Arkansas looks to regroup following Alabama loss

Bobby Petrino built Arkansas into one of the top programs in the

country in four seasons, playing in a BCS bowl game and finishing

as high as No. 5 in the rankings during that time.

In three games this season, the Razorbacks (1-2, 0-1

Southeastern Conference) appear to have all but collapsed without

their former coach, and with an injured Tyler Wilson on the

sidelines.

The latest crushing blow came in the form of a 52-0 drubbing at

the hands of No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, a game in which Arkansas

was shut out in Razorback Stadium for the first time in 46 seasons.

It might not have been as shocking as an overtime loss to

Louisiana-Monroe a week earlier, but it was every bit as

emotionally crippling – and then some.

Players walked slowly off the field afterward, coaches embraced

in the team’s football complex and Wilson – who missed the game

while still suffering from a head injury suffered the week before –

called an impromptu news conference where he stressed that he’ll do

everything he can to keep the team together, and play, in next

week’s game with Rutgers.

”And most importantly, get a win,” Wilson said. ”You have to

start with one before you can get the rest of them. I give you my

word; I am going to do the best I can to make that happen.”

While Arkansas was left to regroup, the Crimson Tide (3-0, 1-0)

walked away with its second straight shutout and 21st straight win

to open conference play. Alabama also reclaimed the sense of

dominance it had in a season-opening win over Michigan, a sense

that wavered ever-so slightly in a 35-0 over Western Kentucky last

week.

The Crimson Tide allowed six sacks of quarterback AJ McCarron in

that win, none against the Razorbacks. McCarron was 11 of 16

passing for 189 yards and a touchdown before exiting the blowout in

the third quarter, and Alabama outgained Arkansas 438-137 in total

yards.

The convincing win even led to a compliment or two from

demanding Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban. Alabama hosts Florida

Atlantic next week before beginning a stretch of six straight SEC

games as it pursues its third national championship in four

seasons.

”What we’ve really been fighting with this group about ever

since the Michigan game is allowing ourselves to accept average and

getting them to demand more of themselves,” Saban said. ”I think

we started to gain a little bit (Saturday).

”… This group is still learning how to motivate themselves

every week and demand to be the best that they can be. We’re going

to continue to work on that, and hopefully we’ll continue to

improve.”

Meanwhile, whatever Wilson’s availability is moving forward for

Arkansas, his absence has left the Razorbacks in turmoil in their

first season under coach John L. Smith. The former Michigan State

and Louisville coach was brought back to Arkansas in April to

replace the fired Petrino, a move that was universally embraced by

the players – who declared time and again their affection and

loyalty for Smith.

Smith admitted that it was ”kind of hard to say anything at

this point” to the Razorbacks following Saturday’s loss. He was

hired to a 10-month contract in April, and his interim status makes

it unlikely Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long would consider

other options while continuing his search for Petrino’s long-term

successor.

Smith knew he was taking on a unique challenge following

Petrino’s unexpected firing for hiring his mistress to a position

in the athletic department and initially trying to cover up her

presence during an April 1 motorcycle accident. The thought,

however, was that that Razorbacks were primed for a run at an SEC

championship – with or without Petrino.

All of the assistant coaches remained in place, including

Petrino’s brother, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. More

importantly, Arkansas had a pair of Heisman Trophy hopefuls in

Wilson and running back Knile Davis, both who turned down the NFL

after last season with expectations of climbing past the only two

teams the Razorbacks couldn’t beat last season – national champion

Alabama and runner-up LSU.

Wilson, last season’s first-team All-SEC quarterback, hasn’t

played since the first half of the loss to Louisiana-Monore, and

Davis has struggled through three games to regain the form that

helped him lead SEC running backs in rushing yards in 2010 –

averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.

Smith’s job now is to keep a once-hopeful Arkansas team from

fracturing under the weight of the mounting losses.

”I have total confidence in these guys and that the seniors are

going to pull us together and the rest of the team is going to pull

together,” Smith said. ”I don’t think they’re going to splinter

and everybody start pointing fingers and going their own way.

”It’s easy to quit. It’s easy to criticize somebody else.

That’s the coward’s way out, and these men are not cowards. They’re

not going to do that.”