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It only lasted three plays, but its effect lasted three quarters in Arkansas’ 49-14 win over Vanderbilt Saturday night.
Leading 14-13 on the road against a ranked opponent, the Commodores uncharacteristically switched quarterbacks. Despite leading Vanderbilt on a pair of touchdown drives to begin the game, Larry Smith was sidelined for a series in place of Jared Funk.
“We hadn’t seen that back-up quarterback until the end of the game situations,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said. “Maybe that was one of their thoughts was to have a two-quarterback rotation.”
Presumably the move was made to change the pace – a frenetic one the Commodores had used to rack up 130 yards of total offense in the first 13 plays of new offensive coordinator Des Kitchings’ tenure in the role. Instead, it changed momentum when Razorbacks safety Rudell Crim intercepted Funk’s third down pass and returned it to the Vandy 20.
Ryan Mallett hit Jarius Wright for the first of two 15-yard scoring strikes shortly thereafter to give Arkansas a 20-14 lead and the rout was on.
Jerry Franklin stripped Smith in the endzone for a safety on the next play from scrimmage to make it 22-14. Lance Ray returned the ensuing kick 66 yards to the Vandy 25 and Mallett needed only three plays to hit Wright for another touchdown to make it 29-14.
When it was all said and done the No. 19 Razorbacks had scored 23 points in the span of 6 minutes, 59 seconds.
Arkansas would go on to give up just 23 more yards the entire game.
“The defensive line was doing a great job,” Franklin said. “They were getting sacks and putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback tonight.
“After those first couple of series we got everything together, started running to the ball and making plays.”
Smith and the Commodores never found the same offensive groove they enjoyed in their first two offensive drives. Vanderbilt’s final 11 plays of the first half went for minus-13 yards as Arkansas recorded three sacks in the second quarter.
The Razorbacks defense scored nine points in the game. In addition to Franklin’s safety, Jerico Nelson returned an interception 39 yards for a score in the fourth quarter. Nelson’s interception also came off Funk, playing his second series of the evening.
“It felt great,” Franklin said. “I think that was our first time to score on the defensive side of the ball this year. It’s always a good feeling when you can help the offense out.”
Arkansas needed little help, offensively. Mallett broke his own school record with 409 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, while Knile Davis rolled up 82 yards and a pair of scores on the ground.
After trailing 14-6 at one point, Arkansas scored 43 unanswered points to end the game and earned bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season.
“We have a lot of confidence in our offense,” said tight end D.J. Williams, who won the Crip Hall Award for most outstanding senior on Homecoming. “Ryan did a great job of delivering the ball and Knile rushed the ball well to balance it out a little bit. We didn’t start off the way we wanted to on our first drive but got rolling after that for the rest of the game.
“I want to say it was the most complete game we’ve played as a team. The special teams gave up a couple of big plays on kickoff, but did well in the other phases. We got points from the defense. As a team we clicked well tonight.”