Petrino said Smith, who suffered a concussion at Kentucky, practiced for the second straight day Thursday. Petrino said he was encouraged by the junior's performance, which included roughly 65 percent of the repetitions.
"He will (start) unless something happens in the next 24 hours," Petrino said. "Everything went real well (Wednesday). He worked for 45 minutes individual drills and conditioning. No side effects from that. He felt great this morning when he got up, came out here and practiced and unless there's a turnaround, I would expect he's ready to go."
That would be good news for Arkansas, which has leaned on Smith to power the offense the past few weeks. He leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards a game (131.8) and all-purpose yards (180.8). Smith carried the ball 70 times against Auburn and Kentucky, but had to leave last week's game in the fourth quarter after a big hit.
Petrino said having Smith on the field against Ole Miss would be big for the offense, but he doesn't want to rely on him Saturday. He's hoping freshmen running backs De'Anthony Curtis and Dennis Johnson will become more involved and believes their play will be critical to the Razorbacks' success.
"If (Smith is) not (available), then somebody else has to step up and do it," Petrino said. "We have to get plays from other people. We have to get our tight ends back involved in the game. We have to get our wide receivers involved."
Goal to Go
Arkansas' offense struggled at Kentucky and one of the biggest problems was near the goal line.
The Razorbacks had first-and-goal four different times against Kentucky, but crossed the goal line only once. They settled for two field goals and lost a fumble in the first quarter. Petrino said the performance is proof the Razorbacks must improve whenever they're in goal-line situations Saturday.
"We're continuing to work on it," he said. "I think our line and our blocking has really improved. Our pad level and ability to get some push and hold up inside against the big guys inside. But what you want is 100 percent success in goal line offense."
One obvious struggle is the fact the Razorbacks don't have a goal line back. Smith is just 5-foot-7, 173-pound, but Petrino said Arkansas must make do with the personnel is has in goal line situations.
"Ideally, you'd like to have a 240 pound running back there," Petrino said. "But we don't have that on our roster right now. So we're just trying to give him opportunities to find creases."
Former Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, who now plays for the Oakland Raiders, was close to former coach Houston Nutt. So with Nutt bringing Ole Miss to Arkansas, who will the Razorbacks' all-time leading rusher be rooting for Saturday?
"Gotta root for the home team," McFadden told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Coach Nutt's a good guy. I love him. But you gotta root for the home team."
McFadden was also asked how he thinks Arkansas fans will embrace Nutt. He said "some may have a welcome back hand for him, some of them may just look at it as another game."
Petrino said Arkansas will have its eyes peeled for Ole Miss junior Dexter McCluster, who has been dangerous in a variety of ways this season.
McCluster is fifth in the SEC in receiving yards a game (61.7). He's also averaging 34.7 rushing yards and has led the Rebels in rushing the past two games thanks to the Wild Rebel formation.
"We have to know where he's lined up," Petrino said. "We have to know what he's doing when he goes in motion. We also have to do a great job with our eyes when he goes in motion where our linebackers focus on the run blocking and the running backs. A lot of times they'll put him in motion just to try to distract linebackers.
"That's something we've worked extremely hard on is discipline with our linebackers and their eyes and letting the secondary handle the motion part of it."
Petrino said quarterbacks Nathan Dick and Alex Mortensen have worked with the second-team offense all week. The two will fill in for freshman Tyler Wilson, who has been sidelined indefinitely with mononucleosis. ... Petrino said senior Ernest Mitchell is back to full speed and will get some work at nose guard Saturday. Mitchell has missed the past three games after undergoing knee surgery. ... Petrino said cornerback Jamar Love, who has missed time with a broken thumb, will dress out for Saturday's game but his availability is unknown.
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