Petrino Era Begins

A new era in Razorback football begins Saturday night when new head coach Bobby Petrino leads Arkansas into its season opener against visiting Western Illinois.

FAYETTEVILLE — The quarterback who hasn't had to throw the football that often will be asked tonight to make plays with his arm.

The two dozen freshmen who have never played in a college football game will be called on to contribute immediately.

And the Arkansas fans who cheered when Bobby Petrino was hired as the new coach must be patient as the team experiences growing pains early on.

After eight months of excitement and much talk of change, the Petrino Era will officially begin at 6 p.m. tonight against Western Illinois in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

"I can't wait to feel the crowd and see what this place is all about," first-year Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said. "... There is an excitement. Obviously, it builds and it builds and it builds and it's one of the few times in a long time that I actually feel an emotion about the game of football."

Today will mark the debut of Arkansas' redesigned uniforms and its revamped playbook. It will also be the first time that many fans get a look at Petrino's highly talked about offense.

Western Illinois will try to play the role of spoiler. But in return for receiving a $315,000 check from Arkansas, the Leathernecks could instead give Petrino a chance to test out his passing attack.

"(The coaches) have no intention of taking it easy on anybody and they've put that in every player," Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams said. "... It will be fun to watch how aggressive this offense is."

Petrino, however, wants to caution everyone about expecting too much in the season opener.

While he's anxious to run through the "A" for the first time and feel the roar of a nearly soldout crowd, he realizes there will be plenty of rookie mistakes made by his young team. And quarterback Casey Dick could need more time to get adjusted to his increased role in the offense.

But a win and signs of improvement would be a promising start to the Petrino Era.

"I don't think we're looking to make any statements," Petrino said when asked if he feels he must win convincingly in his first game at Arkansas.

"I want to play better in the second quarter than we do in the first, play better in the second half than we do in the first half and just execute and really just worry about ourselves."

There is no doubt, however, about the excitement that has been building among Arkansas fans since Petrino left the NFL to take over a football program that had become dysfunctional.

He's a proven winner who turned Louisville into a national championship contender. And his arrival at Arkansas on Dec. 11 was considered a big step in helping a divided fan base move past the tumultuous 10-year run of former coach Houston Nutt.

As a result, today's season opener couldn't come soon enough for fans and players alike.

"I'm tired of hitting the same people every day, that's all I've got to say. I'm just tired of hitting the same people every day," Arkansas nose tackle Ernest Mitchell said. "I want to hit somebody else now."

For the third consecutive year, the Razorbacks will open the season with much of the focus on a passing game that has been overhauled in the offseason.

In 2006, fans anxiously waited to see the debut of Gus Malzahn's hurry-up offense, but instead they were disappointed in a 50-14 loss to Southern California.

The talk a year ago was that new Arkansas offensive coordinator David Lee would bring a passing attack that would complement the production of star running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. That never happened.

But since being hired, Petrino has scrapped what Arkansas' players were accustomed to under Nutt and introduced his take on the Spread offense. There is balance, multiple wide receivers used and more emphasis placed on the quarterback.

"He throws a lot at you. He puts a lot on your shoulders," Dick said. "It will be an explosive offense."

And so the Petrino Era begins.

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