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Parsing meaning from the Razorbacks win over a cupcake

Hopeful notes following the opener against Missouri State.


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I can say, with a measure of certainty, that Arkansas's casual dismemberment of Missouri State to open the 2011 campaign was actually meaningful.

You'd think quite the opposite. This is how virtually all Top 20 programs start their march toward a BCS game. Trot out the first unit, score a bunch of points, let off the gas and cruise to 1-0. Seems as mundane as brewing the morning laxativ — er, coffee.

I do not suppose anyone expected anything other than what happened Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Tyler Wilson distributed the football accurately among his charges. Ronnie Wingo got to run between the tackles a little more, as the coaching staff prepares him for heavier duty down the road. Joe Adams flaunted his unsurpassed ball skills (and maybe a little of his sporadic judgment) on a couple of punt-return scores. The defense marauded the Mizzou State backfield for a little while before letting charity take over after halftime. Zach Hocker launched kickoffs, knocked in a mid-range field goal and even gagged on a PAT for the first time ever, just to give the proceedings a bit of shock value.

Beyond the box score, though, even this vanilla opener had some sprinkles on it.

For beginners, Brandon Mitchell's first extended game action as a Razorback was largely excellent, even if he coughed up a third-quarter fumble that preceded the opposition's only score of the night. After his well-documented struggles in the spring Red-White game, Mitchell may have been a little fragile. Wilson was always expected to assume the starting job when Ryan Mallett departed, but Mitchell arrived in Fayetteville two years ago with considerable fanfare due to his size and his basketballer's athleticism, and the coaches raved publicly about his development. Mitchell may have never been competing for the starter's role in earnest, but after hitting 10 of 11 passes Saturday (with a drop as his lone incompletion) he looks like he will be comfortable if pressed into action.

Camden Fairview product DeAnthony Curtis all but disappeared after a costly fumble at Kentucky in 2008. He caught a few passes out of the backfield in '09, then moved to cornerback last season to shore up the depth there. After the season-ending injuries to Knile Davis and Broderick Green, Curtis has returned to running back out of necessity for his senior year. Against substandard competition, Curtis nonetheless ran with power and vision, and it would not shock me if he winds up being quite an asset this fall.

There has been plenty of fuss made about Marquel Wade the past few months. His modest numbers Saturday — three catches for 28 yards, one kickoff return for 18 — belied the fact that he creates fresh migraines for coaches who think they can simply boot it away from Adams or Dennis Johnson.

The defensive line continues to be coached up by defensive coordinator Willy Robinson and position coach Steve Caldwell. Just as Wade will find ways to distinguish himself among a crowded pack, there are some ends and tackles who will offer up big moments this fall even if they aren't grabbing the bulk of the playing time. Alfred Davis and Lavunce Askew have been mainstays for a while now but their ability to rotate in for Robert Thomas, DeQuinta Jones and Byran Jones is going to be of greater gravity in conference play, when the likes of Marcus Lattimore, Isaiah Crowell, Trent Richardson and Michael Dyer are hammering at the interior.

One less flavorful morsel from Saturday: The offensive line clearly hasn't jelled yet, and that's probably not shocking under the circumstances. The talent is obviously abundant but there were a few missed assignments in the game that drew notice.

Of course, all the quibbles about thumping an FCS team are trivial. Things get only marginally more challenging this week when another anemic opponent arrives at War Memorial Stadium for its undressing. New Mexico won a single game last fall, and is presently representing the state about as well as lawyer Saul Goodman does on "Breaking Bad." This is a Lobos squad that somehow managed to be equally inept on both sides of the ball last year, statistically ranking as one of the worst offensive and defensive teams in all of Division I.

We won't see much drama Saturday, but the most compelling story will again be the running game, and whether it excels or stagnates after a pedestrian output against Missouri State.

But even if the running game stays unspectacular, this will be another September slaughter. Y'all be careful out on the golf course Saturday and relish the pre-game "atmosbeer" because the ride gets a lot rougher in very short order.


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