FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — If this was Ryan Mallett’s idea of a so-so performance, then No. 17 Arkansas has high expectations indeed.
Mallett completed 21 of 24 passes Saturday night, leading the Razorbacks over Tennessee Tech 44-3. He threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns, but the Hogs were shut out in the first quarter, which was apparently enough to give their quarterback some concerns.
“We didn’t execute to our standards,” Mallett said. “We really got it going coming into the second half. We’ve got to come out of the gates faster.”
Arkansas might not have been perfect, but the Razorbacks showed plenty of their usual explosiveness while winning easily in their opener. Joe Adams caught six passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, and the Arkansas defense played well after finding itself in a tough situation early.
Mallett threw for 30 touchdowns a season ago and became an immediate Heisman Trophy contender when he decided to pass up the NFL for another season with the Razorbacks. He was sharp from the start against the Golden Eagles, missing on just two of his first 18 throws, with the only blemishes a deflected pass that was intercepted and a dropped ball that should have been a touchdown.
Still, that occasional sloppiness caught Arkansas’ attention. The Razorbacks also fumbled twice in the first half, although they recovered both. They finished with three turnovers, two in the fourth quarter.
“I thought our offense struggled at times,” coach Bobby Petrino said. “We can’t be satisfied on our offensive performance with three turnovers.”
When the Razorbacks weren’t making mistakes, this game was no contest. Arkansas trailed 3-0 after the first quarter but scored touchdowns on six straight possessions in the second and third. Mallett’s 85-yard touchdown pass to Adams in the second quarter was the longest completion of his Arkansas career, and the Hogs led 23-3 at halftime. On the long touchdown, Adams outran the Tennessee Tech defenders down the sideline even though at least one appeared to have a good angle to catch him.
“We’ve got to get him more touches,” Petrino said. “When that ball’s under his arm, he’s special.”
Adams also scored the game’s final touchdown, a 15-yard reception that included a nifty move immediately after the catch.
“Whenever I touch the ball, I try to make guys look silly,” Adams said. “Coach is always preaching to make one guy miss. I made that one guy miss, and the rest just happened.”
After stopping the Razorbacks on fourth down on the game’s first drive, Tennessee Tech moved all the way to the Hogs’ 1-yard line. The Arkansas defense, maligned throughout last season, rose to the challenge and held the Golden Eagles to a field goal. The defense came up big again in the second quarter, near the other goal line this time. The Razorbacks swarmed Jocques Crawford for a safety that made it 9-3.
Anthony Leon, moved recently from the secondary to linebacker, had two sacks and four tackles for loss.
“I liked what our defense did. They were out there really flying around. We got a lot of people to the football,” Petrino said. “I liked the move from safety to linebacker for Anthony Leon. His speed and toughness really showed up. I think we are much faster in the secondary with Rudell Crim there instead of Leon.”
The Razorbacks also entered the season with uncertainty at running back and kicker. On Saturday, Dennis Johnson, Broderick Green and Ronnie Wingo Jr. each ran for touchdowns. Those three running backs are competing with Knile Davis for playing time. Green led the foursome with nine carries.
Johnson and Davis both fumbled in the first half.
Freshman Zach Hocker handled extra points for the Razorbacks instead of senior Alex Tejada, but Tejada was outstanding on kickoffs, consistently putting the ball into the end zone. Petrino said he was planning to switch the kickers in the fourth quarter, putting Tejada in for extra points and Hocker for kickoffs.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t score any more touchdowns,” he said.