Arkansas handles Tennessee-Martin 63-28
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Alex Collins was on the sideline during crunch time in Arkansas’ 54-46, four-overtime win against Auburn last week, benched after injuring a toe, fumbling twice and drawing his coach’s ire for being late to pre-game breakfast.
The junior running back spent the fourth quarter on the sideline Saturday, but it was after running for 173 yards and a career-high five touchdowns on 16 carries. The five rushing touchdowns ranked second in Arkansas single-game history and helped lead the way in the Razorbacks’ 63-28 win over FCS foe Tennessee-Martin.
Collins’ career day served as a big bounce back following the Auburn game, after which Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said Collins extremely upset him off by showing up late to breakfast. Bielema’s message later when he talked to his feature back was clear.
”It was just stay focused, minimize distractions,” Collins said. ”That was pretty much it. One little mistake, don’t let it hinder you from being successful this week.”
Collins was certainly successful Saturday, scoring on runs of two, six, five, three and 63 yards as the Razorbacks (4-4) racked up 591 yards of offense in their final nonconference outing of the season. Brandon Allen was sharp, completing 14 of 19 passes for 265 yards and two long touchdowns a week after leading the win over Auburn.
Arkansas’ offensive starters scored touchdowns on eight of their 10 drives against an overmatched UT Martin defense.
”They were going to do what they could to stop the run, putting eight, nine guys in the box and leaving one-on-ones on the outside,” Allen said. ”Our receivers did a great job of getting open. I missed one early and came back and a hit a few deep balls later. And that was big for us.”
The offense’s big day masked an underwhelming performance by Arkansas’ defense, which allowed 519 yards to the Skyhawks. UT Martin senior quarterback Jarod Neal completed 30 of 43 passes for 380 yards with a touchdown and an interception against a pass defense ranked No. 100 in the nation.
”I give credit to UT Martin. Their quarterback, a senior, I thought really understands the game,” Bielema said. ”He’s a very accurate passer and understood where they wanted to get the football, so at times it was a little frustrating defensively.”
The outcome was never in doubt after Arkansas built a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, but the Razorbacks’ defense struggled mightily to slow UT Martin’s spread attack. The Skyhawks moved the ball most of the afternoon, but couldn’t catch up after early interceptions by Arkansas’ Rohan Gaines and Brooks Ellis – one of which came on a double-pass thrown by UT Martin receiver William Tanner.
A score before halftime pulled the Skyhawks within 35-14. They then made it a game on the opening drive of the third quarter, mixing run and the pass effectively before Trent Garland’s 1-yard touchdown run capped another long scoring drive to pull within 35-21.
In addition to Neal’s 380 passing yards, the Skyhawks gashed Arkansas’ run defense for much of the afternoon, running for 139 yards and averaging six yards per attempt against a Razorbacks’ unit that struggled to defend in space.
”He can play like that every week,” UT Martin coach Jason Simpson said of Neal. ”I think he’s going to be a top-line player in our conference.”
Arkansas finally put the game out of reach with three quick scores in the third quarter. Allen found junior speedster Dominique Reed for a 71-yard score and then scored on a 3-yard scramble to extend the lead to 49-21. Collins added a 63-yard touchdown run late in the quarter on the starters’ final drive, leaving him one shy of tying Madre Hill’s school-record of six touchdown runs against South Carolina in 1995.
The win improved Arkansas back to .500 entering its final four games of SEC play, which includes matchups at ranked opponents Ole Miss and LSU the next two weeks – two teams Arkansas beat a combined 47-0 last year.
”We’ve scratched and clawed,” Bielema said. ”. It’s not where we want to be, but it’s a step in the right direction.”