FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Sebastian Tretola’s ascent from anonymous offensive lineman to touchdown-throwing, Heisman-posing quarterback sure didn’t take long.
And that was just fine with Arkansas coach Bret Bielema following a 45-17 win over Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday.
It was a much-needed win for the Razorbacks (4-4), who snapped a three-game losing streak with the convincing victory. More than anything, Arkansas regained its early season confidence — doing so behind the 6-foot-5, 350-pound Tretola.
Already ahead 21-0 in the second quarter, the Razorbacks briefly lined up for a short field goal attempt. Rather than attempt the kick, however, they quickly shifted into a swinging gate formation with Tretola — the heaviest player on the Arkansas roster — moving from left guard to quarterback.
The junior college transfer then surprised nearly everyone by completing a 6-yard touchdown pass to deep snapper Alan D’Appollonio, providing a heavy dose of fun for an Arkansas team mired in a recent stretch of disappointment.
So, of course, the ever-quotable Tretola celebrated by striking the Heisman pose — before then hurrying back to his spot on the offensive line for the extra-point attempt.
“Oh, man,” Tretola said. “I’m kind of tired. I don’t know about too much weight on one leg.”
Even when Tretola wasn’t busy entertaining the Razorback Stadium crowd with his newfound passing prowess, the Razorbacks had little trouble in building a 35-0 halftime lead against the overwhelmed Blazers (4-4).
Alabama-Birmingham, which had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by J.J. Nelson, played without injured quarterback Cody Clements.
Clements was injured late in a loss to Middle Tennessee last week, and the junior was replaced on Saturday by freshman Jeremiah Brisco — who finished 6-of-18 passing for 62 yards.
“They were as good as advertised,” Alabama-Birmingham coach Bill Clark said. “… Obviously, it hurt us a little bit to not have our starting quarterback out there.”
While the Blazers were held without an offensive score until Brisco’s late 33-yard touchdown pass to Nyiakki Height, Arkansas enjoyed a much-needed reprieve after three straight losses against top 10 teams.
Jonathan Williams, who finished with a career-high 153 yards rushing on 18 carries, opened the game with a 3-yard touchdown run. He later added a 17-yard receiving touchdown from quarterback Brandon Allen, putting the Razorbacks up 21-0 early in the second quarter.
Williams’ previous best rushing effort was a 151-yard effort in a win over Louisiana-Lafayette last season.
Allen finished 15-of-24 passing for 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he gave way to the massive Tretola behind center on the swinging gate formation.
“We’ve probably got a quarterback controversy now in Tretola’s eyes,” Bielema joked. “… I think our guys play better when you have fun.”
Bielema said he first noticed the California native’s ability to throw the football during preseason camp, at which time Arkansas installed the play — appropriately named “Tretola Left.”
The offensive guard looked as confident as a 350-pound man could on the play on Saturday, fading to his right before throwing back to the left side of the field to find a wide-open D’Appollonio for the touchdown and a 28-0 lead.
“He snapped me the ball, and it kind of went slow motion from there,” Tretola said. “I’ve got a whole newfound respect for (Allen), I’ll tell you what, because it gets hectic back there.”
The four-touchdown lead was a more-than-comfortable margin for a team that’s let fourth-quarter leads slip away in recent losses to Texas A&M and Alabama.
Arkansas extended its lead to 45-3 late in the third quarter on Allen’s second touchdown pass — a 15-yard strike to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.
Nine receivers caught passes for the Razorbacks, who outgained the Blazers 484-195. None were more surprising than D’Appolonio’s first career touchdown catch from his unlikely quarterback in Tretola.
“It gets exciting having a big man throw it and someone that doesn’t normally catch it, catch it,” D’Appollonio said.
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