Razorbacks come out on top in season opener
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas put together just enough offense to beat Portland State 20-13 in Saturday's season opener, but it wasn't easy.
Arkansas struggled to sustain drives and had a number of poor passes and others that were dropped.
Arkansas coach Chad Morris said he was disappointed in the play of his offensive unit, which compiled 395 yards of total offense with 204 of that on the ground. The Razorbacks were just 18 of 35 passing for 191 yards with one turnover.
"We never apologize for winning," Arkansas Morris said. "There is no such thing as a bad win."
The Razorbacks' defense played well, limiting the FCS Vikings to 75 yards rushing and forcing three turnovers to go along with six sacks and eight tackles for loss.
"Their defense whipped us," said Portland State coach Bruce Barnum. "When we came in we had a plan, but their defense did a helluva job. My fear was we could not protect against their front seven and we needed to make some quick throws and that did not work offensively in the first half."
Junior Rakeem Boyd powered the Razorbacks' offense, rushing for 114 yards on 18 carries. Boyd's third quarter touchdown, set up by a Jarques McClellion interception, gave Arkansas a little breathing room with a 17-6 lead. Boyd added a late 25-yard run to help seal the win.
Portland State drove for a late fourth quarter score behind backup quarterback Jaloni Eason, who eluded an Arkansas rush and fired a 32-yard dart to tight end Charlie Taumoepeau to pull the Vikings within 20-13 with 4:14 left. Eason came in for starter Davis Alexander, who suffered a shoulder injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
The teams traded field goals in the first half before Arkansas took a 10-3 lead on Deva Whaley's short touchdown run with 3:16 left in the first quarter to cap a 10-play, 64-yard drive. Portland State later pulled within 10-6 on Cody Williams' 47-yard field goal, his second of the day. The first was a 50-yarder on the Vikings' first possession.
Arkansas had a chance to pad its lead before halftime when Kamren Curl intercepted a Davis Alexander pass and returned it to the Portland State 18, but the Razorbacks gave the ball back on an interception at the Vikings' goal line.
The Razorbacks also squandered another scoring opportunity later after backup quarterback Nick Starker hit Trey Knox for 38 yards to the Portland State 27 with under 30 seconds left. Starker completed two short passes, the last to Boyd, who could not get out of bounds before the clock expired.
"We knew we were going to get their best shot and we did," Morris said. "We will be able to correct off of this and see this football team improve going into a big game next week in Oxford."
The explosive offense that Morris was promising when he was hired in December 2017 has yet to materialize. The Razorbacks looked sluggish most of the day and Ben Hicks, the graduate transfer from SMU, missed several open throws when he wasn't under pressure from the Portland State defensive front. He finished 14 of 29 passing for 143 yards, but no turnovers. Starker, who transferred from Texas A&M, had a costly interception late in the first half to stop a scoring opportunity.
HE SAID IT
"They had their way with us," said Barnum, "but my team got after it. We were trying to make plays. We did not throw in the towel."
WHERE FOR ART THOU, ROMEO?
Portland State linebacker Romeo Grunt recorded 15 tackles, including nine solo stops, to power the Vikings' defense.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks open Southeastern Conference play on the road next week at Mississippi. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m.
Portland State: The Vikings play host to Simon Frazier next week.