An Arkansas rushing game that has been subpar for most of the season now has an SEC Offensive Player of the Week who made his presence known on ground last Saturday.
Redshirt junior Dennis Johnson rushed 15 times for a career-high 160 yards on Saturday in a performance that was also a season-best for any of the Razorback rushers.
"Dennis did a great job for us," Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. "He ran the ball real well, he showed his speed and quickness. I thought it was the most decisive he has been all year on his cuts. That does take reps. The more carries you get, the more vision, the more things you see and helps you make your cuts. It really showed up the other day. He had a great game for us."
Petrino was asked if Johnson – who wasn't available for comment on Monday – could carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game as currently injured Knile Davis did during the second half of the 2010 season.
"That is hard to say, but he certainly was the hot hand the other day and we fed him as much as we could," Petrino said.
Petrino was quick to also praise the blocking of fullback Kiero Small and the Razorbacks' offensive line.
"Kiero is a guy that really helps our running game," Petrino said. "The physicalness, the toughness, the energy. I think he gives our offense energy because of his toughness and his physicalness. He is a fun guy when you watch the video…and you see the hits and collisions and the number of times he is the hammer and not the nail show up."
Indeed Small does act as a hammer seeing as how he has bent eight facemasks this season.
"I think I am the only guy on the team with a tally sheet," Small said.
The equipment room is keeping his based facemasks on the wall.
"They're bending," Small said. "I'm not shattering them in half. I don't think I would be here talking to you if that was happening."
Small, who said he considers himself a combination running back and offensive linemen, knocked a defender's helmet completely off last Saturday.
"I'm satisfied with hitting a guy," Small said when asked if he wanted some carries. "The contact is something that I enjoy a lot."
Petrino said he believes the entire rush game is progressing.
"I thought we took huge steps forward in the run game," Petrino said. "We did a better job with our footwork, we delivered blows better, we finished our blocks better, which really got us in the secondary. And that's what your offensive line has to do is get your backs into the secondary. I was really happy with our wide receivers and the way they were blocking down the field because that really helped us get long runs.
"A lot of hustle plays, that's what really showed up on video was guys hustling down, giving second effort, Chris Gragg got in a couple extra blocks down the field, Jason Peacock got a huge block down the field on Dennis' long run for a touchdown," Petrino said. " (Jarius) Wright did a great job on the play, so we improved a lot not only with what we're supposed to do but our second effort."
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Once again, Petrino was asked a question about whether Davis – who suffered what was called a season-ending injury in the preseason - might play this season and once again he answered he was not expecting him to do so.
"I don't think there is any chance he is coming back," Petrino said. "Like I said, all I can go on is what I have been told and I was told it was a season-ending injury. He is getting better and he keeps working hard. He is running and changing directions."
Davis – one of the Razorbacks' six captains - has been accompanying Arkansas' team on the road this season even though he can't play.
"He helps a lot with his leadership," Petrino said. "He does a great job of being positive on the sideline and that is why I bring him on trips because he has earned the right to be there and help us win games."
Petrino noted that there were no new injuries and no one coming back this week – namely senior defensive end Tenarius Wright - that didn't play last week.
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Arkansas dropped from ninth to 10th in this week's BCS standings, something that senior defensive end Jake Bequette says he is not worrying about right now.
"It doesn't matter," Bequette said. "If we keep winning the BCS and the bowl game will take care of themselves."
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Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson was named one of the 16 semifinalists for the Davey O'Brien trophy that is awarded to the nation's top quarterback.
Wilson is 148-of-236 passing for 2,011 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Those yards have him atop the SEC and 12th in the country.
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Petrino was asked about a comment by Andre Ware on Saturday's telecast that the Arkansas running backs were tipping which way they were going to run on Saturday.
If they were, it sure didn't help them.
"I don't believe it," Petrino said. "Good for him, but I don't believe it."
He was also asked if he gets more enjoyment out of coaching now than he did earlier in his career.
"I'll tell you what I really enjoy is, I think the more you get into coaching and the longer you're in the profession, the more you enjoy the success that you see on your players' faces, and the success and satisfaction that you see in their body language and their eyes, and how much more it means that guys stick together and play together," Petrino said. "They are learning lessons that are going to help them when they're done playing football. I think that's the thing that is more gratifying the longer that you're in the business."
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