September 10, 2015

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen spent much of the preseason answering questions about whether the Razorbacks finally had play-making options at wide receiver.

It turns out those questions might have been about the wrong position.

Led by tight ends Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle, No. 18 Arkansas (1-0) rolled to a 48-13 win over UTEP in its season opener. The duo combined for 102 yards receiving in the win, helping Allen throw for a career-high 308 yards and easing concerns about a passing game that's struggled to equal the Razorbacks' power-running game in recent years.

Henry's impact, two catches for 42 yards, was no surprise - given the junior's 37 catches last season and his preseason All-Southeastern Conference selection.

What caught the Miners off guard was the emergence of Sprinkle, a 6-foot-6, 256-pound junior who had seven catches all of last season. Sprinkle had wowed coaches and teammates throughout the preseason with his ability, but he showed speed on a short pass that he turned into a 42-yard completion early in the second half.

''I learned in my head coaching career when you have one tight end it's a great thing,'' coach Bret Bielema said. ''But when you have two that can vertically challenge a defense, it's a matchup issue.''

The Razorbacks, who face Toledo in Little Rock on Saturday, gained 37 percent of their passing yardage through their tight ends last season. So, Bielema's use of the position is no surprise.

What is surprising is how quickly Sprinkle has been able to replace last year's backup tight end, A.J. Derby, a sixth-round NFL draft pick. He's done so by adding 50 pounds since his freshman season, at which time Bielema considered moving him to wide receiver, and patiently waiting his time behind Henry and then Derby.

''He can run like a deer,'' Allen said. ''He's always been one of those guys, he takes three strides and he's 30 yards down the field.''

The Razorbacks were 11th in the SEC in passing offense last season, averaging only 188 yards per game through the air while they gained 218 per game on the ground.

Senior wide receiver Keon Hatcher played a large role in Arkansas' passing breakout last week, finishing with six catches for 106 yards.

However, it's the combination of Hunter and Sprinkle that could lead to the Razorbacks passing for as many yards as they rush for this season.

''When both of us are out there, they can't double us,'' Sprinkle said. ''We get a lot of single coverage, and trying to cover us both with our size and the other receivers really gives them a lot to worry about.''

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