Monday Grid Update, 9/20

University of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino and his players believe they have matured and are now more prepared to face defending national champion Alabama than the Razorbacks have been the previous two seasons.

University of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino has never been one to mince words.

So in describing Saturday's Top 10 matchup in Fayetteville between his 10th-ranked Razorbacks (3-0, 1-0) and top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama (3-0), he got straight to the point.

"What more can you ask for?," Petrino said. "It's exciting just talking about it."

The match-up, which will be televised by CBS at 2:30 p.m., will be the first of top 10 teams in Fayetteville since 1979 and only the seventh in the school history in the city.

"We know it is a very big week with Alabama coming in here," Petrino said. "Our players are excited about it. I know our coaches are. We have to make sure that we know we need to prepare like we did a week ago – with focus every day in practice, with energy and excitement and really understand that as a football team, and I really believe this, we don't need to go out and do anything extraordinary to win the game. We just need to play Arkansas football and we will have an opportunity to win the game."

The showdown comes after Arkansas has taken down Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe and then won at Georgia 31-24 in a game that doubled as its road and SEC openers.

Alabama has rolled off two home wins over San Jose State, Penn State and a road win Duke.

"I'm just proud of our players because when we started the season we just kind of put it out there that everyone is going to talk about the Alabama game," Petrino said. "We told them, ‘What we have to do is be a mature football team to win our first two nonconference games and take care of our business the way we should. Then we'll put a lot of preparation into going to Georgia and winning that conference opener.

"If we do that as a football team – if we're mature enough and good enough and tough enough to do that – then the Alabama game becomes a huge game at home that all of us want to play in and be a part of,'" Petrino added. "We've gotten to that point. Now let's go do everything we can to prepare. We need to enjoy the journey of the week of preparation and preparing for a big game and understanding what that's like, and go out and put everything on the field Saturday."

Alabama has won 27 consecutive regular season games.

Two of those have come against Arkansas with a 49-14 humbling in Fayetteville in 2008 and a dominating 35-7 victory in Tuscaloosa last season.

"We know they are a very good football team," Petrino said. "They are very physical and can run it and throw it and defensively they are very good. We've got a challenge ahead of us, but we are really looking forward to it."

While they lost a lot of players on defense, the Crimson Tide is still playing great defense.

"They are still big and physical and fast and very well coached," Petrino said. "When you look at their defensive line they are very big and physical and they stop the run with a 7-man front because of that and then they can rush the passers. Their linebackers will be the biggest linebackers we will play all year."

Arkansas has won eight of its last nine games overall – a feat only surpassed by Alabama and matched by Florida among the 12 SEC teams.

Petrino believes his team is better equipped this time to take on the Crimson Tide.

"We felt like it (the 2009 loss) was a big learning experience for us," Petrino said. "We didn't execute the way we normally do. I felt like it was because when we stepped on the field that we didn't truly believe that we could beat them. I think we learned from that and we went on the road later in the year and learned from that and gave ourselves a chance to win in the fourth quarter. I felt like after the Alabama game last year we grew up as a football team."

Arkansas junior wide receiver Greg Childs certainly agrees with that.

"There are people on the team that have grown up," Childs said. "There are people on the team that are speaking up that haven't before, and there are people that are doing things that they've never done before. I think our team has really come together."

He admits that the Razorbacks have been pointing toward this game for a long time.

We've been preparing ever since our last game last year," Childs acknowledged. "We understand that it is going to be hard work and it won't be given to us. We know that we have to be ready to play. We understand that this game can make or break our season. We know that there are a lot of people that will be trying to talk to us. We have to block all that out and focus on the goal."

The Crimson Tide are led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and his back-up Trent Richardson – perhaps the best 1-2 rushing tandem in the country.

The Razorbacks are led by quarterback Ryan Mallett, who engineered the game-winning drive on Saturday in the win over Georgia and has already thrown for 1,081 yards this season in three games.

"It was a great win for us," Petrino said. "It was very hard. I think the biggest thing was that we matured and grew up as a football team. We knew going into the game it was going to take a team effort. We talked all week long about staying together, working together, being together. That is truly how it played out. We counted on each other, we took care of each other. I am very proud of our team."

Arkansas looked like it had a chance to put the game away early, but Georgia came back with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie, 24-24.

That set up a 3-play, 32-second, 71-yard drive that culminated with Ryan Mallett's 40-yard touchdown pass to Greg Childs with 15 seconds left.

"We found a way to win it at the end with a great stop by the defense and a very good two-minute drive," Petrino said.

It was an aggressive offense that got the Razorbacks points at the end of both halves.

"This kind of goes back to that old theory that you play for overtime at home and you play for the win on the road," Petrino said. "I was thinking about that, particularly when they didn't punt the ball very well. I thought we had the position, we had time and it is something that we do every week in practice.

"We got a good opening play and I think that is the key and I think it happened at both the end of the first half and the end of the game, our starting play got us in a good position to stay aggressive."

Speaking of punts, Arkansas' Dylan Breeding launched a 56-yarder out of the end zone that allowed the Razorbacks defense a chance to stop the Bulldogs on the other side of the field.

"That punt was huge," Petrino said. "To be able to punt it 56 yards out of our end zone with no return, it gave us an opportunity to win."

Breeding, an Alabama native and Crimson Tide fan growing up, has been exceptional so far this season with an average of 46.8 yards per boot.

"I did my drills," Breeding said of his improvement. "I've had the same drills since high school, and I just continued to do that in the off season. Eventually, I just got more confident with it and then it got to where every single time I knew the drop was there. And if the drop was there, I knew I was going to hit at least a decent ball."

He said the best part about his big kick on Saturday was that he never felt it.

"You know it's a good ball when you don't even feel it come off your foot," Breeding said.

Ironically, Arkansas did not practice its two minute drill as it normally does on a Thursday.

But Childs made it clear to Arkansas' defense that he was going to make a play now that they had made a stand according to cornerback Isaac Madison.

"Greg Childs was just on the sideline saying ‘Don't worry about it, I'm going to hold on to the rope, I'm going to make a play,'" Isaac Madison remembered. "It was pretty amazing when Ryan Mallett threw the ball, he threw it right between (the defender's) arms, and Greg made a great play to score."

The defense's last stop proved to be a big one as well and Petrino made it clear that that unit picked up the offense, not the other way around.

"If you look at the game, the keys were big plays, turnovers, and the fact that we hit their QB more than they hit ours," Petrino said. "We had six sacks to their one. We rushed the quarterback well, worked hard at it and also had good coverage that forced him to put his eyes down and run. Overall, our defense played good and wore out a little bit. That is on the offense, we have to do a better job of moving the ball and taking care of each other."

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