Razorbacks Show Off Improvement

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas spent most of the preseason promising it was going to be a much improved football team.

The Razorbacks said there is more depth. More Southeastern Conference-caliber talent. More experience. And they couldn't wait for the season opener for their first chance to prove it.

Arkansas backed up everything it had been saying — for at least one night — in Saturday's 48-10 win against Missouri State. A year after nearly losing to Western Illinois in the 2008 opener, the Hogs had no trouble battering the Bears in Little Rock.

"We came down here and did what we were supposed to do," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "We were supposed to execute and win the game and we did that.

"We're a much more mature football team than we were a year ago and it showed up in the game."

Progress was evident from the very start, when running back Dennis Johnson returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. It came a year after the Razorbacks lost a fumble on the opening kickoff against Western Illinois. But that wasn't all.

Arkansas' defense — which went three games before notching its first forced turnover a year ago — collected one on the sixth play from scrimmage Saturday, when linebacker Wendel Davis intercepted former Rogers High standout Cody Kirby's pass. It was part of a night in which the Razorbacks surrendered 205 yards and forced two turnovers.

Arkansas surrendered 10 points. The last time that happened was in a 58-10 win against Florida International in 2007.

"I wish we would've shut them out, honestly, but I'm happy with the win and happy with the way we played on defense," Davis said. "I think everybody on the team is really hungry.

"Everybody wants to go out there and make plays."

That was pretty obvious on offense, where quarterbacks Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson, combined to set a school record for passing yards in a game (447). The offensive line that surrendered sacks all last season, didn't allow one Saturday and it allowed a variety of weapons to get involved in the game.

Seven different running backs carried the ball. Thirteen different players caught a pass. Six Razorbacks scored touchdowns.

"We came out just like we had been talking about all summer, very dynamic, and how we were going to get the ball to different people," said running back Michael Smith, who scored on a 15-yard touchdown run. "We had running backs, fullback, receivers scoring. Ryan and Tyler were throwing the ball all over the place."

Not everything was perfect, though.

Offensively, the Razorbacks struggled in several short-yardage situations. The defense had some trouble tackling MSU players on its touchdown drive. And then there were the kickoffs that sailed out of bounds, giving the Bears easy field position.

But the Razorbacks will have an opportunity to iron out their problems. Arkansas next plays Georgia on Sept. 19.

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said having two weeks to prepare for the Bulldogs is important. Smith said the Hogs would prefer to play Saturday, but will make the most out of the time.

"We want to get on a roll and we want to play," Smith said. "But we have (the open date). So we're going to take this time to prepare, make sure we fine-tune everything so that we can go out there and be the most ready that we can be come Georgia."

Yes, the Razorbacks were looking forward to the opener because it was an opportunity to unveil their improvements.

But it's no secret there's even more anticipation brewing for the SEC opener against the Bulldogs. That's when Arkansas will get the chance to really show its progress.

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