By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – For a team mired in a 3-game losing streak, the Fayetteville-based University of Arkansas Razorbacks weren’t half bad.
In fact they rated first-half excellent. Coach Sam Pittman’s
Razorbacks rolled to a 45-0 first half lead before turning it over to their second-team and third-team reserves in a 45-3 nonconference victory over the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions Saturday attended by 42,576 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
It marked the first ever Razorbacks vs. UAPB football game and the Razorbacks first game against an Arkansas based school since defeating Arkansas A&M (since 1971 the University of Arkansas-Monticello) in 1944.
Saturday’s success over the down a division Golden Lions (UAPB of the Southwestern Athletic Conference plays in the Football Championship Subdivision which is a tier down from the top Football Bowl Subdivision that includes the Southeastern Conference that the Razorbacks represent) advances Arkansas to 5-3 with a bye week before starting the 4-game SEC season-closing November stretch hosting Mississippi State Nov. 6 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Coach Doc Gamble’s overmatched Golden Lions, fall to 1-6 going into next Saturday’s SWAC game in Houston against Texas Southern.
The Razorbacks were deemed a 50-point favorite. They played beyond it in that 45-0 first half.
The first half included an Arkansas defensive shutout, with safety Myles Slusher’s interception in the end zone blunting UAPB’s most serious touchdown threat, and Arkansas offensive fireworks most orchestrated by junior receiver Treylon Burks and third-year sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson.
Burks logged two touchdowns one for 18 yards and one for 39, among 4 catches for 89 yards, and a 49-yard touchdown end-around run on the first of his two carries netting 56 yards.
Jefferson threw four touchdowns, tight end Blake Kern caught the first for 18 and freshman receiver Ketron Jackson caught the other for 29.
Cam Little kicked 7 of 7 PAT’s and a 31-yard field goal but was teammate kicking game surpassed by Nathan Parodi’s many happy returns.
Usually forced to fair catch or limited to short returns against the especially fast, special teams in the SEC, walk-on Parodi returned 4 punts for a net 114 yards including an 80-yard touchdown prompting the biggest smiles of the Razorbacks’ joyous first half.
“Wasn’t that cool that Parodi got a punt return for a touchdown?” Pittman said gleefully on postgame radio. “That was really neat to see. It was priceless to see his face when he scored.”
Sure was senior linebacker Bumper Pool, a team leading eight tackles all in the first half and Burks.
“I’m not going to lie,” former punt returner Burks said, smiling. “I was really pumped and kind of jealous at the same time. But I was really pumped for Parodi, because he’s put in the work every week. He got his opportunity and he made something happen.”
And the Hogs relished it.
“ For him to get a touchdown, I think the whole sideline was rowdy,” Pool said. “And it was awesome for him.”
And awesome, Pool said, for young defensive backs Slusher, in his second start replacing out for the season injured Preseason All-American safety Jalen Catalon, and Malik Chavis netting interceptions.
“Those are two guys that are going to be studs for the University of Arkansas,” Pool said.
Burks not only is a stud for the UA but will be NFL bound whether turning pro after this year or off a 2022 senior year, Pittman presumes.
“He was the best guy out there,” Pittman said. “He’s a great player, and he’s not done yet. He’s still got the rest of this year, and the bottom line is we’ll look at where the NFL tells us that he’s going to be drafted. Then he’ll sit down and I’ll sit down with him and his family and we’ll all figure it out. But he still has at least 4 or 5, hopefully 5 games left for us before that decision ever has to be made.”
Burks of Warren just wanted to see friends and family and then ready for Mississippi State.
“I want to play for Arkansas, and that’s who I’m playing for right now,” Burks said. “The NFL will come later and I’ll worry about that when that time comes.”
Other than a few big plays which they did pop, the Golden Lions might have thought Arkansas’ defense was NFL caliber.
The Golden Lions only score, Zack Piwniczka’s 32-yard field goal with 5:19 left in the game, was nearly blocked by Khari Johnson, Pittman said.
Piwniczka missed wide on a 37-yarder during the first half.
Arkansas’ defensive backups in the second half nearly rivaled what Arkansas’ defensive starters accomplished in the first half.
Not so Arkansas’ offensive backups given their second half chance.
The bulk of Arkansas, led by running back Dominique Johnson’s 91 yards on 6 carries, out-gaining UAPB, 291-111 rushing and 213-112 passing, stemmed from the first half.
Arkansas’ backup offensive line didn’t much protect or establish much for backup quarterback Malik Hornsby. Coming closest to scoring until fourth down overthrowing for wide open running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders on what seemed a sure touchdown, Hornsby never got in rhythm.
Credit for UAPB for some of that and recovering one fumble each by Jefferson and reserve running back T.J. Hammonds and causing two other Arkansas fumbles that the Hogs recovered.
“We couldn’t move the ball with our twos,” Pittman said. “Our pass protection wasn’t very good and and their linebackers ran through. I’ll give Pine Bluff credit. Their team fought all the way through to the end.”
He credited his Hogs coming off three consecutive SEC losses to Georgia, Ole Miss and Auburn nationally ranked No. 1, 12 and 19 by AP going into their games Saturday, obviously by their fast start not taking UAPB lightly.
“To me it was important to get our confidence back,” Pittman said. “Not just winning the football game but doing it the way we wanted to do it. We got a big lead in the first half.”