FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Bret Bielema preached the word balance time and again over the last nine months to define his style of football.
Brandon Allen, Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins provided Arkansas with a textbook description of its new coach’s approach.
Allen was 15-of-22 passing for 230 yards and three touchdowns while Williams and Collins combined for 282 yards rushing to lead the Razorbacks (1-0) to a 34-14 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.
Arkansas outgained the Ragin’ Cajuns (0-1) 522-272 in total yardage, jumping out to a 20-7 halftime lead and punishing one of the Sun Belt Conference’s best in the second half – a picture-perfect opening to the Bielema era.
“That’s kind of the definition of how I like to play games,” Bielema said. “That second half, to wear it down, get some turnovers. People just don’t want to play football for four quarters a lot of the time. I think our kids bought into it.”
It was Allen, taking over as the starting quarterback for the Razorbacks, who made sure his new head coach made a solid first impression in his first game since leaving Wisconsin last December.
The sophomore threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes to Javontee Herndon, easing any lingering concerns about his ability and helping Bielema improve to 8-0 in his career in season openers.
Williams and Collins handled their fair share of the workload as well, leading the way for an Arkansas offense that gained 292 yards on the ground to go along with Allen’s 230 yards passing. Williams, a sophomore, rushed for 151 yards – including a 75-yard touchdown run in the second half – while the freshman Collins had 131 of his own.
Louisiana-Lafayette entered Saturday full of confidence, coming off back-to-back 9-4 seasons that included a pair of wins in the New Orleans Bowl and a near upset of Florida last season.
However, quarterback Terrance Broadway was harassed throughout the second half – when he was sacked three times – and finished 15-of-28 passing for 171 yards. The junior had an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Maxwell to close the Arkansas lead to 27-14 in the third quarter, but that was as close as the Ragin’ Cajuns would come.
“I think they’re disappointed because I think physically they felt like they matched up with (Arkansas) pretty good,” Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth said. “You’ve got to give Arkansas credit. They run right at you. They make you tackle them.”
Broadway also had a late interception as Louisiana-Lafayette ran into an Arkansas team that had plenty of confidence of its own under Bielema – who has spent much of the offseason ridding Arkansas of the memories of last season’s 4-8 disaster and instilling a new breed of physical football.
The power game was evident on the Razorbacks opening drive, during which they ran the ball eight times and threw it only three on their way to a touchdown. Allen capped the 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with a 6-yard scoring pass to Herndon, who was open after a play-action fake to the other side of the field.
Arkansas finished with 292 yard rushing, surpassing the team’s highest total on the ground from all of last season – a 167-yard effort in a loss to Mississippi.
The rushing output was a mirror of the teams Bielema fielded while at Wisconsin, where he led the school to three Rose Bowls.
“When we really became a great team in the past (with) teams I’ve been around, we’ve been over 200 (yards) running and throwing, and you win a lot of games that way,” Bielema said. “You win a lot of games with balance like that.”
Williams, who left the game briefly in the first half with an apparent shoulder injury, had the highlight of the game – in a game full of highlights – for the Razorbacks. The sophomore put Arkansas ahead 34-14 midway through the third quarter when he took a handoff to the right and then cut back to the left, scampering 75 yards down the sideline for the score.
While the running attack controlled the action for much of the game for the Razorbacks, it was Allen who shined equally as bright in his first game as Tyler Wilson’s heir at quarterback. Allen, who struggled in limited action last season while Wilson was injured – including a start in a 52-0 loss to eventual national champion Alabama – was 11-of-15 passing in the first half for 193 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Really, our whole team is buying into the mindset that we aren’t going to back down from anyone,” Allen said.
Louisiana-Lafayette trailed 20-7 at halftime and appeared to grab the momentum after recovering an Arkansas fumble early in the second half. However, the Razorbacks forced a fumble on the Ragin’ Cajuns first play following the turnover.
“That was probably the breaking point right there,” Hudspeth said. “... If we could’ve went down and scored, it could’ve been a little more interesting; just hate that we gave it right back to them.”
Allen followed five plays later with his third touchdown pass of the game, a 10-yard pass in the flat to fullback Kiero Small – who avoided one defender and barreled over two more on his way into the end zone.