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OPINION | LIKE IT IS: Early hopes, expectations met in opening win

by Wally Hall | September 4, 2022 at 2:37 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Heavy traffic. Expensive hotel rooms. A parking lot temporarily lost because of Friday rains.

Trouble downloading tickets. Staring into a glaring sun.

No problems, not on the first Saturday in September and the No. 19-ranked Arkansas Razorback football team is opening the season against highly-respected and No. 23-ranked Cincinnati.

The seventh-largest crowd in Reynolds Razorback Stadium history, 74,751, came for the first public appearance of the Hogs since knocking off Penn State in the Outback Bowl 245 days earlier.

The only thing higher than the attendance were the hopes and expectations.

Both teams were tested too many times in the second half, when the Bearcats squandered golden opportunities with penalties, like when KJ Jefferson fumbled in the third quarter and Cincinnati recovered at the Razorbacks' 3 trailing just 21-14.

A false start, illegal formation and two delay of game penalties later, the Bearcats settled for a 26-yard field goal.

Cincinnati had eight second-half penalties and all were costly.

Both teams were better offensively in the second half and in the end, the Razorbacks go into Week 2 undefeated and hosting South Carolina.

Arkansas did have some big moments on both sides of the ball against a very good team.

Jefferson picked up where he left off in the Outback Bowl when he was MVP. He passed for 223 yards on 18-of-26 passing and threw three touchdown passes without an interception. He added 62 yards rushing and a touchdown to earn a quarterback rating of 179.

Raheim Sanders ran for 117 yards on 20 carries and six receivers caught passes, led by Trey Knox, who had 6 catches for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The defense bent mightily, allowing 436 yards, but it didn't break, although there were some wide-open Bearcats on deep passes who were overthrown.

No doubt both teams showed some first-game jitters and should improve, although Arkansas had two starting defensive backs, All-American Jalen Catalon and Myles Slusher, leave the game and not return. Their status is unknown.

The positive for the Razorbacks was they mostly kept the Bearcats out of the end zone and on offense, every single time Cincinnati threatened, the Hogs answered immediately.

It was a pedestrian first half for the Bearcats and had been for the Razorbacks until with 30 seconds before intermission Sanders showed why he's called Rocket.

The sophomore swept wide right, hit a seam and raced to the Cincinnati 5, where he ended up out of bounds.

Officially, it was a 37-yard run in eight seconds, but Sanders probably covered another 15 or 20 yards getting outside.

On first and goal, Jefferson faked a run up the middle, pulled up short and threw a jump pass to Knox, who is 6-5 and needed every inch to get the ball away from the defender for a 14-0 lead.

Arkansas' first touchdown was partly luck as the Bearcats had driven to the Arkansas 26, where Dwight McGlothern stepped in front of a Ben Bryant pass on the right sideline and raced 51 yards to the Bearcats' 29.

On third and 10, Jefferson raced through a hole on the left and went 15 yards for a 7-0 lead.

For the Bearcats, the first half was mostly spit and sputter after their first drive when they converted three third downs and then couldn't convert on the next six -- although they did get a first down, but that drive ended in the second missed field goal that hit the right goal post.

The biggest memory for the Razorbacks Nation was a win against a ranked team to open the season.

Print Headline: Early hopes, expectations met in opening win


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