon considerably and playing well for the first time in 2017 overcoming a back injury to excel against Texas A&M before rupturing his Achilles tendon ending his season.
As for the other returning receivers, both third-year sophomores, with catches from 2016, LaMichael Pettway, one catch albeit a touchdown last season, was suspended for the New Mexico State game because of tardiness and academics, Bielema said. They were to meet Sunday to discuss Pettway’s status, Bielema said after Saturday’s game.
Deon Stewart of Hardy, 2 catches last season had only 3 for 18 yards the previous three games.
Stewart caught 4 for 71 yards against New Mexico State including Arkansas’ first touchdown.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Jones of Smackover, impacting running jet sweeps for 20 and 30 yards against the Texas A&M Aggies, burned the New Mexico State Aggies with an Arkansas leading 84 receiving yards on four catches while Nance caught 6 for 58 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was great,” Allen said. “Running great routes and catching the ball. Their number got called and they stepped up. They’ll continue to be relied upon for the upcoming games and hopefully they’ll continue to keep getting better.”
Nance and Jones were postgame media available in their first game totally minus Cornelius.
“It’s tough, but people had to step up,” Nance said. “ I tried to step up, Jordan, Deon, anybody. Jared was our leader, but he’s not there. He’s not with us at practice, so I feel like people just have to step up.”
Jones said the line allowing Allen time improved everybody.
“I’ve been telling the guys, ‘If we get a little time, we’re going to make some plays,” Jones said. “I feel very comfortable with Austin. He’s a great quarterback. We’ve got to make plays for him. Jared’s gone, our leader, Jonathan’s stepped up great, and I’m trying to come along myself. I’ve just got to keep making plays.”
For the Razorbacks victory over New Mexico State, Bielema announced the Razorbacks players of the week as selected by himself and the staff include receivers Deon Stewart, the third-year sophomore from Hardy, and redshirt freshman Jordan Jones of Smackover as Co-Offensive MVPs; outside linebacker Dwayne Eugene as Defensive MVP; Ryder Lucas as Special Teams MVP; Bryant High School grad Brendan Young who contributed on special teams against New Mexico State, as Scout Team Defensive MVP; freshman quarterback Daulton Hyatt as Scout Team Offensive MVP; and Camden Fairview grad Byron Keaton as Scout Team Special Teams MVP.