Monday Grid Update, 10-8-12

Arkansas head coach John L. Smith and his players finally have a reason to smile about on Monday and hopes that a 24-7 win at Auburn will propel the Razorbacks into another good effort when Kentucky visits on Saturday night.

Previously this season John L. Smith and his players have come to Monday press conferences trying to put on their happy faces.

The coach even tried to get everybody to smile in an infamous moment that will leave on video history.

But this Monday was different in that they actually had something to smile about – last Saturday's 24-7 win at Auburn that broke a four-game losing skid.

"It's a great day to be alive," Smith said. "… I want to start by complimenting our football team, again. Over and over. The players came out and did a great job preparing last week. They took the game plan, everything that we did there, their emotion, their excitement, that they practiced with, and took it to the game field, and had far fewer mistakes than we had had."

Quarterback Tyler Wilson noted that it was great to once again be part of a winning locker room and have a happy flight home.

"It is like night and day difference," Wilson said. "Confidence. Everybody's mind in the locker room or on the plane, guys feel better about themselves. Consequently, they practice harder, they have belief in what we are doing and what we are trying to accomplish as a team. All that helps you. That is where I am excited moving forward is you kind of see that belief back in a few people's eyes."

Junior defensive end Chris Smith was part of a unit that had been much maligned this season, but had five takeaways and eight sacks against the Tigers to spark the Razorbacks to the win.

"It was great," Smith said. "I didn't have that sick feeling waking up Sunday morning. It's great. That's one thing we've got to build off of. We're going to do that and get ready for practice Tuesday and just try to get ready to beat Kentucky."

Arkansas (2-4, 1-2) will host Kentucky (1-5, 0-3) Saturday night at 6 p.m. before having an open date and then having home games against Ole Miss in Little Rock and non-conference foe Tulsa in Fayetteville.

That would appear to be a stretch where the Razorbacks could get a run of wins going.

"You can rattle a few wins together," Wilson said. "We have an opportunity to do that against Kentucky. There was a streak there where we had four straight losses. You don't want to dwell on that. You don't want to think about it, but it's there. And so we are going to put some wins together."

Wilson said he has learned from the tough early season, but is ready to learn while on a winning streak.

"We wanted to win every football game, but you learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about your team, how to get through to guys when things aren't going just as you planned it to," Wilson said. "That is how I am looking at the past three or four months – five months really – that we have been on. I think there is a lot that I can grow as a leader and a person through learning.

"But having said that, there is no reason why we can't go forward and win some games while learning from that process," Wilson continued.

Wilson was 22-of-29 for 230 yards on Saturday with no touchdown passes, but also no interceptions as offensive coordinator Paul Petrino was up in the coach's box instead of on the sideline for the first time this season.

"…I said, ‘I'm not going to be distracted by anything else that's going on,' Wilson said, ‘Coach being up in the box, I had the headset on on the sidelines and I think I threw a towel over my head and said, ‘I'm focusing on me and what I do. And I'm going to get us in a position where we can win.'"

It also helped that tight end Austin Tate stepped up and replaced missing senior star Chris Gragg.

Tate had four catches for 44 yards, including two receptions that got the Razorbacks first downs on scoring drives.

""We did some things with play action and that allows him to be one or two in a lot of progressions and get them in his hands," Wilson said. "That's what they gave us and we gave it to him early in the first drive and he made an exceptional catch and run toward the goal line and did some really good things for us.

"Austin is a guy that I played against in high school at Harrison and have known forever," Wilson added. "He has continued to get better and better and excited that he filled in and made some plays."

The Razorbacks also rode the hot hand of tailback Dennis Johnson, who had 17 carries for 76 yards and a pair of two-yard touchdown runs.

"Dennis, I thought he did an incredible job," Wilson said. "Dennis, when he runs, is able to absorb that first blow and fall forward and get you two or three yards to put you in better position on first down. And so you are not losing three yards, you are gaining two and so it is second and 8. That is the big thing with Dennis. Even if there is nothing there, he can will you a few yards and that's huge.

"Dennis is a competitor," Wilson added. "He fights and I love the way he plays football. He gives us a spark when he is in there."

He got 14 more carries than starter Knile Davis, who was actually coming off his most productive game of the season.

"Knile is a tremendous player and a great competitor and obviously he wanted to be out there," Wilson said. "We all have faith in Knile. We have seen what he has been able to do. At that particular point, the coaching staff obviously felt we needed to go with Dennis. Dennis was hot so we put it in Dennis' hands."

The Razorbacks got after the Tigers on defense with eight sacks and five takeaways.

It was a matter of dialing up the and having more people around the ball according to Chris Smith, who credited Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes and defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell.

"That's one thing we always preach since we've been here – running to the ball," Smith said. "It scares the offense. That's what we always preach. Coach Haynes always says and even my coach, Coach Caldwell, he always says run to the ball and things happen. You never know if the ball is going to to pop out like it did Saturday and things of that nature. So that's one thing the coaches have been preaching and we've been staying hard on ourselves as players. Just to run to the ball. And good things will happen."

Smith says pressure will continue to be part of the defensive strategy, especially with Smith and SEC Defensive Lineman of the Year Trey Flowers (3.5 sacks on Saturday) coming off the edge.

"Yes, it will," Smith said. "One thing with me and Trey, we're going to try to get pressure off the edge. And we will get pressure. That's one thing we did this week. That helps out a lot. Coach Petrino was joking with me last night, when you look at a football game, whoever hits the quarterback the most, that's the team that wins."

Smith showed his team a film of players only making good plays on the Friday night before the Auburn win.

"Our purpose in doing that was to let them know that everyone can make plays. ‘You wouldn't be sitting in this room if we didn't believe you could make plays and that you're a great football player,'" Smith said. " We all have to believe that, understand that, go do that. Take what you do on the practice field to the game field and go make plays. That was the purpose."


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