Petrino: Getting There

University of Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino and his players talk about improvement they've made and how much more they have to make as the Razorbacks head into a SEC game with Auburn on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Perhaps University of Arkansas sophomore tight end D.J. Williams had the quote Monday putting forth a sentiment that most Razorback fans have been looking forward to during their team's three-game losing streak.

"I think it is at the point now that we don't want to lose anymore," Williams said. "After losing so many times, it starts to turn into a little bit of an embarrassment thing, a pride thing and taking a dagger to the heart. I think that is going to overwhelm us too much and we are just going to get that ball into the end zone because we don't like this feeling that we are experiencing."

Williams was one of four players that joined UA head coach Bobby Petrino on Monday in assessing a 38-7 loss to Florida and looking ahead to Saturday's 4 p.m. game at Auburn.

After taking two whippings at the hands of Alabama (49-14) and Texas (52-10), the Razorbacks trailed just 17-7 against Florida entering the fourth quarter of what turned into a 38-7 loss.

"I think we're holding up all right," Petrino said. "I think that we had long discussions and the team did a great job after the Texas game. I think that we had our best week of practice last week in terms of effort, energy and attitude. I feel like yesterday (Sunday) the players came out and watched the video, understood that we were close, had a chance to be in it, to win. It was not something where it was, sometimes, you get after games and you're watching video it's all real hard, there's not good things to see. But there was a lot of good things to see on the video. We have to build from the positives and learn from the negatives."

Williams said he also knew things were going to be different because of his team's attitude in practice leading up to the Florida game.

"I would say that it started in practice," Williams said. "We came out and you are able to tell in that first day of practice if everybody is going to be moping around or talking about ‘let's wait until next year.' But we came out excited, ready to play, everybody was watching film on Florida and we came out prepared to win. That's what we wanted to do. We weren't coming out to say ‘let's only lose by 10 this time' or anything like that. We came out wanting to win and the crazy thing about that is we really do feel like we would have won that game if we would have took care of many errors on our part."

Coach Petrino noted that he didn't want anyone to think he was satisfied with just getting better – while losing.

"I don't want to get overexcited about it because we still lost the game," Petrino said. "But I think it shows that if you come out and prepare, work hard, you go to practice with a good attitude, than you can get yourself in position to win the game. The number one thing I was happy with was how hard they all competed, how much improvement we made in that aspect."

He noted that the biggest focus for the offense now has to be getting the ball into the end zone and the defense has to finish.

"Watching the video, there was certainly improvement from the week before," Petrino said. "We were executing on offense until about the 30-yard line, but then couldn't get the ball in the end zone. Because of the wind, didn't try field goals.

"Defensively in the first half, with the exception of one drive, we played well," Petrino said. "We were running to the ball. We were gang tackling. We got pressure on (Florida quarterback Tim) Tebow and did a nice job defensively of keeping us in the game. The offense just needs to score points when you drive the ball.

"I liked the way we came out of halftime offensively and executed the script that the coaches did at halftime and went right down and scored," Petrino added. "Got to 17-7. Got a turnover. That was our opportunity to really change the game and then we didn't convert on a screen pass on third-and-5. They went and scored, we came right back and drove the ball to the 11 and got the field goal blocked. After that I didn't feel like we played real well."

In fact, defensive end Adrian Davis said he saw some of his team – who clearly thought they were in it in the third quarter - essentially gave up when Florida hit a couple of big plays.

"I think in the third quarter, we still were in the game, still had a chance and still thought we were going to win the game," Davis said. "I think in the fourth quarter some people felt we couldn't win the game so they just put their heads down and didn't finish the game strong.

"I could just sense it, people walking around with their heads down like they were disappointed," Davis said. "You could just tell that on the sidelines.

"…We've got to finish stronger in the fourth quarter because you never know, things can happen in the fourth quarter. We've just got to finish stronger."

On the injury front, Petrino said that cornerback Jerell Norton will be out for several games and reserve offensive lineman Michael Aguirre will also definitely miss at least the Auburn game.

Norton has battled hamstring and hernia issues during the offseason and early part of the season.

"It's not a good deal," Petrino said. "He battled a hamstring injury in the spring and had an operation. And then just when we thought he was coming back from that, he had the normal hernia operation. Then this (hamstring injury) came up again. It's probably going to be awhile. I'm not sure how connected the three of them are. He was doing real well. It's a shame. I liked the way he was playing. I liked the energy that he gives us. But it's not a good injury."

Aguirre, starting for Ray Dominguez who had gone home to be with his ailing grandma, lasted all of one play on Saturday.

"It's both an ankle and a knee, a sprained ankle," Petrino said. "The whole pile fell on him and got both of them on the very first play."

Redshirt freshmen Grant Cook was already starting for the injured DeMarcus Love and then redshirt freshmen Grant Freeman found himself in for Aguirre.

"They did a nice job," Petrino said. "Cook really played physical. He did a nice job in pass protection. He did a nice job in the run game. Freeman really battled. He didn't think he would be in there. After the first play, bang, he's right in there. He really battled. I got a lot of respect for how hard he played, how hard he worked at his technique during the game. He got better as the game went on. i think our players really got a lot of respect for his toughness and his ability to stay in there and battle."

Cook is slated to start again at guard while Dominguez – who made it back Sunday night – and Freeman will battle for time at tackle.

"Cook played well and I anticipate him having a good week of practice and being the starter there," Petrino said. "But that's still yet to be seen. Aguirre is going to be down for a little bit with his injury. Whether that's one week, two weeks or three weeks, I'm not sure yet. But you just have to wait and see how quickly he can come back from it. and then we'll have to wait and see who starts at that weak tackle spot. Dominguez will be back. He got back in town late last night. Him and freeman will kind of battle it out in practice."

While Petrino is happy to have another couple of linemen to count on, he is not happy how it came about.

"Competition is always good," Petrino said. "You'd like to really have everybody healthy. And have the competition while they're all healthy and get your shot because of injury. Sometimes that's how you do get your shot and how you learn how to step up and play. I was pleased with the way both of those guys played. They allowed us to keep running the ball and protect the quarterback and battle. it certainly wasn't something where we limited what we were doing offensively because of the injury to Aguirre. We didn't have to do that at all."

While Petrino noted that true freshmen tailback De'Anthony Curtis should be fully healthy for the first time this season this week, he also lauded Michael Smith and how he has been able to handle the load at that spot to this point.

He'll continue to return punts with Norton out.

"He is handling it well," Petrino said. "I tell you what he's doing, he's doing a great job of taking care of his body. He's in every morning at 6 getting in the cold tubs, getting extra stretching in, doing a real nice job after practice. It's been real important to him to make sure he's doing everything possible to keep his body in great shape and his legs fresh. You wouldn't believe how much he's put into doing that."

Petrino praised the work that true freshmen wideout Joe Adams and kick returner Dennis Johnson are doing.

He also noted that linebacker Wendel Davis, who led the way with 11 tackles on Saturday, had really helped shore up the linebacking play along with Jerry Franklin.

"The two of them played pretty well," Petrino said. "Jerry Franklin probably had his best game. His speed at that area and being covered up by a defensive tackle helps him utilize his speed. Wendel really ran around and made a lot of real good tackles and showed his physicalness. The combination of the two of them were a little faster and more physical. So to me, it's a good combination."

Asked about Auburn – where he once served under Tommy Tuberville – Petrino knows what is coming.

"It's always going to be very good on defense," Petrino said. "He spends a lot of time on that and special teams. We have to be on the top of our game special team wise. They've always been excellent there. We've got tobe alert on some fakes. He's always had fake field goals, fake punts, so we have to be alert to that. But they're playing very good defense. They have a very physical, very fast defensive football team."

Auburn has had some struggles on the offensive side of the ball as they tried to switch from a run-oriented squad to a more pass-happy one.

"We've watched a lot of their offense," Petrino said. "We might see that version they pulled out in the first quarter and a half the other night (against Vanderbilt) where they run the ball and they have the big, physical offensive front running the football. Any time you change schemes, there's an adjustment period. A lot of it is the quarterback play. You kind of go as your quarterback play is."

Petrino said he has good memories of Auburn.

"I enjoyed it there," Petrino said. "It was a good place to have your family. Small college town, very similar to Fayetteville. Real good people. Big, loud, obnoxious crowds on game day. It was part of SEC football. So I certainly had a great time there."

Petrino simplied his own offense some last week.

"I think last week's adjustment was something we've got to try to carry over," Petrino said. "That's be patient and keep running the ball. try to get to third and medium, third and short, convert third downs, keep our defense off the field as much as possible. If we could've just scored points when we got down close to the 30 we would've had a better chance at executing that plan. it stays pretty much the same. You're going to have to take some shots. Usually what happens in a game when it's close and tight is big plays make the difference. That was the one thing we couldn't get the other day was, when we did call for some big shots or a chance to get some big plays they never came through. Either protection problem or didn't complete the pass or something happened."

He expects a hostile crowd at Auburn.

"Every game they've played has been real close," Petrino said. "They could easily be 4-0. They could easily be 0-4. They're 2-2 in conference play. Hopefully we're right there in the fourth quarter and it's a real close game. But it's going to be a loud, probably the loudest game that we've played this year on the road. I think that stadium is a lot louder than Texas."


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