Arkansas finding run game to match passing attack

BY foxsports • November 17, 2011

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.''

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