A pretty solid victory. Few complaints.
Oh sure, there was that slow start.
But Arkansas recovered for a 49-14 victory over Vanderbilt at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday night, and a 35-point victory is about all one can ask against any Southeastern Conference opponent (including a Vanderbilt team that’s not very good even by Vanderbilt standards).
Ryan Mallett broke his own school passing record by one yard as he completed 27 of 44 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns. Jarius Wright scored on a pair of 15-yard receptions, his first scores of the year. With Greg Childs out for the season, Wright and the other receivers will need to step up Saturday night in Columbia, S.C.
Vanderbilt gained 130 yards in the first quarter but picked up only 23 yards the three remaining quarters.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas offense piled up 555 yards — 138 on the ground (Knile Davis has now firmly established himself as the Razorbacks’ go-to running back) and 417 yards through the air.
Things get tough now. This week, it’s the trip to South Carolina to take on Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks.
After a breather in Fayetteville against UTEP a week from Saturday, Arkansas must play a surprisingly strong Mississippi State team in Starkville on Nov. 20 before finishing the regular season in Little Rock against LSU on Nov 27.
South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU — The Razorbacks have the ability to win all three of those games. It’s not out of the question that they could lose all three.
As Frank Broyles was fond of saying: “They always remember what you do in November.”
I think the Hogs will go 2-1 or 1-2 in those three contests. Either a 9-3 or an 8-4 record likely puts them in the Cotton Bowl.
I went 5-2 on last week’s picks, making the record 50-20 for the season. No one could have predicted that Southern Arkansas would win its first game of the season against a talented West Alabama team. And I always find the Battle of the Ravine difficult to pick. Just note that after 84 meetings, the series between Ouachita and Henderson is even at 39-39-6. Pretty amazing.
Moving to this week’s picks:
Arkansas 35, South Carolina 31: OK, I know I sound like a homer again in picking the Razorbacks to win this road game. I correctly picked Arkansas to lose to Alabama but then turned around and picked the Razorbacks to defeat Auburn on the road. After eight games, Arkansas has yet to put together that one contest when the offense, the defense and the kicking game all come together for four quarters. I get the sense that they’re due against another 6-2 team. The Gamecocks’ two losses have come by eight points at Auburn and by three points in Lexington against Kentucky. South Carolina has yet to lose at home. The six wins have been by margins of 28 points against Southern Mississippi, 11 points against Georgia, 19 points against Furman, 14 points against then-No. 1 Alabama, 14 points against Vanderbilt and 14 points against Tennessee. It’s going to take quite an effort for the Razorbacks to do what the Crimson Tide could not — win in Columbia.
Arkansas State 41, Middle Tennessee 38 — College football should never be played on a Tuesday night. Never. Especially not Election Night. But you do what you have to do to gain national television exposure, so the Red Wolves will take on Middle Tennessee in the rain tonight at Jonesboro. ASU is 3-5, coming off a win in Jonesboro 10 days ago against Florida Atlantic. There are few Division I teams that have only played seven games through the end of October, but Middle Tennessee is one of them. The Blue Raiders are 3-4. The wins have come by scores of 56-33 over Austin Peay (home of that great college chant: “Let’s go Peay!”), 34-14 over Louisiana-Lafayette and 38-10 over Louisiana-Monroe. The losses have been to Minnesota, Memphis (the Tigers’ only win), Troy and Georgia Tech.
UAPB 24, Mississippi Valley State 14 — The Golden Lions played pretty well Saturday afternoon before a crowd of more than 29,000 at War Memorial Stadium despite a 35-25 loss to Grambling. Grambling, at 7-1 overall and 7-0 in conference, is the class of the SWAC. Homecoming is always a big day in Pine Bluff, and UAPB officials made the right decision in choosing Mississippi Valley State as the homecoming opponent. The Golden Lions are 4-4 and the Delta Devils are 0-8 with losses to Alabama State, South Carolina State, Alcorn State, Jackson State, Prairie View A&M, Southern University, Grambling and Texas Southern.
UCA 27, Texas State 25 — After losing three consecutive games, UCA has rebounded to post back-to-back victories over Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana. In their 30-23 homecoming victory over Southeastern Louisiana in Conway on Saturday afternoon, the Bears saw freshmen defensive backs Jestin Love and Dominique Brown each return interceptions for touchdowns. The Bears are still a bit hard to figure at 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the Southland Conference. So is Texas State, which is 4-4 overall and 1-3 in conference. The Bobcats shocked league-leading Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches on Saturday, 27-24. SFA had come into the game with records of 3-0 in the Southland Conference and 6-1 overall. The other Bobcat victories have been over Southern Arkansas, Cal Tech and Southern Utah. The losses have been to Houston, Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State and Northwestern State of Louisiana. Who knows which Texas State team will show up Saturday?
UAM 30, Southern Arkansas 21 — Two hard-luck Arkansas schools meet in El Dorado on Saturday for the Boomtown Classic. Southern Arkansas started the season 0-7 and then shocked the Gulf South Conference in Magnolia last weekend with that 30-27 overtime victory over a West Alabama team that had come in with a 6-2 record and its NCAA Division II playoff hopes still alive. A year ago, SAU defeated West Alabama in five overtimes. UAM, meanwhile, fell to 3-6 with a 33-26 loss in Searcy to a Harding team that’s far better than its 4-4 record indicates. Do you like the 1-7 Muleriders or the 3-6 Boll Weevils? I expect UAM senior quarterback Scott Buisson (the Weevils would have a far better record had he remained healthy all season) to have a good day.
Harding 20, Arkansas Tech 17 — As noted, Harding is a better team than the four losses indicate. Those losses have been by margins of seven points to West Georgia, three points to Ouachita, five points to West Alabama and five points to Henderson — four losses by a total of 20 points. Arkansas Tech, which went to the NCAA Division II playoffs a year ago, is in a rebuilding mode this season. The Wonder Boys fell to 3-6 in Russellville last Saturday with a 21-7 loss to nationally ranked Valdosta State.
Delta State 31, Ouachita 30 — This game in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon should be a good one. Ouachita is 5-3 and Delta State is 6-3. It seems I have the hardest time picking the team I see play every week. I pick Ouachita to lose by one point to North Alabama, and the Tigers shock the Lions in overtime. So I pick the Tigers to win the Battle of the Ravine and their secondary is shredded by Henderson quarterback Nick Hardesty as the Reddies win by nine, 35-26. That North Alabama team that Ouachita defeated? It turned around and destroyed Delta State by a score of 31-7 last week. On the other hand, Delta State earlier in the season defeated the Henderson team that had its way with Ouachita. It’s another crazy year in the Gulf South Conference. Having been wrong the past couple of weeks, I guess I’ll just pick the Tigers to lose while hoping fervently that they win.
South Alabama 48, Henderson 45 — This game intrigues me. I mentioned Hardesty He completed 37 of 56 passes for 420 yards and five touchdowns against Ouachita. In only his second year as the Reddie quarterback, he became the school’s single-season (3,362 yards) and career passing leader (4,609 yards). Hardesty has passed for more than 400 yards five times this season. If the Reddies had not gotten hosed at West Alabama (it’s a long story, but trust me), Henderson would be tied for the GSC lead. As it is, the Reddies are tied for second at 6-3 overall and 5-2 in conference. This is the best Henderson team since the late Sporty Carpenter was coaching. South Alabama, meanwhile, has never lost a game since starting a football program last year. The Jaguars plan to join Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference in 2013. The Jaguars went 7-0 while playing an abbreviated schedule last season and are 8-0 so far this season with wins over Pikeville, Nicholls State, Edward Waters, Kentucky Wesleyan, Missouri S&T, Lamar, Cal-Davis and Bill Curry’s first-year program at Georgia State. I happen to think the Reddies will give the Jaguars all they can handle in Mobile on Saturday.