LITTLE ROCK - As if there was any more evidence needed that University of Arkansas football fans are excited about the opening of the season, the Little Rock Touchdown Club offered up another exhibit on Monday.
Razorback head coach Bobby Petrino spoke to a LRTC record of around 650 fans at a luncheon at Embassy Suites.
His team will host Missouri State on Saturday night at 6 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium – the site of his team's 31-30 win over LSU in its final game in 2008.
"The atmosphere is unbelievable," Petrino said during a media opportunity before his speech. "From the minute we leave here and get on the bus and head toward the stadium, the crowd that is in the street, the crowd that is on the golf course, get off the bus and go to the locker room, the atmosphere is as good as there is.
"I really feel like because of the crowd and because of the noise, it is certainly a homefield advantage. It is kind of interesting that we ended the season here last year on a great note and we are starting here this year. It's fun for us."
Petrino's appearance was the start of a week of festivities in Central Arkansas being billed as RazorRock and culminating with the season opener.
"There is a lot of excitement and a lot of optimism," Petrino said. "A lot of times it is that way everywhere, but I think that thing that is unique about this year is that everyone anticipates us to be a lot better. We are going to have a quarterback. We played 16 true freshman last year and 9 redshirt freshmen and we are building a team. I like the foundation that we've set and I think that will help us a lot and how quickly we build the other floors is yet to be seen."
Petrino did not downplay how good he thought his team could be this season.
"We have a chance to be a very good football team, maybe a special team," Petrino said. "There is much better team chemistry. We've got players who will demand from each other, who are accountable to each other.
"...We'll play with passion and enthusiasm," Petrino said. "But we have to play with discipline. Discipline aligns our passion with purpose and allows us to do things right every play. We'll know our alignment and assignment every play."
Petrino even talked about the possibility of winning a national championship in his time at Arkansas.
We have a fan base that is crazy about football," Petrino said. "I see the passion and the pride as I travel around the state to these speaking engagements. We have the facilities we need to recruit and develop players.
"Our No. 1 job in recruiting," Petrino added. "We have to get them on campus. If we can get a recruit on campus, we have as good a chance of getting them as anybody."
Petrino detailed his background, how his work ethic was established and how that is now being instilled in his players.
"I grew up knowing football and knowing you have to work hard and take care of yourself," Petrino said. "I really try and instill that in my players. I expect them to get up each morning, go to class, do the right things outside of football, and when they don't, they get in better conditioning."
As soon as he was done, Petrino hopped a plane back to Fayetteville for a Monday night practice.
"I feel like our team is in good shape," Petrino said. "Physically we are healthy, mentally we are all fired up about approaching the work week. It is game time and I think we have got a lot of work to do this week in our preparation, but our players understand the routine and it is not brand new to everybody like it was a year ago."
"I expect us to come down here and play well and execute, fly around on defense."
Petrino noted that he was happy with what he saw from the defense in a closed scrimmage on Friday night.
"We had a mock game, basically a scrimmage last Friday night," Petrino said. "Our defense was much improved in that. They really worked hard. They really ran full speed to the ball, tackled well and it was very competitive. That is what you want out of a scrimmage. You want it competitive where both sides of the ball are making plays."
There were no injuries to speak of out of the Friday night scrimmage per Petrino.
"We came out healthy," Petrino said. "Unfortunately we had those injuries early and those guys are done for the year. But we came out Friday and got a couple of nicks, but nothing that would set anybody back."
As for the opener, Petrino has some goals.
"We have a lot of concerns, but I think what I want to see is to really just execute and do things the way you are supposed to do them," Petrino said.
"Offensively, get on the field and be able to run the ball and throw it," Petrino added. "We have to make some big plays and we should be able to do that. We have to take care of the football and not have any unforced errors, not any five-yard penalties for jumping off too early and really take care of our business that way."
"Defensively, what I am really looking at is effort," Petrino said. "I would be happy if we came out in the game and all 11 guys on every play, played with great effort and play full speed to the football because really, if you do that as a defense, you are going to play good defense."
He was asked about splitting up time at quarterback between first-teamer Ryan Mallett and reserve signal caller Tyler Wilson.
"Ryan is going to start," Petrino said. "I do want to get Tyler in the game. I haven't decided yet if that means he will come in the first series of the second quarter or not. He does need to play. He's earned that and has done a nice job last spring and all throughout camp. He will play and when I decide when that is has yet to be seen. I think I want to see how practice goes and what our coaches feel. They do know that I want to play him, but I do want to get their opinion on it, too."
Getting the center exchange had been a problem holding Wilson back.
"But he's improved on that," Petrino said. "The thing that Tyler has really improved on has been being able to be under center, being able to get to the mesh point and hand the ball to the running backs the way you are supposed to. That is one big thing for him to keep improving on because the guy can really throw the football, has great instincts and a quick release."
Arkansas has a plethora of running backs this season, but does not have any redshirt plans for any of them at the moment per Petrino.
"We had a big meeting last night and the term redshirt when we talked about running backs never came up," Petrino said. "We like the group that we have. There will be a lot of competition for carries and I think it will be a thing where a guy gets hot and gets the ball a lot. Maybe next week, another guy gets hot and he gets the ball a lot."
"It could end up being a real strength of our team - to be able to stay fresh," Petrino said. "We have some talent, we have some bigger talent that are big and fast."
Arkansas also has plenty of depth at the wideout spot and Petrino noted Joe Adams injury had healed and he would be good to go for practice this week.
"He should be 100 percent today at practice," Petrino said. "He probably could have went Friday night, but since he didn't work during the week, we didn't let him go. He did come out and go through some warm-ups, ran some routes and caught the ball so he should be 100 percent by today."
Adams joins Greg Childs, London Crawford, Jarius Wright, Carlton Salters true freshman Cobi Hamilton and Reggie Fish to form a deep receiving crew that will be bolster when the injured Lucas Miller returns.
"We have great competition at receiver," Petrino said. "One thing at receiver is that you have to stay fresh."
As for who might redshirt, Petrino said that is coming into focus, but would be an ongoing process.
"We are getting closer, but we still have some guys that are right on the bubble whether it's will they play or will they redshirt," Petrino said.
"There will be some guys that will start out in a back-up role and if it is available to stay that way all year and hold onto their redshirts, sometimes that is a real nice thing to do," Petrino added. "They will prepare each week to play if they are needed to play because of injury, they could step right in and go. We will have a number of guys like that."
One of the questions during the luncheon was if kicker Alex Tejada was going to have a good season.
"Alex did a nice job (Friday in the scrimmage)," Petrino said. "He's had a good fall. He has had a couple of days where he struggled a little bit, but I really like the way Coach Smith has handled him. It is all about confidence and all about staying with the same routine, the same swing and not trying to adjust in middle of it. He needs to come down here Friday and get in some good kicks before the game like we did before the LSU game.
"He will work on Friday (at War Memorial)," Petrino added. "It is a little different surface than we have up there so it is important that he does that and he has to have a good game. I think that is important for him to come out and kick the ball well. He's done that. He's kicked off real well and I think he has improved tremendously on that."
While temperatures are scheduled to be unseasonably cool this week in Fayetteville, Petrino isn't worried about his team's conditioning.
"The good thing is that last week in practice it was hot," Petrino said. "It was around 94 and 95 all three days we practiced and a little hotter on the turf. That was good for us. We were talking about it how a year ago all through camp, it was real cool and then the very first week, game week, it got real hot and guys kind of melted that week in practice. I think we had to cut practice back a little bit. But with the temperature this week, we'll be full go in practice and have our guys fresh."
"That's the one thing you always try to balance out – be in great condition and have fresh legs," Petrino added.
O o o
Petrino noted that Ramon Broadway will start at one cornerback and Rudell Crim at the other.
He had plans to meet with Broadway, who was arrested Sunday for failure to pay a ticket for not having proof of insurance.
"We'll sit down and talk a little bit," Petrino said. "He needs to learn that you need to have proof of insurance and you have to pay your bills when you get a bill.
"That's always a hard one there when you get a young man who is picked up and arrested for not paying a traffic ticket," Petrino added. "But we have got make sure we do a better job with our guys of understanding that is their responsibility, not their parents."
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