Wilson leads Arkansas by Jacksonville State 49-24
By KURT VOIGT
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Tyler Wilson made sure John L. Smith's coaching debut at Arkansas started in winning, if not perfect, fashion.
Wilson set the school record for yards passing in a season opener, finishing 19 of 27 passing for 367 yards and three touchdowns, to lead the No. 10 Razorbacks (1-0) to a 49-24 win over Jacksonville State on Saturday night.
The fast start was exactly what Wilson had hoped for to kick off his Heisman Trophy campaign, and he did so with a mostly remade set of receivers.
The win was exactly was Smith was looking for in his first game as a head coach since the 2006 season at Michigan State. The former Louisville coach was hired by Arkansas in April following the firing of Bobby Petrino, and he was relieved to open with a win - even if the Razorbacks did lose two first-half fumbles and struggle to stop the pesky Gamecocks.
"We got the win, and I'm extremely happy that we were able to get that first one for (Smith)," Wilson said. "You know, we've got many to go still. I thought we handled it very well. I think there will be a lot of corrections and things to go over that you don't get to rehearse in that first game, and so it was a good game to kind of get everything under our belt."
Wilson lost one of Arkansas' fumbles, but he was nearly flawless otherwise. Two of the senior's touchdown passes went to tight end Chris Gragg, who finished with seven catches for 110 yards.
Arkansas lost three of its top receivers (Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright) to the NFL after last season, and its top returning receiver (Cobi Hamilton) left Saturday's game with a first-half neck injury. Smith said Hamilton is expected back for next week's game against Louisiana-Monroe, but Brandon Mitchell and Javontee Herdon enjoyed their time in the spotlight in the meantime.
Mitchell, the former backup quarterback turned starting receiver, had four catches for 122 yards while Herndon caught four passes for 96 yards.
"The other guys have to step up; some other guys stepped up," Smith said. "And I think you saw a lot out of Mitchell. I think everybody can see now that he's a legit guy, and he going to help us a bunch."
The Gamecocks (0-1), coached by former Razorbacks coach Jack Crowe, led 14-7 in the second quarter after a 4-yard touchdown run by Alan Bonner. Marques Ivory had a pair of touchdown passes, while Bonner had eight catches for 107 yards.
Crowe coached Arkansas from 1990 until he was ousted by former Razorbacks athletic director Frank Broyles after the first game of the 1992 season, a 10-3 loss to the Citadel.
Jacksonville State stayed close to the Southeastern Conference's top offense throughout the first half, trailing 35-21 at halftime, but the Gamecocks - who defeated Mississippi two seasons ago - couldn't keep pace with Wilson and his revamped receiving corps.
"The biggest difference in this game was that there were about four or five mismatches," Crowe said. "They had some players out there that were as talented as you'll ever find.
"Our effort was there. We entered this game with the frame of mind to win it and there was possibly an opportunity for us to get some things to go our way and win it."
Gragg and Mitchell provided Wilson all of the big-play capability he needed, and nine Razorbacks finished with catches. After Jacksonville State took the lead, Wilson followed with back-to-back touchdown passes to Gragg to put Arkansas up 21-14.
His yards passing broke the former season-opening record of 318 yards, set by Casey Dick in 2008 against Western Illinois. The Razorbacks led the SEC in total offense and scoring last season, Wilson's first as the starter, and didn't appear to miss a beat Saturday.
"We have a lot of playmakers on this team," Gragg said. "And all the years that I've been here, we spread it around a lot and nothing is different this year."
Mitchell also made the most of his first collegiate start. The junior battled Wilson for the starting quarterback job prior to last season, but he switched to receiver this summer with hopes of seeing more playing time.
With Hamilton out of the game, Mitchell saw all the action he could have hoped for - including a 34-yard catch in the second quarter that set up Ronnie Wingo's 3-yard touchdown run to put the Razorbacks up 28-14.
Arkansas running back Knile Davis, playing in his first game since the Sugar Bowl two seasons ago, finished with 70 yards rushing on 18 carries. Davis missed all of last season after breaking his left ankle during the preseason, but he looked healthy as ever in the first half with 80 yards - including a 5-yard touchdown run to put the Razorbacks up 35-14.
The game was the first for the Razorbacks since the firing of Petrino, who was ousted after revelations of an affair and that he hired his mistress to a position in the athletic department.
Updated September 1, 2012