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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Brandon Allen didn't have much to enjoy as Arkansas' once-promising start morphed into three straight losses to top 10 teams.
The Arkansas quarterback and the rest of his teammates found plenty of reasons to smile again in a 45-17 win over Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday.
The convincing win was overshadowed by 350-pound offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola's 6-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. What wasn't overlooked by the Razorbacks (4-4, 0-4 Southeastern Conference) was the importance of regaining their wavering physical identity heading into this week's trip to No. 1 Mississippi State.
"It's got to be part of our DNA," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "You can't fake it."
While Tretola appeared to have had the most fun in the win, going so far as to strike the Heisman pose after his second-quarter touchdown pass to deep snapper Alan D'Appollonio, it was the much-maligned Allen who was all smiles after his 15-of-24 passing effort for 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The junior quarterback struggled under pressure in the second quarter of a loss to Georgia a week ago, but he completed a 44-yard pass to Drew Morgan on Saturday and was in control as the Razorbacks earned their first win since Sept. 20.
"We really got things going like we had been," Allen said. "We finally completed a deep ball; I needed that one. We did a lot of things we wanted to get done offensively, and the scoreboard showed it."
Arkansas rushed for 273 yards on 46 carries in the win, led by Jonathan Williams' career-high 153 yards rushing on 18 carries. While the running game didn't show off its early season big-play ability, the steady effort was more than enough to overwhelm the Blazers (4-4), who played without injured starting quarterback Cody Clements.
Williams accounted for a pair of touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving, as the Razorbacks built a 35-0 halftime lead. The junior has now topped the 100-yard mark four times this season, appearing to have taken over as the most reliable running back for an Arkansas team that also features Alex Collins in its backfield.
The Razorbacks, who are fourth in the SEC with an average of 258.9 yards rushing per game, will need both of their standout running backs this week when they visit the surging Bulldogs.
Arkansas will also need to carry over any momentum from Saturday, particularly since it hasn't won an SEC game since against Kentucky in 2012 — a stretch that covers 16 conference games.
Bielema is 0-12 in the SEC since being hired away from Wisconsin, but he'll have to find a way to win two of the final four games — all in conference play — if the Razorbacks are to reach a bowl game for the first time since the 2011 season.
It's a stretch that features games against Mississippi State, LSU, Mississippi and Missouri.
On Saturday, though, Arkansas was more focused on its perfect run through nonconference play than the difficult task ahead.
"Just sweeping the nonconference was huge for us, and we have a great opportunity this week to knock off No. 1," Arkansas linebacker Martrell Spaight said. "We'll see how that goes."