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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Rickety ride is good enough for Arkansas

by Wally Hall | September 9, 2023 at 10:00 p.m.

It was total role reversal.

After looking like they had gotten their uniforms confused in the first half, the home team Arkansas Razorbacks came out in the second half looking more like an SEC team. The Golden Flashes of Kent State had owned everything but the scoreboard at intermission.

The Razorbacks were favored by 37.5 points — three more than a week earlier against Western Carolina, an FCS team — but they opened so slowly that the early question wasn’t "Would they cover?", but "Could they win?"

Obviously, there were adjustments made at halftime, when the Razorbacks had a 14-6 lead.

Kent State had too much success throwing under the coverage in the first half, but just a little success in the second, while Arkansas’ offense began to bull its way to a 28-6 win.

As Nolan Richardson used to say, a rickety ride is better than a smooth walk.

The defense, at critical times, came up big and had 11 tackles for losses, including seven sacks.

Arkansas made a statement to the loud and proud fans on its second possession of the final half with a 91-yard touchdown drive that consumed 6:28 of time.

The Razorbacks were moving in sizeable chunks of yardage when KJ Jefferson passed 31 yards to Jaedon Wilson. Five plays later, the score was 21-6, and the breathing room was as obvious as the cheering.

Kent State tried to mount a drive and after four plays had gained 31 yards. That was when Kent State quarterback Mike Alaimo met Chris Paul Jr. and Keivie Rose, a transfer from Louisiana Tech, who recorded an 11-yard sack.

It was another game of wearing out the pages of the newcomer section in the Arkansas media guide, which lists more than 40 newbies.

Arkansas started a drive late in the third quarter than ended in the fourth quarter with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Armstrong, who also had Arkansas’ first offensive score.

In the fourth quarter, the Golden Flashes drove to within inches of a touchdown only to be shut out on three consecutive runs.

After the game, Sam Pittman said Kent State was better-prepared. His facial expression left no doubt that he knew there was work to do before Brigham Young visits next Saturday, although the final 30 minutes of Saturday's game were an improvement on the first half.

If the opening act were a work of art, it was one bought out of the trunk of a car in an abandoned gas station.

Kent State, which was beaten a week ago by Central Florida 56-6 and gave up more than 700 yards of offense, dominated until late in the second quarter, when the Razorbacks finally put together the kind of drive their fans expect.

Their first three possessions netted 14 yards, but they led because transfer linebacker Antonio Grier had a 25-yard pick six to put the Hogs ahead 7-3.

The Golden Flashes moved the ball by air and land, but the Razorbacks turned two touchdown opportunities into field goals.

Kent State drove 42 yards for a 38-yard field goal with 6:29 to play in the first half, and that drive was saved when John Morgan, another newcomer, blew up a Golden Flashes play for a 6-yard loss.

Following that second field goal, the Razorbacks looked more like the team that people expected. Jefferson drove them 75 yards in eight plays for the first offensive touchdown and a 14-6 halftime lead.

The drive was kept alive on a third and 12 when transfer Issac TeSlaa dug the pass out of scrum of three Golden Flashes defenders for a first and goal at the KSU 9.

The Hogs faced a third and five when Jefferson fumbled, recovered, made a defender miss him and threw a touchdown pass to transfer Andrew Armstrong, his second as a Razorback.

It may not have been pretty, but it was a win.


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