FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams had a good feeling Saturday morning when he tweeted that he would score a touchdown later that night against Kentucky.
Williams made good on his prediction on the Razorbacks' first play against the Wildcats, scoring on a 74-yard wheel route out of the backfield and opening the door for the eventual 49-7 rout.
"I'd rather have him confident than unconfident," Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. "I'm just glad he didn't say it was going to be on the first play and give them a heads up."
The touchdown was the first of two long scoring catches for Williams during a night in which the Razorbacks (3-4, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) rediscovered a bit of their form in the weather-shortened win. They outgained Kentucky 533-170 in total yardage even though the game was called because of lightning with 5:08 remaining in the third quarter, looking every bit like the team that led the SEC in scoring and total offense last season.
Arkansas has now won two in a row entering its bye week, and it's done so by a combined score of 73-14. The convincing wins have brought out memories of the "old" Arkansas, one that was a combined 21-5 the last two seasons and was ranked No. 8 during this preseason.
Those lofty expectations quickly fell by the wayside during a four-game losing streak under interim coach John L. Smith. What was left is a humbled version of the Razorbacks, one that thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated every part of the relaxing 42-0 halftime lead against Kentucky (1-6, 0-4) — a far cry from the team that lost its first two SEC games this season by a combined 110-10.
"It was good to see us get back on track," Arkansas running back Knile Davis said. "Just winning, whether it's a blowout or not. Just winning is a great feeling."
What also felt good for the Razorbacks was the knowledge they are entering their bye week, an opportunity for a team that's been besieged by injuries to rest and recover. They played the Wildcats without their top two defensive players, Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright — both who underwent surgery last week and are out for the season — but tight end Chris Gragg is expected to return against Mississippi after missing three games with a bone bruise in his leg.
The game against the Rebels will go a long way to determining if Arkansas' slim bowl hopes are a reality. Following the game against Ole Miss, the Razorbacks host Tulsa before closing their season with difficult games against No. 9 South Carolina, No. 15 Mississippi State and No. 6 LSU.
"You can smile a little bit going into the bye week," Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said. "I think it's really important we maintain focus and not take the week off and come in hot this back half of the schedule."
While the Razorbacks exited Saturday with smiles, Kentucky's season-long woes continued in the loss.
The Wildcats started Jalen Whitlow at quarterback following injuries to Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles, and the freshman struggled mightily — finishing 2 of 10 passing for 83 yards. Senior Morgan Newton also saw limited action at quarterback, a position that's now seen Kentucky try four different options this season.
None worked against Arkansas, with Newton finishing 2 of 5 for 21 yards. The lack of a passing attack allowed the Razorbacks to concentrate on stopping the Wildcats' rushing attack, holding them to 66 yards rushing on 25 carries and sending Kentucky to its fifth straight loss.
"We've been affected by quarterbacks being in and out of the rotation," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "But we have to try and find a way to be more consistent. We have to regroup and get ready to play another top-ranked team in Georgia."
Wilson had no such problems throwing the ball Saturday for Arkansas, even with the inclement weather and two stoppages because of lightning. The senior threw for 372 yards, and his five touchdown passes matched Ryan Mallett's school record for most in a game.
Wilson missed a game and a half earlier this season with a concussion, but his return to form has the Razorbacks thinking anything is possible — including reaching a bowl game. It's a process they are taking step by step.
"Right now, (what) we have to do again, is take this week — the bye week — and continue to grow," Smith said. "We have to continue to get better this week, and I think we can do that. We have to do that."