Big 12: Willy Robinson

Mallett, Razorback defense pace comeback after slow start

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
1:28
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


ARLINGTON, Texas – As his slump-ridden team fell into another early hole Saturday night, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was a little worried.

Considering his team had three successive three and outs and produced zero yards on their first nine snaps, Petrino believed his first trip to the Dallas Cowboys Stadium could end up being a long, frustrating night.

 
  Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
  Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett rebounded nicely after struggling in the past few games.
"I was thinking this wasn't going very good,” Petrino said. "There was a lot of time left on that clock and we weren't doing anything.”

Fortunately for Petrino, quarterback Ryan Mallett was ready. The 6-foot-7 quarterback hooked up with Joe Adams on a 67-yard pass on the first play after those three stalled drives. Three plays later, the Razorbacks scored their first touchdown. And that score sparked an avalanche of 30 consecutive points that boosted the Razorbacks to a convincing 47-19 victory over Texas A&M.

In the process, the Razorbacks were able to blot out bad memories from back-to-back losses to Georgia and Alabama in the last two weeks.

Arkansas likely won't be a contender for the SEC West Division title, but the rebound performance showed the Razorbacks are still a legitimate threat for a bowl trip if they can build on their Saturday night effort.

"I think this helps our confidence a lot,” Petrino said. "We were talking about being a team and taking care of each other and playing together and not hurting ourselves. I think we grew up a little bit tonight."

Petrino said that Mallett showed him during the week that he was intent to bounce back after his struggles at Alabama, where he completed only 12 of 35 passes.

"A game like this will boost your confidence to come out and play 10 times better than we did against Alabama,” said Mallett, who finished with 271 yards and four touchdown passes against a beleaguered A&M secondary. "When we were at Alabama, we didn't have the right juice. We had the right juice here and that's what got us the victory.”

Mallett was understandably contrite last week. But he was able to put aside his own struggles to help his team steamroll to the victory.

His effectiveness at isolating running backs against slower A&M linebackers was particularly noteworthy, as it produced eight of his 17 completions to those backs.

But as big as the turnaround in Mallett's performance was, the Arkansas defense stepping up after being blistered for six touchdowns of at least 40 yards in the last two games was equally of note.

It led Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson to snatch an inspirational page from Howard Beale from the classic movie "Network.”

"I'm as mad as hell and I'm not taking it anymore,” Robinson said. "That's exactly how we felt. We were tired of it. It wasn't like us. We were going to play like we're capable of playing.”

The Aggies were limited to nine points during the rest of the game after A&M jumped to an early 10-0 lead. The quick Razorback defensive front put repeated pressure on Jerrod Johnson, who came into the game third in total offense and 11th in passing efficiency.

Funny thing, however. Playing the Razorbacks was a little different than playing the tissue-soft group of UAB, Utah State and New Mexico that A&M faced to start the season.

The game turned on a critical 14-point swing late in the second quarter with A&M poised to reclaim the lead deep in Arkansas territory. As Johnson was scrambling, he was hit by Arkansas' Tenarius Wright who dislodged the ball. Arkansas outside linebacker Jerry Franklin picked up the fumble -- A&M's first turnover of the season -- and raced untouched for an 85-yard touchdown return.

Arkansas had a 21-10 lead and never looked back from there.

Franklin, a converted high school tight end, flashed a healthy dose of speed on the play.

"It was a huge play for us,” Franklin said. "Our offensive guys were happy to know we had their back. It had been about two years since I scored a touchdown and it felt great."

But as excited as he was about the score, Franklin was more excited about his defense's performance when it most needed it. Together, the Razorbacks helped turn this old rivalry between Southwest Conference foes into a mundane game in the second half when many Aggie fans had already left for the exits.

"We were frustrated the last two weeks because we had given up way too many big plays,” Franklin said. "That made us want to come out and play well tonight. And that's what we did. All of us came together when we really needed it.”

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