Arkansas looks to complete road turnaround
Seemingly everything worked for Arkansas in a 41-20 win at South Carolina two weeks ago.
Quarterback Ryan Mallett was efficient, the running game was effective and the defense held the Gamecocks when it needed to.
The win improved Arkansas to 2-1 in Southeastern Conference road games this season, with that lone loss coming at No. 2 Auburn. If the No. 13 Razorbacks (8-2, 4-2 SEC) can win at No. 22 Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3) on Saturday, they would finish the season 3-1 on the road in conference play.
That would be a dramatic turnaround for a team that went 1-7 on the road in the SEC over the past two seasons, Bobby Petrino's first two as Arkansas coach. That includes an 0-4 record last year, Mallett's first as the starter for the Razorbacks after transferring from Michigan.
''I think we've just been more focused as a team,'' Arkansas senior offensive tackle DeMarcus Love said. ''We've grown and we haven't let the road get to us as much as we did before. We just want to finish strong.''
Two seasons ago, the Razorbacks played a number of true freshmen and sophomores who are key contributors now. That included senior tight end D.J. Williams and junior receivers Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, who is out for the season after suffering a knee injury in a win over Vanderbilt last month.
Those four have combined for 154 catches for 2,283 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, helping to lead an Arkansas offense that is second in the SEC in points at 37.9 points per game and is first with 343.6 passing yards per game.
''I think a lot of it is the experience, understanding what you need to do,'' Petrino said. ''Our preparation has been good, good leadership from within the team and then being able to just focus on what's important.''
Adams had six catches for 130 yards in the Razorbacks' first conference road game this season, a 31-24 win at Georgia.
Mallett was also sharp in the win, throwing for 380 yards and three touchdowns. The junior looked little like he did on the road a year ago in SEC play, when he completed just 53 of 135 passes (39 percent) and threw for only four touchdowns along with two interceptions.
This season, Mallett has completed 52 of 78 passes (67 percent) in conference road games and five touchdowns and just one interception. And he has 779 yards passing despite missing nearly three quarters against Auburn after suffering a concussion.
''I think it just shows, if we get that win, the maturity of our team going on the road and traveling and learning how to travel the right way,'' Mallett said. ''Everybody's just grown up and matured, like I said. That goes along with the Xs and Os. It's hand-in-hand.''
Making Arkansas even tougher to stop in the last month has been the emergence of sophomore Knile Davis, who has 550 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on the ground in the last four games. Davis is averaging 7.2 yards per carry this season, and Mississippi St. coach Dan Mullen said he has made Arkansas' offense more difficult to defense by making it more balanced.
''They have all of those weapons and the ability to get the ball to all of these skill players, and a quarterback who can get it to them,'' Mullen said. ''You can't double everybody on the field.''