Sunday, November 6, 2011
Arkansas quietly moving along in West
By Edward Aschoff
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- There is a quiet storm brewing in Fayetteville.
Behind the scenes of the mega Alabama-LSU game Saturday, Arkansas was busy creeping closer into BCS consideration.
While defensive coordinators around the country watched in astonishment at what was transpiring in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, the Razorbacks were putting on an offensive show at “The Game” outside of “The Game.”
With swirling winds through Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Arkansas glided up and down the field with its high-powered passing game against a more than solid South Carolina defense on the way to a 44-28 win.
Even with all the talent the Gamecocks possessed on that side of the ball, the Razorbacks were far too much. They were faster and tougher on Homecoming, and the slow starts that plagued them in recent weeks had vanished, as the Razorbacks produced 435 yards of total offense.
Arkansas started fast, scoring first for the first time since the Troy game eight weeks ago, and finished strong, scoring the final 14 points.
Arkansas limited South Carolina to 207 yards and forced three fumbles and an interception.
“I thought we were the more physical team out on the field,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “That’s what we kind of harped on all week long. We had to play physical, play fast, be aggressive. I really felt like we did that.
“Our defense did an excellent job in the first half of completely shutting them down. Offensively, we were able to answer whenever they scored.”
While watching Petrino talk about his team, you could hear the confidence in his voice and actually feel the joy he took from defeating the No. 9 team in the country.
He acted as if his team had just done something extraordinary. He admitted there were mistakes, but he talked about how his team battled and how it responded so well to each of those mistakes.
There were the two touchdown drops and the pick-six in the second quarter that could have sent this team reeling and thinking that the mistakes of old were back. But the Hogs didn’t fret.
After Tyler Wilson's errant pass to South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor was taken 48 yards for a touchdown, he came right back on the first play of Arkansas’ next drive and heaved a 68-yard touchdown pass to Jarius Wright.
From there, the Hogs outscored South Carolina 27-14 and Wilson finished with 299 passing yards and two touchdowns.
“I felt like we were the faster team on the field. I really did,” Petrino said, confidence flowing. “The whole game, I didn’t think they could cover our receivers, we felt like we were running the ball well -- Dennis [Johnson] was hitting holes. We just needed to score more touchdowns. There could have easily been 60 points on the board.”
And they should have. Drops and miscues ruined early drives and while it ate at Petrino and Wilson, they pressed on and this team finally played that complete game Petrino was looking for.
This team showed that when it gets going, it’s hard to stop. There has been so much talk about LSU and Alabama -- and rightfully so -- but Arkansas proved that it can’t be counted out of the SEC and beyond.
LSU’s 9-6 overtime win over Alabama proved as much, making the showdown between the Tigers and Hogs potentially "The Next Game."
But that can wait. For now, the Hogs are just thrilled that all of their goals are still attainable.
“We’ve always felt like we were a legit team,” linebacker Jerry Franklin said. “The SEC West is tough and the SEC is a tough conference in general.
“We’re doing what we need to do to just take care of what we need to do.”
Wright added that it’s time for this team to be taken more seriously because it is as dangerous as its talent suggests.
“When we’re on our game, it’s hard to stop us,” he said.
As for Petrino, he knows what he has. The errors have shown more than the success at times, but he sees his 8-1 team and realizes that something special could still happen.
“I like our team. I like the way we compete,” he said. “I think you see a tremendous amount of competitive spirit from our players, great leadership from our seniors. We pulled out some tough ones on the road and it shows that we’re coming closer together as a family because we really stick together.
“You can’t say enough about having competitive spirit and finding ways to win games.”