Jonathan Williams' first catch as a Razorback was also his first touchdown.
J-Will puts on a show
Jonathan Williams called his shot – although not even he could have imagined he’d have two such spectacular home run plays for the Hogs on Saturday night at Razorback Stadium.
Williams, the true freshman running back, had catch-and-run touchdowns of 74 and 77 yards, helping spur Arkansas to a 49-7 win over Kentucky in a game that was called with 5:08 remaining in the third quarter because of inclement weather.
Earlier in the day, Williams tweeted that he was going to “score a TD today.”
He needed only one play to do just that.
Williams took the Hogs’ first offensive play 74 yards for a touchdown, setting the tone in a dominant performance. He followed that up with a 77-yard TD catch on the last play of the first quarter that put the UA up 28-0.
Count senior quarterback Tyler Wilson among those who weren’t all that surprised by Williams’ big-play ability, even though Williams hadn’t scored a TD yet as a Hog.
“First play of the game, it’s exactly how we drew it up,” Wilson said. “And early in the week he made a little move in practice real similar to the one he did, cut back across field and scored a touchdown.
“We knew we had to get him involved in our naked game, some of our play-action and stuff out of the backfield to help us. Cause he can do a lot after the catch. You saw a little bit of that tonight. He obviously had a big night.”
Williams became the first Arkansas freshman and just the second Razorback in school history to have two TD catches of at least 74 yards in the same game. (Cobi Hamilton had TD catches of 85 and 80 yards vs. LSU in 2010.) Williams finished the game with three catches for 150 yards.
Junior running back Knile Davis, who had a big block on Williams’ first touchdown, said he wasn’t shocked, either.
“Nah, that’s an athlete, man. He’s going to be good. He’s going to be real good,” Davis said. “Didn’t surprise me.
“I just had to get a block for my little brother. I just enjoy seeing him make plays.”
Arkansas Coach John L. Smith called Williams a “tremendous football player” and said he has “tremendous vision.”
“He’s got things that you don’t teach. And one of those things in being a great running back is having great vision,” Smith said. “It’s like hit it here, and he drifts here, and ‘How’d you see that?’ And great football players have that. You say, ‘How’d you see that?’ ‘Well I don’t know. I just did.’ So he’s like that, and he’s going to continue to get better.”
Tyler, Hogs happy going into bye
What Wilson called his best game has helped the Razorbacks feel really good going into their bye week.
Wilson completed 23 of 31 passes for 372 yards and a school record-tying five touchdowns vs. Kentucky, and Arkansas has now won back-to-back SEC games after starting the season 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the conference.
The Razorbacks don’t play again until they face Ole Miss on Oct. 27 in Little Rock.
“It’s huge. It makes you feel good,” said Wilson, who presented Smith with a game ball in the locker room. “You can smile a little bit going into the bye week. I think it’s really important we maintain focus during this week, not take the week off, and come in hot to this back half of the schedule.”
Of course, as Smith pointed out, Ole Miss has two weeks to get prepared, too. The Rebels, who beat Auburn 41-20 on Saturday in Oxford, Miss., also have a bye next week.
“So we’re kind of even,” Smith said. “So that’s where there really isn’t an advantage.”
The Razorbacks will focus next week on just getting better, but the coaches will also hit the road to do some recruiting, which is typical with a bye week.
“We have to get out and continue to beat the bushes and make sure we do a great job of recruiting,” Smith said. “So later on in the week, we’re going to spend a lot of time getting the coaches out and going to do that. So that’s normal with a bye, but we have to get better as a football team first and get better in recruiting.”
Beat-up D dominates
While Arkansas’ defense was busy piling up 533 yards in less than three quarters, the patchwork defense put the clamps on the Wildcats.
Kentucky finished with just 170 yards of offense, and it didn’t score until 6:46 remained in the third quarter – on a 61-yard pass from Jalen Whitlow to La’Rod King.
In his first career start, true freshman linebacker A.J. Turner tied for the team lead with five total tackles. Senior safety/linebacker Ross Rasner and senior defensive tackle Jared Green each had a sack.
“Only 14 points in two weeks against two SEC opponent,” Rasner said. “You can’t really get any better than that. I would say our confidence is at an all-time high, but we still have to have a good week of preparation. Ole Miss is going to be a big game for us. We can’t take this week lightly. We’ve got to get better on the things we haven’t done well this season, but the last two weeks have been great.”
The Razorbacks were playing without two of their defensive captains – senior linebacker Alonzo Highsmith and senior defensive end/linebacker Tenarius Wright – who each had season-ending surgeries this week.
They also didn’t have senior defensive tackle Dequinta Jones, whom coaches held out because he needed to rest his legs.
We asked Rasner if it was surprising that the Hogs have seemed to get better on defense despite the injuries.
“Losing guys like Alonzo and Tenarius is huge. But A.J. Turner being a true freshman stepping in there, he really hasn’t missed a step at all,” Rasner said. “I’ve been really impressed with him being a true freshman and coming in and playing the way he has. And Otha Peters has done really well. I think it’s important for those guys in the bye week to really get better on things and it’s kind of a week to learn things.”
Of course, you have to keep in mind that the Hogs’ improved defensive performance has come against two of the worst teams in the SEC. But still, a solid effort.
Coach John L. Smith said he wouldn’t call it a defensive turnaround, but said those guys are improving.
“I wanted so bad to get a shutout,” Smith said. “It would’ve been nice for these guys. That didn’t happen. We gave one up there. We’re still making some mistakes, without a doubt, but we are growing, we are getting better. And I think it’s a credit to our defensive coaches making sure we can give them a package that they can handle and we don’t make too many mistakes.”
Arkansas broke out its new anthracite uniforms for the first time this season, and the Razorbacks played extremely well. But Mother Nature wouldn’t cooperate with the festive atmosphere.
Lightning forced a delay of 66 minutes in the first quarter, and it was delayed for 41 minutes in the third quarter before it was called.
According to info immediately available to the UA sports information department, this was the first Arkansas game to be terminated.
The last time an Arkansas game was delayed was on Oct. 23, 2010 in Fayetteville when the Hogs played Ole Miss. That game was delayed twice for a total of 89 minutes, and the Hogs won 38-24.
“Real similar to 2010,” Wilson said. “I was in the same situation against Ole Miss out here. I came in the ballgame and we had two or three delays. Lasted a long time. I thought our guys had tremendous focus during that break. We came right back out and moved the ball down the field and scored. Didn’t lose any of that intensity, which was key.”
Burning another redshirt
The Razorbacks’ coaches felt the need to burn another true freshman’s redshirt Saturday. Wide receiver D’Arthur Cowan played for the first time this season and finished with one catch for nine yards.
Smith explained the Razorbacks’ reasoning for playing Cowan this late in the season.
“Cowan has tremendous explosion and we wanted to get him in last week into certain packages of the offense and just didn’t get to it,” Smith said. “So we wanted to use him. It hasn’t transpired up to this point. But he’s got to step in and help us. We’ve got a lot of games left, and we talked to him a week ago. And he said I want to play. And he can play.”
Although it was reported elsewhere that true freshman safety Defonta Lowe also burned his redshirt against Kentucky, that’s not true, Smith said. Lowe had already played before Saturday’s game.