The Bret Bielema era began for the Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Against a solid Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns squad, Bielema's notoriously hard-nosed rushing attack was on full display.
The Razorbacks filled up the stat sheet, racking up 522 yards of total offense with 292 of them on the ground in the 34-14 win. Sophomore Jonathan Williams finished with an impressive 151 yards on 18 carries and an 8.4 yards-per-carry average.
However, coming into the game, perhaps the most anticipated debut was for freshman South Plantation High School running back Alex Collins.
Rated a 5-star prospect and the No. 1 running back in the country by 247Sports.com, Collins showed why he was one of the most highly regarded players in the class of 2013. Better known as "Budda" by many, Collins ran over, under, around and through the Louisiana defense on his way to 131 yards on 21 touts.
His 100 yards in his first game was the first time a Razorback freshman had done so since a guy named Felix Jones did it in 2005, a sign of great things to come.
Collins displayed a number of attributes that make him an elite back. One that stood out was his ball-carrying vision. Being a great back has just as much to do with instincts and vision as it does with speed, and Collins possesses both.
How important is a running back's ability to identify the hole and hit it? Just ask Tennessee Titans back Chris Johnson. He has all the speed in the world, but he struggled for a while because he wasn't taking his time to find the holes in the line and run behind his blockers, something he has become much better at.
It's something guys still struggle with entering the pros, but Collins looked well ahead of where most backs are as freshmen. Time and time again he displayed his ability to be patient and allow his blockers to open lanes for him.
Once he found the hole, he turned on the jets and got to the next level. He had four runs over 10 yards and 69 percent (13-of-21) of his carries were for five or more yards. Those type of numbers are indicative of an upperclassman, not a guy who is four months removed from his senior prom.
Twitter was abuzz with praise of Collins' performance. Brett Norsworthy of Sports 56 and 87.7 FM in Memphis called it the best performance by any back in college football:
Not just most impressive Frosh RB but most impressive back this weekend in CFB has been Alex Collins at Arkansas.— Brett Norsworthy (@BrettNorsworthy) August 31, 2013
Bart Pohlman, producer for Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly in Fayetteville, was pretty on point:
My thoughts on Alex Collins so far: He's good.— Bart Pohlman (@SportsTalkBart) August 31, 2013
What Collins did Saturday against Louisiana was a spectacular debut to say the least. He and Williams will demand respect from SEC defenses this year, which is going to help quarterback Brandon Allen, who had a very nice game himself.
It's still too early to definitively say he is one of the best to ever come through Fayetteville, but after Saturday, it's apparent he has all the makings to be the best Hog back since Darren McFadden.