FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Give Jacksonville State of the lower Football Championship Subdivision a moral victory for beating the odds, but the official 49-24 victory went to the No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday night in the season opener for both teams before 71,016 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The projected mismatch of an SEC power vs. a foe from the Ohio Valley Conference wasn't even on the Las Vegas betting line, but JSU's Gamecocks briefly led 14-7 during the first half and trailed just 35-24 with 9:44 left in the third quarter.
For JSU coach Jack Crowe, it was a better night at Razorback Stadium than his last day here, when he was fired as Arkansas' coach the day after the Razorbacks lost their 1992 season opener to The Citadel.
Meanwhile, new Razorbacks coach John L. Smith started 1-0 after All-SEC senior quarterback Tyler Wilson completed 19 of 27 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Knile Davis ran 18 times for 70 yards and a touchdown, proving he is healthy after missing 2011 with a broken ankle.
Arkansas played without senior receiver Cobi Hamilton ("injury above the shoulder," it was announced) from the first quarter on, but Wilson and backup quarterback Brandon Allen found a variety of targets to compensate. Brandon Mitchell, the former backup quarterback moved to receiver, caught four passes for 122 yards; tight end Chris Gragg caught seven passes for 110 yards and two TDs; and reserve receiver Javontee Herndon snagged four balls for 96 yards, including a 63-yard TD.
The Gamecocks stayed within hailing distance until midway through the third quarter, interspersing quarterbacks Marques Ivory and Coty Blanchard with the option. Alan Bonner finished with eight catches for 107 yards and a TD.
More than atoning for a fumble that set up JSU's brief but stunning 14-7 lead, Gragg caught six passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns in a wild first half that the Razorbacks led 35-21.
Wilson completed 15 of 18 passes for 246 yards and receiver Brandon Mitchell caught two balls for 71 yards.
The wily, two-quarterback JSU offense coached by former Arkansas coach Jack Crowe singed Arkansas for 163 first-half passing yards. Ivory threw for two touchdowns.
JSU receiver Alan Bonner caught six passes for 94 yards and a TD, giving Arkansas the same trouble that Gragg was giving JSU's defense.
Other than Arkansas' two first-half turnovers, fumbles by Wilson and Gragg, JSU never slowed Arkansas.
The Hogs tallied four straight touchdowns after JSU's 14-7 lead before the Gamecocks put together a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Bonner catching Ivory's 10-yard TD pass just 10 seconds before halftime.
JSU left three points on the field early as Arkansas' Byran Jones blocked a field goal after Wilson had fumbled the ball on Arkansas' game-opening drive.