State of the Hogs: Senior Salute

Bobby Petrino's opening remarks on the pre-spring speaking tour lauds work of senior class. Turning point in 2011 season came at halftime against Texas A&M.

Bobby Petrino has done stops in Searcy and Texarkana on the pre-spring speaking circuit, with trips left to West Memphis and Harrison still to come.

There's a common theme to his opening remarks at the Razorback Clubs. He congratulates the large group of seniors who helped the Hogs win 11 games in 2011, the first time that's been done since 1977.

"When you look back,"" he said in Searcy, "in winning 11 games, we won all our home games, in all of our home stadiums. That's five in Fayetteville, two in Little Rock and two in Dallas. Since Jerry Jones graduated from Arkansas, we call that a home stadium, too."

The keys in that 11-2 campaign were come-from-behind victories over Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.

"The turning point had to be halftime (against A&M)," Petrino said. "We went in the locker room down 18. I've been in that kind of situation before. No one is real happy. Fingers are pointed. Then you go back out there in the second half and you don't do any better. It was absolutely NOT like that this time."

The leadership within the team stepped up. Petrino said players like Jarius Wright emphasized that things would turn around. Then the coaches went about getting things fixed.

"We widened our ends," Petrino said, noting the adjustment needed to stop the A&M perimeter running. "And we started moving our inside guys around. We got some stops and we kept scoring. We needed every possession in that game, but we got it done."

Most expected the Hogs to cruise against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, but Petrino said it's never easy away from home in the SEC.

"We were better than them," Petrino said. "But it's tough to win on the road. You have to wear them down both mentally and physically. You have to stick together while you are doing that. It didn't start out well in either game, but we kept coming and we finally wore them down in the second half.

"Those three games were huge for this team. Those seniors were a big part of those games.

"I told our seniors, they did a lot of special things for our program. They took us to our first BCS game. They won 11 games. They helped us build the new (football operations) facility. Now we have to say good bye to those seniors."

One of the biggest things they did last year was overcome a tough injury in preseason. Petrino recalled seeing Knile Davis leave an August scrimmage with a broken ankle.

"That was hard on our team when he got hurt," Petrino said. "It sucked the air out of our team. It was hard to even finish that scrimmage. They all wanted to know about Knile.

"Knile finished the previous season as the best back in the SEC. To lose him was hard. To overcome that is special. To win 11 without Knile is something I'm proud of because that's tough to do."

Running backs coach Tim Horton is excited to see Davis back to full speed in winter drills. He said he's blessed to have great leadership and wonderful work ethic in his meeting room. He's coached some great players in his five seasons at Arkansas, but this group has a lot of great qualities.

"This is as fine a group of seniors as I've ever coached," Horton said. "That's Knile Davis, Ronnie Wingo and Dennis Johnson. I'm talking about the work ethic in that room. They've been productive players, set records -- rushing, receiving and returning kicks. That's three great ones with a lot of different talents.

"But what I like with them -- and you can add Kody Walker and Kiero Small in with them -- is that they all bring their hard hat every day and are ready to work.

"You can also say that about this team in general. They all come to work every day."

That's another thing besides that new football building that those seniors helped build.

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