Tennessee Tech-Arkansas Preview

When Ryan Mallett decided to pass up the NFL draft and return
for his senior season at Arkansas, expectations for Bobby Petrino’s
team immediately soared.

Projected to have one of the nation’s most dynamic offenses,
Mallett and the 17th-ranked Razorbacks look to pick up from where
they left off in Saturday night’s opener against Tennessee Tech of
the Football Championship Subdivision.

Mallett threw for 3,624 yards with 30 touchdowns and seven
interceptions a season ago to lead Arkansas to an SEC-best 36.0
points per game. The Razorbacks went 8-5 to finish in a
fourth-place tie in the West Division but closed the season by
winning five of six, including a victory over East Carolina in the
Liberty Bowl.

Mallett set or tied 16 school records in 2009, and after the
season toyed with the idea of turning pro. The second-team All-SEC
selection decided to come back, making himself a potential Heisman
Trophy candidate. and Arkansas landed with its highest preseason
ranking since it was No. 14 in 1990.

“We’re embracing the expectations,” Petrino said. “I think
that’s a good thing. When you have high expectations, it means that
you played good football at the end of the year last year and you
have a lot of returning players coming back.”

Not only is Mallett back, but all his top targets return as
well. Wide receivers Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Cobi
Hamilton and tight end D.J. Williams combined to catch 169 passes
for 2,901 yards and 25 touchdowns.

“Especially in the state of Arkansas, expectations are really
high,” said Mallett, who appears to have fully recovered from a
broken left foot in February. “We have even higher expectations of
ourselves as a team.”

While Mallett is the main reason expectations are so high, the
running backs are going to need to contribute to take some of the
pressure off the first-team preseason All-America selection.

Broderick Green, Dennis Johnson, Ronnie Wingo Jr. and Knile
Davis are expected to split carries and provide solid pass
protection. Green led the Razorbacks with 442 rushing yards and 11
touchdowns last season.

“You need a good group of running backs,” Petrino said. “There
is really no named starter right now. I think they’ve taken their
turn at shining.”

Although the offense under Mallett is again expected to score
efficiently, the defense needs to improve to give the Razorbacks a
shot at challenging defending champion Alabama in the SEC West.

Arkansas was last in the conference in total defense last
season, allowing an average of 401.2 yards. The Razorbacks allowed
more than 30 points four times and haven’t held an opponent to
single digits since 2007.

“This is a league and a game where you have to prove yourself.
As a defense, we’re looking to make a statement this year,” said
defensive end Adrian Bequette, who had a team-high 5 1/2 sacks last
season. “For the time being, we’re going to fly under the radar and
just kind of keep that chip on our shoulder, work hard and be the
best we’re going to be.”

Despite their defensive issues, the Razorbacks likely won’t have
many problems trying to stop the Golden Eagles in the programs’
first meeting.

Tennessee Tech went 6-5 last season to finish tied for third in
the Ohio Valley and struggled in its two games against Football
Bowl Subdivision opponents, getting outscored 87-7 in losses to
Kansas State and Georgia.

Sophomore Tre Lamb could be the Golden Eagles’ starting
quarterback following the departure of Lee Sweeney, who set school
records with 7,157 passing yards and 49 touchdowns in his four-year
career.