Hogs expect physical Tide

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino and some of his players met with the media Monday afternoon. They see a familiar sight, a physical Alabama squad.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said Monday it wasn't as good as a planned open date where some extensive work could be done in ones versus ones situations, but the Hogs did the best they could with what they were given this past weekend.

"We were able to look at some of our own (video) cut-ups and evaluate our strengths and weaknesses," Petrino said. "We did switch gears and get a lot done.

"What we weren't able to do was go back and work on somethings we put in during camp. We'd like to have more ones against ones in a bye week, but it didn't work out that way. We did get three or four extra days on Alabama. That was the good."

The Hogs had good workouts Thursday and again Sunday night, Petrino said. He said the night workout Sunday under the lights in the stadium was a nice positive.

"When you practice under the lights, it's always good," he said. "The players have more energy and you get a lot done. It was a good practice."

The focus is as much on the development of the Arkansas team as it is on Alabama, the opponent this week at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Fayetteville.

"We just want to get better eadh day, understanding our strengths and weaknesses," Petrino said. "That's our main concern. We want to make improvement each day."

Petrino was asked about the key to beating Alabama this week. He said there are plenty of keys, but number one on the list is to do much better in the kicking game. The Hogs were woeful in several areas of special teams in their second game, a 28-27 victory over Louisiana-Monroe.

"There are never just one (key), but we must show improvement in the kicking game," he said. "We are concerned about (Alabama's) kickoff and punt return units. Obviously, they have already taken one to the house. That one was in a safety punt return where they weren't really trying to block it, he just made people miss.

"If we are to have an opportunity to win, we have to play well in the kicking game. We need to get something out of our return game."

The Hogs will also need to force some turnovers, something they have not done in the first two games.

"The lack of turnovers and no return game has hurt is in the field position battle," he said. "The turnovers can really help you with a short field, something we haven't had."

Safety Matt Harris, who joined quarterback Casey Dick in the media session, said special teams have been hit hard in the last week.

"Statistics show -- coaches are telling us -- that when you have a punt blocked, 75 percent of the time you lose the game," Harris said. "That kills you.

"The focus on special teams has really picked up. The intensity in practice has picked up on special teams the last week. We lost the special teams battle last week.

"It's one third of the game. It's the first snap of offense and the first snap of defense. It's really important against a team like Alabama."

Physical was the word used most often to describe the Crimson Tide on Monday by Petrino, Harris and Dick. Whether it was to talk about the Alabama defensive front, offensive line, running backs, all said the Hogs would see a physical opponent on Saturday.

"It's a tough challenge," Petrino said. "When you look at the video, they are very physical in the front. That causes a lot of concern."

Dick said, "It's what you are always going to get from Alabama. They are very physical."

Harris added, "They have physical backs, a physical line."

The Hogs have to match that and try to force some turnovers in the process, according to Harris. He knows the Hogs have to do some things to change the way Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson has played in the first two games.

"He's a three-year starter," Harris said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence. Coach (Nick) Saban has helped his confidence. He's shown a lot of composure.

"But with any quarterback, if you can hit them in the mouth, you can rattle them, change the way he's playing. That's what we have to do, get to the quarterback."

Petrino said much the same thing.

"We have to stop the run and hit the quarterback," he said. "We have to control the ball and run it better than we have. We have to get the game to the fourth quarter. If we do that, I think our players will respond with confidence."

Petrino sees a more experienced Alabama team on the video of this year compared to what he saw last year. Asked to compare the transition with a new staff installing a new system, he said it's a matter of getting comfortable and consistent.

"Change is hard on everybody," Petrino said. "It's a different practice schedule, it's a different system, it's how you handle meetings. It's tough on a third, fourth or a fifth year guy. They are accustomed to a certain thing and then you have a different emphasis. You have to work to get them to by in to the new system. It's new for them in offense, defense and special teams. It taks awhile.

"When you watch video of Alabama, you see them react a little quicker. They recognize different schemes faster. You see that with their players this year."

If there is something good in this week for the Arkansas offense, it's that Alabama's defense looks similar in scheme to the Texas defense that they worked against to start last week.

"Will Muschamp coached with Nick Saban at LSU and you see a lot of what Texas does in the Alabama defense this week," Petrino said. "Alabama is going to pressure you -- play press on the corners, and they are going to scheme to stop the run. They are going to play bump and run with the corners.

"We have to do a good job with releases so we can take some shots down the field." Asked if the Hogs would expand the playbook this week, Petrino said it's a matter of change every week.

"We have a lot of (the playbook) in and we practice a lot of it each week," he said. "You see certain things show up from it each week that maybe you didn't see the previous weeks. What I don't like is the way our run-pass balance has been from the first two weeks. We look a little pass happy."

However, the Hogs have a better situation at running back heading into the Alabama game. Michael Smith has improved with more work. De'Anthony Curtis is healthier after sustaining a knee sprain in preseason. "I think De'Anthony looks quicker," Petrino said. "Dennis Johnson is better at what he can do. We don't know what we have with Brandon Barnett yet. One day he looks healthy, then the next he has a problem. We don't know if he is healthy enough for a game."

However, the Hogs are the closest to full strength they've been since the start of fall camp. Linebackers Elston Forte, Ryan Powers and Wendell Davis are able to help on defense and special teams. Linebacker Freddy Burton and receiver Marques Wade are back after missing the first two weeks because of suspensions. Cornerback Jerell Norton should help on both defense and on special teams.

"What you like about Norton is he's very fast, has very good speed," Petrino said. "He also has an eagerness to do what the coaches ask. He responds to coaching. He's also tough. Fast and physical is a good combination."

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