The Bobby Petrino Era almost began just like the Jack Crowe one ended.
But a late fourth quarter drive – featuring a lot of senior quarterback Casey Dick and rookie wideout Greg Childs – kept the University of Arkansas from what would have been a shocking upset in its 2008 season opener Saturday night.The Bobby Petrino Era almost began just like the Jack Crowe one ended.
Dick capped an 83-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run with 1:49 left in the game as Razorbacks rallied from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to down Western Illinois 28-24 before 70,537 fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"It certainly was a lot harder than we anticipated," Petrino said. "We know that we have to play better than that. We know we have to go back to work on Monday, do a great job of evaluating the video and then practice hard Tuesday.
"But we did hang in there and we did get the win," said Petrino, whose team wore all red uniforms with white stripes.
Dick was 25-of-41 passing for 318 yards with a pair of touchdowns, but it took the first two rushing touchdowns of his career – the other one a 23-yard dash in the third quarter – as well for the win.
"I stepped back, no one was open so I just did what I needed to do," Dick said of his game-winning touchdown run."
Dick also converted a pressure-packed 4th-and-10 pass to Carlton Salters on the final drive to set up the score.
"He learned how to compete," Petrino said. "He ran the ball and got positive yards when he ran the ball, made a real nice touchdown run and we had a bunch of freshmen making plays down the stretch. I thought Greg Childs did a good job and the offensive line gave us the protection we needed and we were able to run the ball in for a score."
The Leathernecks, ranked No. 15 in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division 1-AA), were trying to become the first lower level team to pull an upset in Fayetteville since 1992.
That was when The Citadel downed Crowe's Razorbacks in a loss that cost him his job the next day.
"In every game Western Illinois plays, we tell them to play as hard as they can and leave it all on the field," Western Illinois interim head coach Mark Hendrickson said. "They do everything the coaches ask and we're very proud of the those guys in the locker room today."
There certainly was no danger of what happen to Crowe happening to Petrino, but it would have been an embarrassing loss if Arkansas had not rallied from a 24-14 deficit with two scores in the final eight minutes of the game.
"We have a very good, veteran football team," Hendrickson said, "but there is no doubt the momentum was in our favor in the second half, which is tough to do here at Arkansas. Our team did start to wear down and get tired late in the game. When Arkansas had to make plays, they did. Some were closely contest, but they made the plays."
Dick's 26-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Greg Childs with 7:58 left in the game got it to 24-21 and then the Arkansas defense made a stand to give the offense the ball with 5:42 remaining.
Dick's touchdown run then set the final score, but the Razorbacks dropped four potential interceptions before finally stopping the visitors on their final drive in game where Arkansas was sluggish early on both sides of the ball.
Arkansas certainly handed the visitors some gifts with three turnovers – all three in its own territory.
"I thought obviously we came out and were very tight and didn't execute at all early on both sides of the ball," Petrino said. "We fumbled the opening kickoff and basically just made a lot of mistakes. We certainly have to correct them and defensively we have to do a much better job of stopping the run and wrapping up and getting off the field on third down."
Herb Donaldson did a lot of the damage for the Leathernecks, rushing 35 times for 157 yards and scoring a touchdown via the ground and on a reception.
"We anticipated that we are going to mix up the passing game and the running game," Hendrickson said. "However, I didn't expect for us to run the ball as well as we did."
The third Arkansas turnover was a fumble by wideout Carlton Salters – after the Razorbacks had cut the lead to 17-14 late in the third quarter and seemingly had finally gained the momentum.
Instead, the Leathernecks kept the ball for over eight minutes and cashed in on Javid Milton's 1-yard run on fourth and goal with Rowan's PAT boosting it to 24-14 with 10:34 left in the contest.
Arkansas did zip down the field with Dick hitting Childs and Alex Tejada's PAT cutting it to 24-21 with 7:58 left in the game.
"We just kept feeding people the ball and knew they would make plays," Dick said. "Greg Childs dropped a ball, but I went right back to him and he scored a touchdown."
Eight different receivers caught passes on Saturday night led by Childs 6 catches for 88 yards, tight end D.J. Williams (5 catches, 45 yards), Lucas Miller (3 catches, 67 yards) De'Anthony Curtis (3 catches, 33 yards) and Joe Adams (3 catches, 32 yards, 1 TD).
"We are going to have to distribute the ball and get a lot of contributions from everybody," Petrino said. "I didn't think we got the ball to D.J. Williams as much as we would like, but he certainly made some good plays when he did get it."
The Razorbacks rushed for just 76 yards on Saturday night with true freshmen Curtis (6 carries, 36 yards) and Dennis Johnson (6 for 18) and Joe Adams (1 carry for 11 yards) accounting for all but Dick's 12 yards total.
"I did not like the way we ran the ball," Petrino said. "I didn't think we got into any comfort zone running the ball. Some of that was that we were behind and didn't have the ball a lot."
The Razorbacks, playing without suspended starting tailback Michael Smith and offensive lineman Mitch Petrus, had 404 yards total offense to 262 for the Leathernecks.
Western Illinois got a chance to get on the board first when freshman Elton Ford's fumbled the opening kickoff, but a bad snap botched a short field goal attempt that turned into an incomplete pass.
But a second Arkansas turnover in its own territory – this one a interception that went off Lucas Miller – did result in the Leathernecks taking the lead.
They did so with Taylor Rowan drilling a 42-yard effort with 6:12 left in the first quarter to give the visitors a 3-0 advantage.
The Arkansas offense struggled in part because the Leathernecks had already racked up four sacks in the first half.
The one offensive plus came on an impressive 10-play, 81-yard drive that included an 18-yard run by Curtis and Dick completing passes to five different receivers.
The final one was a 10-yard touchdown pass to Adams, who actually cut in front of fellow true freshmen Childs to haul it in.
"He stole a touchdown from Childs," Petrino said.
Tejada's PAT put Arkansas up 7-3 with 6:10 left in the opening half.
Western Illinois then jumped to a 17-7 lead by scoring on its next two possessions – one to end the second quarter and the opening drive of the third quarter.
The Leathernecks, leaning heavily on the running of Donaldson, took the lead to intermission by going 76 yards in 11 plays in just under 5 minutes.
Donaldson carried the ball five of the last six plays of the drive, including a 3-yard jaunt around left end for the score with 1:21 left.
Donaldson had five carries on that first drive in the third quarter, but the score came when he hauled in a 12-yard pass from Matt Barr.
When Rowan booted the PAT, Arkansas found itself down 10 points with 9:42 left in the third quarter.
"We learned a lot about our team," Dick said. "We knew that we had it in us to pull this one out. We'll take this game, learn from it and I think we will grow as a team."
Arkansas will return to action next week when it hosts Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.
"We have got a lot to work on," Petrino said. "We have to improve a lot between the first hame and the second game. We have to go to Little Rock next week and execute and play much better and do things right and get ahead in the game."
Arkansas 28, W. Illinois 24
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