Arkansas finding run game to match passing attack

Bobby Petrino wasn’t about to complain about having the top

offense in the Southeastern Conference – at least not directly.

However, the Arkansas coach – and noted offensive perfectionist

– indirectly did just that this week about the team’s early season

performance while praising the recent results of the No. 6

Razorbacks (9-1, 5-1 SEC).

Arkansas has outscored South Carolina and Tennessee by a

combined 93-35 the last two weeks, and it did so while running the

ball the same number of times as it threw it (65). The

pass-oriented offense was hardly hurting before those games,

averaging 36.9 points through its first eight outings as the

Razorbacks opened the season 7-1.

Still, Petrino felt like there was more potential there.

He’s finally seen what Arkansas is capable of, and there’s no

telling how far the newfound balanced attack can take the

Razorbacks from here – beginning Saturday when they host

Mississippi State (5-5, 1-5) in Little Rock’s War Memorial

Stadium.

”I’ve really liked the way we’ve played the last two weeks,”

Petrino said. ”I think we’re starting to play the game the way we

thought we would all year long.”

There were a number of reasons for Arkansas’ relative offensive

struggles early this season, ranging from injuries to new

faces.

The most significant of the injury setbacks was the preseason

ankle injury suffered by junior Knile Davis. The running back led

all SEC running backs in rushing yardage (1,322) last season and

was expected to carrying even more of the load this year.

Davis’ absence wasn’t the only notable one in the Razorbacks’

backfield, with running backs Dennis Johnson and Broderick Green

each missing time with injuries. The result was an Arkansas ground

game that averaged only 120 yards per game through the first five

games.

The Razorbacks’ fortunes began to turn in a 38-14 win over

Auburn, a game in which they ran for 176 yards on 31 carries. Since

then, Arkansas has averaged 168.8 yards per game on the ground as

it’s extended its winning streak to six games.

”I wish it wouldn’t take that long,” Petrino said. ”It would

be nice to come out the first part of the season and get it

going.”

The running back turnover was hardly the only missing piece on

offense early this season for the Razorbacks, who returned only two

starting offensive linemen from last season. That group struggled

with both run- and pass-blocking early, leading to one hit after

another on quarterback Tyler Wilson.

The line has found its groove the last two weeks in particular,

allowing a combined two sacks while leading the way to a 254-yard

rushing effort against the Volunteers.

”We’re coming together, we’ve got our technique right and

getting assignments right,” senior guard Grant Cook said. ”We’re

doing exactly what we need to do to open up holes for those guys

who run the ball.”

Even though Arkansas has found more of an offensive balance the

last few weeks, Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen is well aware that the

Razorbacks still have plenty of big-play capability. Mississippi

St. took Arkansas to double overtime last season before falling, a

game in which Razorbacks receiver Jarius Wright had an 89-yard

touchdown catch and Davis scored from 62 yards out.

”We gave up some big plays in that game, and that’s one of the

challenges that this team has,” Mullen said. ”You can stop them

and stop them, and stop them, and stop them, but they have

quick-strike capability where all of a sudden – you’ve stopped them

for 45 consecutive plays, then boom boom boom, they hit three long

touchdown passes.”

Arkansas is still only 9th in rushing offense in the SEC,

averaging 144.4 yards per game. However, the Razorbacks have the

fewest total attempts (315) in the league and are actually second

in yards-per-attempt (4.6) behind Alabama’s 5.5.

Arkansas is counting on that performance to continue this week

as well as next week when it travels to No. 1 LSU with hopes of SEC

and national championships possibly still alive.

”Certainly be no means have we arrived,” Razorbacks running

backs coach Tim Horton said. ”We’ve still got to work, improve and

prepare.”