Arkansas looks to keep win streak alive vs. Vols
Bobby Petrino rarely allows his focus during the season to turn
away from that week’s game.
That the Arkansas coach took a moment to reflect this week on
his first recruiting class at the school shows the measure of
respect he has for the group.
When the No. 8 Razorbacks (8-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference)
take the field at Razorback Stadium against Tennessee on Saturday
night, 17 Arkansas seniors will do so for the final time. The bulk
of them formed Petrino’s first class, one that had anything but
The Razorbacks were 5-7 in Petrino’s first season in 2008,
narrowly escaping with wins over the likes of Western Illinois and
Louisiana-Monroe. They also went through a three-game stretch
against Alabama, Texas and Florida during which they were outscored
by a combined 139-31 – hardly a harbinger of good things to
Times have certainly changed since then.
”We went through some hard times; we stuck together, kept
battling,” Petrino said. ”I always think back on that first year
when things weren’t going well, but these guys came to practice
eager to learn, eager to work, eager to get better.
”This class has done a lot for this football program.”
Arkansas won eight games in Petrino’s second season in 2009, and
it raised that level of success once again in reaching the Sugar
Bowl last season. This year, the Razorbacks have followed up with
another BCS-worthy season – winning five straight entering the
matchup with the Volunteers (4-5, 0-5).
”This group of seniors that will be playing their last game in
this stadium has learned how to compete, how to win, how to stick
together,” Petrino said.
Much like Arkansas suffered through growing pains during
Petrino’s early tenure while playing more than its share of
freshmen, Tennessee has done the same during coach Derek Dooley’s
first two seasons. The Volunteers have played a combined 32 true
freshmen and 47 freshmen overall during that time, and five true
freshmen started in last week’s 24-0 win over Middle Tennessee.
One is quarterback Justin Worley, who will make his third
straight start this week while Tyler Brey continues to heal from a
broken thumb. Worley struggled in his first start against South
Carolina two weeks ago but threw for 291 yards in last week’s
”The first game, I was a little jittery coming in, forced some
throws, went through some reads too fast and committed on some
things I shouldn’t have,” Worley said. ”I think I just tried to
stay calm this last game and got the ball out to the playmakers and
we came out on top.”
Tennessee managed to reach a bowl game during Dooley’s first
season last year, losing to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl.
So, in that regard, Dooley is one step ahead of Petrino since the
Arkansas coach missed a bowl game his first season.
However, while the Razorbacks improved by three games in
Petrino’s second season and reached the Liberty Bowl, the
Volunteers need to win two of their final three games to become
bowl eligible. Winning the first of those this week will be no easy
task against an Arkansas team that leads the SEC in scoring (37.7),
one that Dooley has great respect for.
”They are the other pro-style offense in our league, so we
enjoy watching them,” Dooley said. ”They are like us
While Tennessee is seeking bowl eligibility, the Razorbacks’
goals are much higher. Senior receiver Jarius Wright said this week
that Arkansas hasn’t given up on hopes of either the SEC or
national championship this season, a belief fueled by the
Razorbacks’ confidence and the fact they close out the regular
season at No. 1 LSU on Nov. 25.
However, senior defensive end Jake Bequette said they aren’t
about to look ahead to the Tigers – or look past Tennessee this
week or Mississippi State the next.
It’s a lesson they learned well during Petrino’s first
”We take every opponent very, very seriously,” Bequette said.
”I think that all of us on defense, especially, feel like if we
don’t play to our strengths, whoever it is can beat us. So, we feel
that pressure and I think it keeps us on our toes.”