FAYETTEVILLE — Harmless looking, a 5-yard touchdown run changed the complexion of the Southern Mississippi game.
Celebration of Brandon Allen’s score was short-lived because he went from the end zone to the locker room for an X-ray on his right shoulder. The immediate fallout included toning down Arkansas’ already limited offense to one pass for every five runs.
Until coach Bret Bielema addressed Allen’s injury early in his postgame news conference, there was no way to finalize the column because a disabling injury would affect such things as season-long prognostications and the redshirt on his young brother, Austin.
Instead, Bielema said Allen’s injury didn’t appear to be anything more than a bruise and that the quarterback is convinced he will be ready for next week. With that news, Arkansas fans should breathe a sigh of relief.
A former Iowa linebacker, AJ Derby is a “football junkie” and probably a better runner than Allen, according to Bielema, but Allen is the starter because he has outdone Derby all the way back to spring practice.
Allen was injured when he broke containment on Arkansas’ sixth pass play of the afternoon, barely nine minutes deep in the game. During the next 21 minutes, Derby was asked to throw three times and he ran on one of those plays.
Twice on third-and-long in the first half, Arkansas did the proper thing and ran the draw play. Neither play produced a first down, but neither did either result in a turnover. The last thing Arkansas wanted to do was to gift-wrap a score for a team that was limited on offense.
During the first half, Derby mishandled one snap for a 19-yard loss and caught another one in the gut. He also dropped a snap in the third quarter, but the coaches turned him loose a bit more in the second half, including consecutive passes on the initial possession of the third period. Following the second completion, Jonathan Williams broke loose for 45 yards and 17-3.
That TD, plus the fierce way the Chris Smith-led defense competed and Southern Mississippi’s lack of breakaway running backs, added up to a 24-3 victory against a team with the longest losing streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision. It is impressive that the Razorbacks ran for 258 yards with the Golden Eagles knowing the starting quarterback was out and that Arkansas was not going to doing anything risky.
For the afternoon, Derby was 4-of-6. Allen threw 39 times in the first two games.
Knowing Southern Miss would be passing late in the first half, Smith recorded two of his three sacks. Equally important to the outcome was a sequence in the third quarter with Southern Miss at the Arkansas 23, trailing by 14.
Tyre Bracken popped up the middle for 12 and last man standing, Alan Turner, prevented a touchdown. On first down, it was Turner again, breaking up a pass.
On second down, Tevin Mitchel fought through a wide receiver’s block and dumped the receiver for a 3-yard loss. On third down, Jarrett Lake reacted to a bubble screen. A trick play on fourth down netted 2 yards, thanks mostly to Lake.
Despite a first-and-goal at the Arkansas 5, Southern Miss only managed a field goal in the second quarter, but that was as much self-inflicted as anything else. A tentative Kendrick Hardy lost three yards on first down and quarterback Allan Bridgford threw behind a receiver in the end zone.
Javontee Herndon’s fumble of a hippety-hopping punt led to that score. Maybe recalling the days that Bobby Petrino roamed the sidelines, Herndon somehow managed to recover. Herndon’s poor decision to field the punt is one of those things that can come back to bite Arkansas for a TD against an opponent more talented than Southern Miss.
Starting with Rutgers, Arkansas has nine such foes dead ahead.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.