Arkansas holds on late to avoid upset bid from Portland State

Arkansas's Jamario Bell chases down Portland State quarterback Davis Alexander.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Victories have not come easy for the Arkansas Razorbacks. The season opener turned out much of the same.

Senior transfer quarterback Ben Hicks threw for 149 yards in the Arkansas Razorbacks 20-13 season-opening victory over the Portland State Vikings in Fayetteville. The Vikings play in the Football Championship Subdivision.

“I want to credit Portland State, I thought those guys would come ready to play, nothing to lose, I thought we would get their best shot,” said Arkansas Head Coach Chad Morris. “Never will I ever apologize for winning. There is no such thing as a bad win. You win and you correct.

Hicks started behind center for the Hogs. The transfer from Southern Methodist finished 14-of-29 passing. Hicks thought the Hogs offense chewed up yards, but did not punch it into the end zone.

“I thought we moved the ball well, we just didn’t punch it in,” said Hicks. “A win is a win, we are 1-0.”

After falling behind quickly 3-0 after Portland State's first drive, Arkansas' offense marched down the field for a 9-play, 54-yard drive of its own. It ended with a Connor Limpert 34-yard field goal to tie the game. Hicks then led the Hogs on its first touchdown drive of the season. Senior running-back Devwah Whaley finished a 10-play, 64-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown rush. Portland State added a field goal in the second quarter for a 10-6 Hogs halftime lead.

Arkansas extended the lead in the third quarter. Junior running-back Rakeem Boyd rushed for a two-yard touchdown for a 17-6 advantage. Arkansas tacked on another Limpert 25-yard field goal for 20-6 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Portland State would not go away in the final quarter. Backup quarterback Jalani Eason found Charlie Taumopeau on a fourth-down attempt for a 32-yard touchdown pass to trim the Arkansas lead to 20-13 with 4:14 to go. Arkansas’ offense stalled at midfield. The Hogs punted it back to the Vikings with 1:11 to go, pinning them at the 3-yard-line. Arkansas’ defense then sealed the victory when sophomore Joe Foucha intercepted Eason.

The Hogs' offense finished with 395 total yards on 77 plays. Rakeem Boyd led the Hogs rushing game with 116 yards on 18 carries. Boyd said he stayed fresh as the Hogs rotated between three running-backs.

“We just leaned on each other,” said Boyd. “We just keep rotating, I thought it worked pretty well today.”

Arkansas' improved defense turned out to be a bright spot. The Hogs’ defense gave up just 230 total yards to the Vikings for the game. Arkansas tallied three interceptions. The Hogs’ defensive leaders expected Portland State’s offense to give them a tough game.

“These guys were very confident coming in and these guys could play,” said senior defensive lineman Sosa Agim. “They had played big games already, we knew we were going to get their best shot.”

Arkansas opens Southeastern Conference play next Saturday on the road at Ole Miss. Morris knows the Hogs need to show improvement going into the conference opener.

“We are going to be able to correct off of this,” said Morris. “We will be back here tomorrow (Sunday) to see this football team improve going into a big game next week in Oxford.”

Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.