Arkansas searching for identity following loss
Bobby Petrino has a sign somewhere inside the Broyles Complex that reads ''Every single thing matters.''
The Razorbacks coach is taking a slightly different approach this week following a 38-14 loss at No. 3 Alabama.
''Every single thing will be evaluated,'' Petrino said.
Such is the mindset for No. 18 Arkansas (3-1) following its dismantling at the hands of the Crimson Tide, after which Petrino said he had some ''hard decisions'' to make. That includes both possible personnel and play-calling changes.
The Razorbacks entered the Alabama game leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring and total offense, but they were held to 226 total yards by the league's top defense. Quarterback Tyler Wilson finished 22-of-35 passing for 185 yards, but the junior was harassed for much of the game by a defense that showed little fear of a Razorbacks' running game that mustered only 17 yards on 19 carries.
The performance left Petrino searching for answers.
''I still don't feel good about what it is that we do after four weeks into the season,'' Petrino said. ''That's what I was talking about. What's our identity? What are we going to hang our hat on offensively? How are we going to find a way to run the ball to take some pressure off the passing game?''
Petrino defended the Razorbacks last week following a lackluster 38-28 win over Troy. When questioned about Arkansas' struggles in the second half of that game, during which a 31-7 lead was twice closed to 10 points, Petrino responded with, ''We're all right, guys,'' and pointed to the team's prolific offensive numbers.
He had no such air of assurance following Alabama when he was asked is the Razorbacks were all right heading into their final nonconference matchup of the season with No. 14 Texas A&M (2-1) in Dallas on Saturday.
''We're going to find out, really, I think,'' Petrino said. ''We went down there and got beat in all three phases and that always challenges you (with) how you're going to come back, what our attitude's going to be, what our work ethic's going to be.''
Arkansas won't be the only team in Cowboys Stadium trying to bounce back from a difficult loss. The Aggies lost 30-29 to No. 5 Oklahoma State last week, allowing 27 straight points to open the second half after holding a 20-3 halftime lead.
Four second-half turnovers left Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman looking for answers of his own, especially after the Aggies were outgained 267-50 in yards in the third quarter.
''I don't think I've ever experienced anything like that in my entire coaching career,'' Sherman said. ''We didn't handle it well. We weren't engaged. They picked the tempo up, went right down the field on us and scored. We didn't respond well. We didn't play very well.''
Arkansas receiver Jarius Wright said the Razorbacks' loss would be tougher to recover from than the Aggies' close defeat, primarily because of how poorly the team played.
''Not taking anything away from Alabama, which they are a great team and they have a great defense, but losing it like that was a little out of control,'' Wright said.
The Razorbacks held an offensive players' only team meeting following their usual Sunday team run, and Wright said it focused on moving forward rather than the loss to the Crimson Tide.
It was a loss during which Arkansas' offensive line, with three new starters this season, appeared overmatched at times - both while pass blocking for Wilson and during the anemic rushing attempts. The line will face another challenge this week when it faces a Texas A&M team that leads the Big 12 Conference with an average of 4.67 sacks per game.
Despite the struggles, Wright said there was no finger pointing during or after the loss to Alabama. Like Petrino, he's ready to move forward.
''You can either go two places,'' Wright said. ''You can go down or you can get better from a loss. We talked about our direction as an offense and where we want to go. We're going to work hard this week to get better.''