Petrino: Arkansas must improve running game
Bobby Petrino wants to run the ball whenever possible. He also wants production out of the running game.
The Arkansas coach called nearly the same number of runs as passes last week, but he didn't get nearly the output he was looking for on the ground in a season-opening 51-7 win over Missouri State.
The No. 14 Razorbacks (1-0) ran the ball 33 times against the Bears, compared to 35 pass attempts. However, they gained only 102 yards rushing - a less-than-stellar 3.1 yards per attempt that is reminiscent of Arkansas' early struggles on the ground last season.
Petrino blamed a ''kamikaze'' Missouri State defense for the lack of production, one that was aimed at stopping the run. He also chided his own impatience.
''When you see what you're seeing out there on the field,'' Petrino said. ''... Myself, I just say to myself `Just throw it. What am I doing? Just throw the ball.'''
Throwing the ball worked for the Razorbacks against the Bears - and how. Quarterbacks Tyler Wilson and Brandon Mitchell combined to finish 28 of 35 passing for 364 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with 11 receivers while picking apart the Missouri State defense.
The passing efficiency was a positive, but Petrino knows Arkansas must improve in the running game this week when it hosts New Mexico in Little Rock on Saturday and as it prepares for Southeastern Conference play in two weeks at Alabama.
''We know that has to be a part of our offense, that's what gives you the balance and makes you harder to defend,'' Petrino said. ''But in the same respect, you can't sit there and pound your head against a wall.
''To really run the ball well, they have to defend your passing game. And if they're not going to defend your passing game, keep throwing it.''
The slow start in the running game is nothing new for the Razorbacks. They finished 9th in the SEC in rushing offense last season with an average of 148.8 yards per game, opening the season by averaging just 103 yards per game on the ground through the first four games.
Knile Davis took over as the primary rushing option after that slow start, helping Arkansas average 188 yards rushing per game during a six-game winning streak that paved the way to the Sugar Bowl.
Davis broke his left ankle in August and is expected to miss the season, and his potential replacements didn't fare well in the opener. Junior Ronnie Wingo led the team with 43 yards on 11 carries, while freshman Kody Walker had 33 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 9 carries.
Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee was particularly critical of Wingo after he came out of the game.
''I thought he was cruising around and waiting on something to happen instead of going out there, attacking the field and making something to happen, which he has the capability to do,'' McGee said. ''It's all got to be a mentality change. I expect him to have a huge game this weekend.''
Also, senior De'Anthony Curtis had his first carry in two seasons for the Razorbacks - finishing with 37 yards on five attempts. Curtis was originally a running back as a freshman and early during his sophomore season, but he was then moved to receiver and eventually cornerback.
Following Davis' injury, Curtis was moved back to offense and showed flashes of his old running back self. Despite his production in the opener, Curtis still felt like he missed chances at longer runs in one-on-one situations against defenders.
Curtis said he's using Davis' slow start last season as proof that Arkansas' running game will come around, as well as motivation for himself.
''We're working at it,'' Curtis said. ''We see how Knile practiced, and we believe that's the reason he got the big yards. Every time we touch the ball we've got to sprint to the end zone and come right back, sprint to the end zone.
''We believe that will help us with the big, long yards.''