With bowl hopes dashed, what's the motivation for Arkansas as it plays host to LSU to end the college football regular season Friday in Little Rock?
It's simple, UA head coach Bobby Petrino said. There is always the competitive spirit to win in sport.
"It's really not that hard to get ready," Petrino said Monday when he met with the media. "You go and play to win the game. That's what we'll do.
"I've thought all along our guys have practiced hard and competed hard in the games. I've been impressed with their attitudes. That's how you improve.
"I don't think we'll have a hard time getting ready to play. I think this time of year -- at Thanksgiving -- we will have a lot of friends and family at the game. I think our players will be excited to play and they will give a good effort and play the game hard."
However, the Hogs will not have all of their bullets for this week. Running back Michael Smith (hamstring) and middle linebaker Wendel Davis (leg) were both injured in the 31-28 loss to Mississippi State. Petrino doesn't think either will be able to play against LSU.
In addition, Petrino said senior defensive linemen Ernest Mitchell and Antwain Robinson are both suspended for a violation of team rules. Petrino said he made the decision last week to suspend them for the final two games, but did not announce it because he didn't want to give Mississippi State any competitive advantage in their preparations.
Freshman safety Jerico Nelson, who has also played some linebacker, will be available this week. He's missed the last month because of a grade two knee ligament sprain. Nelson worked out for trainers Sunday without problems. Petrino said Nelson appeared to be no worse for wear and tear on the knee when he saw him Monday morning.
In regards to Smith's availability this week, Petrino said, "I don't expect him to play. He has a hamstring injury and those are hard to come back from."
Petrino said the news was good and bad on Davis. The coach said x-rays showed no fracture, but the leg injury still will need more time to heal. The Hogs don't have a lot of time with the shortened week of practice.
"Wendel tried to work it this morning and it was not encouraging," Petrino said.
"This is a short week," Petrino said of the Friday afternoon starting time for CBS national TV. "We've experienced that before. Our coaches were ready when we started yesterday. All the cards were hanging yesterday and we worked on the game plan last night and this morning."
The Hogs planned a short practice at 7 p.m. Monday night.
"We'll go about an hour, then we'll take off the pads and have a walk through afterwards where we go through the team portion," Petrino said. "This is like a Sunday night practice. We'll have a workout Tuesday that is like a Wednesday practice. Our Wednesday will be like a Thursday. We won't practice Thursday."
Petrino said it was hard to forget Saturday's loss at Starkville.
"Our coaches moved right into LSU yesterday, but I watched the video," he said. "Defensively, we didn't stop the run. We didn't fit our gaps and we didn't tackle. We had guys unblocked at times and we didn't make the plays. Certainly, their back is very good, but we didn't tackle. We are going to face another good big back this week against LSU."
Overall, Petrino said the lack of experience "shows up in close games. You look at the Kentucky game and there are probably seven plays that if you make one of them, you win the game. It makes a difference. We have to learn how to focus one play at a time, knowing that one play doing your assignment can make the difference."
The experience gained this year may make a difference in the future.
"What you look at, of the guys making plays for us, all of them are coming back," Petrino said. "What we know is that most of our games have been close. Of our seven losses, several have been close. Of our four victories, all have been close. What you can see is that we could easily be sitting with seven victories right now. I hope with experience, we can win the close games."
Petrino has an ache to have a power running game.
"It hurts us not to have that," he said. "We don't have that in the fourth quarter. And, that's what we are having trouble with on defense. The team that can run it in the fourth quarter has a big advantage."
The Hogs have been beat up at running back all season. Smith has battled injuries of late. DeAnthony Curtis left camp with a knee injury and has struggled to regain his quickness all season, Petrino said. Dennis Johnson has battled an "injury to his AC (shoulder) joint" of late. Brandon Barnett was bothered by a sore knee in fall camp.
"I think we are getting better there," he said. "All three of those are in the pecking order with Michael out this week. They are all progressing.
"I thought Brandon gave us some things between the tackles the last couple of games. He's still learning his assignments, though.
"Certainly, none of those are as good as Michael. He gives you a comfort level in your play calling. You have a lot more things you can do. You can open up the playbook with Michael. He gives you some toughness that you don't have with the others. I have the ultimate respect for Michael. It's not just with the running game. You can use him in the passing game. He knows his assignments. With the others, you have to worry about their strengths and weaknesses when you make the calls."
Petrino said Nathan Dick would start again at quarterback after a solid game against Mississippi State.
"Nathan did a good job," Petrino said. "He did what he was coached to do. He had a nice start and made some nice plays at the end of the game. They ran some blitzes that bogged us down in the second and third quarter.
"I like what he brought as far as leadership. He had an excitement and energy. And, he showed an ability to run the ball, something I thought he might be able to do. He showed he was difficult to tackle. I was happy with his performance."
Petrino liked the way both Nathan and brother Casey Dick competed for the job. He said he probably knew earlier in the week that it would Nathan starting, but didn't want to give the opponent that news.
"We wanted to keep that from them," he said. "I thought Casey did a nice job. It was clear that they both helped each other. They both tested better (in their late week written test on the game plan) than earlier this year. Casey supported Nathan. You could see that he cared for him as his brother. By the same token, I know Casey wanted to play. He and I talked about it late in the week. I wanted to get him in, but the way the game started it wasn't working. I didn't want to take Nathan out with the way he started the game."
Petrino said he is hopeful that both will play this week against LSU, but game developments will determine that.
"If the opportunity comes up, we will definitely play Casey," Petrino said. "I know it's hard on him. At the same respect, he was cheering for Nathan."
Defensively, Petrino said the Hogs would cover tackling points again this week, but there isn't time to do any heavy hitting like the previous two weeks when there was an open date.
"You focus on the fundamentals," he said. "You have to bring your feet with you. You can't lunge or tackle low. You have to tackle high and run through them. When you tackle high, it allows others to get there.
"What I know is that when we get bigger, faster and stronger, we'll tackle better.
"On the long touchdown run we gave up, the anlges were wrong from the secondary."
It's obvious the Hogs miss freshmen Elton Ford (broken neck) and Nelson (knee) over the last few weeks. The depth has been severely reduced at safety with their injuries.
"It will be good to possibly get Jerico back," Petrino said. "He worked full speed last week and his change of direction was good yesterday. We'll see how he is this week."
Obviously, the depth will be stretched on the defensive front without Mitchell and Robinson.
"That was something we knew about last week, but I have a hard time talking about the ones who aren't going to play," he said. "I don't like drawing attention to those who have done things wrong. And, I don't want to draw attention to something for our opponent."
Petrino praised wide receiver Lucas Miller for a 10-catch, 201-yard day at Starkville.
"I think you could see that Nathan was very comfortable with Lucas," he said. "They tried to blitz us and get the quarterback out of his comfort zone and see that Lucas was put in one-on-one matchups. He was winning them and Nathan has a good feel for Lucas."
Petrino: Plenty of Motivation
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