Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said the "wheels fell off" in the fourth quarter leading to a 21-20 loss Saturday at Kentucky. He quickly added, "It's my responsibility."
Arkansas led 17-0 in the third quarter and by 20-7 with around five minutes to play, but fell apart after a lost fumble late in the game. Kentucky scored two quick touchdowns to avert an upset at the hands of the visiting Razorbacks.
"It was a hard game to think you lost," Petrino said at his media briefing Monday. "Over the last two days, when you start to think about a play where you could have done something different, there were a million of those type of plays. There was not a lot of sleep the last two nights.
"When you start to grade the film, you saw you played extremely hard and did some things really well -- until the wheels fell off. When you are looking (at the video), it's hard to see where you could lose the game. It's my responsibility for what happened."
Petrino said he had good feelings about the "way our team prepared, competed and how hard they played. We just have to learn and grow from giving a game away."
The big question Monday concerned the health of running back Michael Smith. The junior from Tallahassee, Fla., has been the catalyst in an offensive surge from the Hogs the last two weeks. However, he was not available for most of the fourth quarter after sustaining a concussion.
"He's doing better," Petrino said. "He improved Saturday night. He was better Sunday and he was better this morning."
Smith will be evaluated by medical staff on Tuesday to decide whether or not he can practice.
"Whether or not he can practice will determine whether or not he can play," Petrino said. "But I'm optimistic because of the significant improvement. He'll have a couple of tests to determine whether or not he's ready to practice."
Regardless, Petrino said running backs De'Anthony Curtis and Dennis Johnson, both freshmen, will see more carries against Ole Miss this week.
"We've wanted to do that the last two or three weeks," Petrino said. "We've talked about it. We know we need to. We are going to have to force it and make it happen.
"We've got to run harder and take care of the ball better."
Both Curtis and Johnson have lost fumbles in the last two weeks. Johnson fumbled away a kickoff return against Auburn. Curtis lost a fumble late in the Kentucky game that served as the momentum switch for the Wildcats.
"We have to lift De'Anthony up," Petrino said. "He needs to understand he'll get more carries in this game. There has never been a back to ever play who hasn't fumbled. The best way to recover is to hand him the ball again. What also needs to happen, we need to help him. We should have blocked the linebacker on that play."
Getting the young backs ready in practice will just be part of the focus for the offense. The passing game will get a lot of work after not making it to 100 yards for the first time this season.
"We want to see improvement in the passing game," Petrino said. "We want more precision. We want better timing."
Petrino said quarterback Casey Dick needs to do a better job of setting his feet, shoulders and stepping into throws to beat tight coverages. He said when accuracy slips it's usually a problem with footwork.
"You have to trust the protection," Petrino said. "Sometimes when you should be looking down the field, you see flashes and your eyes drop. But I can't take anything away from Casey. He competed extremely hard. He had to be a willing runner at times and he made some big plays running that gave us a chance to win the game.
"I'm just not happy with the way we are throwing it. We can do a much better job.
"We are not always going to be wide open. First, our receivers have to get off the line. Our receivers have to do a better job of extending their hands and catching the ball, too."
The struggles in the passing game came into play when Petrino was calling plays late in the game.
"Sometimes you are more aggressive than we were," Petrino said. "In the fourth quarter, when you look at what is happening, we were not throwing and catching real well. We decided to try to work the clock."
Petrino said the Hogs were missing one of their key weapons in the passing game.
"D. J. Williams wasn't running full speed," Petrino said. "He was hobbling around. But, no question, we can do a better job.
Defensively, the Hogs got caught with some communication problems at the end of the game. Defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard said after the game and again Monday that the players were confused over which assistant coach was sending in the plays on the final Kentucky touchdown drive. Petrino disagreed, slightly.
"It wasn't a problem with getting the defensive play, it was an understanding of what personnel group was in the game," Petrino said. "We were calling for our nickel personnel group. The wrong players came off the field and the wrong ones were in the game. That was the problem."
Petrino knows it might be tough to rekindle fire this week after seeing what appeared to be a victory turn into a tough loss.
"We need to do a good job of staying fresh, mentally and physically," Petrino said. "We always cut back in practice at this point in the season. We won't put in a lot of brand new stuff. We will try to get our players fresh. That's a challenge."
However, there is at least one positive in that regard. There is plenty of emotion among fans for this week's game against Ole Miss and former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt and several former UA assistant coaches.
"Playing Ole Miss this week may help us in some ways," Petrino said. "What we will focus on is the same thing we've focused on every week -- competing for a victory. That's where I've seen improvement, progress. We have competed for a victory the last two weeks."
Petrino said he's visited with Nutt briefly at SEC functions.
"We've talked," he said. "Coaches always talk at those meetings. I have nothing against Houston Nutt. He was here 10 years and did a great job. He's a well-respected coach."
Perhaps, but Petrino knows that Arkansas fans want to win this game badly.
"Our fans want to beat 'em," he said. "That's a fact. We certainly want to prepare well for this game. We don't want to downplay it.
"I understand the buildup for this game from our fans. But as we watch video, our preparation is not about who is coaching the other team. It's about our team against their team. You take the coaches out of that. Now I understand it's easier for me to say that than for others."
For the Hogs to do well, they know they have to be more productive on the goal line.
"We've not done well in that area," Petrino said of goal-to-goal situations. "You want to be 100 percent there and we have not done that. We turned it over on the 1-yard line and we had a touchdown called back by a penalty.
"One of the biggest things, you are not going to get every single guy blocked on the goal line. A linebacker or a safety has a way of coming free. The back just has to get it in the end zone. I think our line and our blocking has improved. Pad level has improved.
"On the goal line, ideally you'd like a 240-pound running back. But we don't have one on the roster. Our backs have to find that crease. We had a couple of opportunities to do that and of course we turned it over."
The Hogs were plagued by illegal shift or illegal formation penalties against Kentucky.
"One of them was a bad call and a couple of the others could have gone either way," Petrino said. "The one when it was 20-14, was just a bad call. We had an unbalanced line and they didn't see it.
"The one on Casey's touchdown, our receiver got out there and he said the official said he wasn't on the line. He switched his feet just before the snap. The split end will tell the official, 'I'm on the line,' and the receiver raises his hand to signal whether he is or not. They were telling us we were a couple of inches off some."
Whether or not Houston Nutt's presence on the other sideline will be a distraction was a topic for the Arkansas players at Monday's media session.
"We know he's there," center Jonathan Luigs said. "But once they put the ball down, you don't play the coaches. The attitude from the players is we are playing the Ole Miss Rebels."
Luigs was asked if he had talked with Nutt or former UA line coach Mike Markuson recently.
"We haven't," he said. "We've both been so busy. They are worrying about their team and we are worrying about our team. I appreciate what they have done for me. I'll wait to talk to them after the game. We'll cross paths I'm sure and there will be congratulations given."
Sheppard said he knows Arkansas fans "hate" Nutt and perhaps his assistants.
"Coach Nutt gave me a shot when no one else did," Sheppard said. "So I appreciate that. But to play against him is not that hard. We are playing Ole Miss, not coaches.
"Coach (Tracy) Rocker and Coach (Chris) Vaughn gave me a shot when no one else did.
"Obviously, our fans didn't like Coach Nutt. I'm sure we will hear boos. As a player, you don't get caught up in that. That's entertainment."
Bobby Petrino: Loss My Responsibility
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