Petrino: Glad No One Left, Booed

To no one's surprise, Bobby Petrino proved he can call plays and coach quarterbacks as Arkansas rallies past Western Illinois, 28-24, in his first game. Drops, sacks holds Hogs back.

There were moans about the red pants, especially from the new head coach. There were moans about missing Darren McFadden and Felix Jones from some in the crowd of 70,537.

But no one was moaning about missing Houston Nutt after Arkansas overtuned a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Western Illinois, 28-24, to start the Bobby Petrino era Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

The only person who thought Petrino did any wrong in the stadium might have been Petrino himself. He thanked fans for their support, and for not booing him while his young team clawed back against the Leathernecks from Macomb, Ill.

"I was glad everyone didn't leave," Petrino said. "Or boo.

"I liked the white pants we wore on picture day better. I kinda like those."

And, when did he think someone might have booed him -- what time in the game?

"There were different times," he said. "I'm glad they didn't."

That wasn't the way I saw it, or some of the high school coaches on the sidelines saw it. One veteran from the top prep classification marveled at the way Petrino called plays, kept giving senior quarterback Casey Dick chances at open receivers in the comeback.

"Do you think Houston Nutt could have done that," the high school coach said. "I don't. I don't think anyone in this place would believe that. This guy can coach quarterbacks, call plays."

The most remarkable development might have been Petrino's emphasis on Dick's running. Safety Matt Harris quipped afterwards, "Looked like Casey Vick to me."

Petrino said from the get-go that he didn't want his quarterback to improve his passing, but also taking more chances as a runner. Almost like magic, Dick scored twice on runs, one of them a nifty scramble and the other a walk-in for the winning touchdown.

"To be good or great, he has to be a willing runner," Petrino said, noting later two of the four sacks in the first half were probably on Dick for not stepping away from pressure or throwing quicker.

And, the Hogs have to catch Dick's on-target delieveries and they will, everyone around this team insists. They will get more chances. As much as the drops by the wideouts hindered the offense, drops by the secondary made things tough for the defense at the end.

Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson had the best line in the post-game interviews after all of the drops by his troops.

"We have to catch those," he said. "If those at the end of the game had been lawn darts instead of footballs, our guys wouldn't have gotten up. They hit them in the numbers."

All who came to the interview room said in an offense that features so many passes, there will always be drops, and no one is going to fret. "What we can't have is fumbles after the catch," Petrino said. "But when we drop one, we are going to throw it to ‘em again."

The quarterback put an emphasis on just that. "We just have to keep going right back to the receiver after a drop," Dick said. "That's what we are going to keep doing, show faith in our receivers."

If there was something to worry about, it was playing the run and running the ball. Petrino said there has to be improvement in both areas.

"We have to stop the run and we made a lot of calls to do that in the second half," Petrino said. "Some of it was gap control. We need to execute the game plan and get off the field on third down.

"We need to run the ball better than we did, but their scheme was designed to put a lot in the box and stop the run."

Some of the flaws in the offense came down to young running backs with Michael Smith suspended for the opener.

"We put a lot on Casey because of the young backs," Petrino said. "He had to get them lined up and that might have bothered him some."

Inexperience on defense was perhaps more of a factor. While one of his defensive teammates was trying to explain the defensive adjustments the Hogs made at halftime and as the game progresses, middle linebacker Jerry Franklin chuckled at the other end of the table.

"It wasn't anything but just having to man up and stop the run," Franklin said. "That's what we had to do."

Really, that's what the whole night was about, that and watching Bobby Petrino work his magic with his senior quarterback.

"Casey? He's done so good in the spring, all summer and this fall," said D. J. Williams. "We knew what he was going to do. This was routine and it's going to keep getting better."

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