Petrino Praying For Improvements

FAYETTEVILLE — As far as football clichés go, it's among the more popular ones used by coaches.

But after watching his team rally Saturday night to defeat Western Illinois 28-24, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino admits he hopes the cliché proves to be true.

He wouldn't mind if the Razorbacks (1-0) make the most improvement from the first week of the season to the second week, especially after how rough things went in the opener.

"God, I hope it's true," Petrino said, laughing during a teleconference with reporters Sunday evening. "... I'm praying that that's true this year because we've got a lot of (room for) improvement.

"We've got a long way. We've got a big window there. We can go a long way in this week of practice."

Saturday's game against the Leathernecks, a Football Championship Subdivision team, wasn't expected to be close. Petrino had hoped to build a big lead early, then pull his starters and let some of his backups get playing time.

But that didn't happen.

The Razorbacks needed all their starters, especially quarterback Casey Dick, to erase a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and avoid a shocking loss in Petrino's debut in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

But as Arkansas prepares to face another inferior opponent in Louisiana-Monroe (0-1) on Saturday in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium, Petrino wants to see signs of improvement.

He hopes the return of running back Michael Smith from a one-game suspension will bring some balance back to the offense. And he wants Dick and the offensive line to correct the communication problems that led to several easy sacks by Western Illinois.

"I would have preferred if we blew them out and got a whole bunch of guys more experience in the game, myself," Petrino said. "But it's just a matter of getting better."

Some of the most glaring mistakes were on offense.

Arkansas looked like it might get off to a fast start when Dick connected with tight end D.J. Williams for a 13-yard gain on the team's first offensive play. But the Razorbacks were forced to punt after losing 11 yards on the next three plays.

The next offensive series didn't go much better. Freshman wide receiver Greg Childs caught a 4-yard pass, tailback Dennis Johnson — who started in Smith's place — had a 3-yard run and wide receiver London Crawford dropped a pass to end the drive.

"Offensively, it's a matter of executing early," Petrino said. "Those first two possessions were not good and that's when the communication problem happened with the pass protection on third down."

Arkansas' offensive line, expected to be one of the team's strengths this season, gave up four sacks in the first half and didn't allow Dick much time to throw.

Petrino said Sunday he has no plans to make changes along the offensive line, especially while offensive guard Mitch Petrus remains ineligible to play because of an undisclosed issue.

"Well, we're not going to change up personnel. We're pretty thin on the offensive front," Petrino said. "There were a couple of communication problems, and a couple of times it was not the offensive line (at fault).

"It was the (running) back being lined up on the wrong side or going to the wrong place."

One of Petrino's main goals during the next few days will also be finding a way to get the Hogs' ground attack going so there is more balance in the offense.

Dick passed 41 times for a career-high 318 yards, but the Razorbacks managed only 76 yards rushing. In the second half, the offense ran only eight times compared to 23 pass attempts by Dick.

"Our running game will improve," Petrino said. "There is no question in my mind that we'll come out next week and run the ball a lot better."

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