Hogs Ready For Prime Time

FAYETTEVILLE — Workers finished laying the synthetic turf inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium weeks ago. The ribbon boards lining the east and west sides of the stadium were installed days ago.

Everything has been completed in time for Arkansas to appear on national TV and play a game that its coaches and players see as possibly a major step forward for the football program.

The Razorbacks are ready for prime time.

For the past eight months, Arkansas' players have looked to tonight's game against No. 23 Georgia as an opportunity to gauge whether they can be a darkhorse in the Southeastern Conference race.

It fueled them during their offseason conditioning program. It pushed them during preseason camp. And now that the day has finally arrived, the Hogs are confident that they can take the next step under second-year coach Bobby Petrino by knocking off the Bulldogs on ESPN. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:45 p.m.

"We need this win. We need to beat Georgia, No. 1. We need to beat a ranked team," Arkansas defensive tackle Zach Stadther said. "We need to come together as a team. I think this game is going to bring us together as a team if we win this game. Well, I'm pretty sure we will this game since we're prepared."

Said Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett: "We don't look at ourselves as an underdog. We go in the same way, that's to win the football game."

While the Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0 SEC) have struggled in their first two games of the season, the Razorbacks (1-0) can't afford a misstep today if they hope to have a better-than-average season in 2009.

Arkansas has the nation's toughest schedule, and as soon as Petrino is done with Georgia, he and his coach staff will turn their attention to next week's game at fourth-ranked Alabama.

Razorback players acknowledged that beating Georgia and opening the season 2-0 would give them a major confidence boost heading into a brutal five-week stretch that includes road games at top-ranked Florida and at No. 5 Ole Miss.

"We got a really tough schedule this year, so we got to get some momentum going because we face a lot of good teams," Arkansas offensive guard Mitch Petrus said. "... This is the game to start it off and kind of get us rolling. That's crucial for the rest of our season."

Especially since Petrino has bigger aspirations than simply making a bowl game in his second season at Arkansas. He's already hated in Georgia for his brief tenure as the Atlanta Falcons coach, but he wouldn't mind returning as an unexpected participant in the SEC Championship Game.

"This is a good game for us because it's our first conference game at home, and for us to win a championship we have to win all of our home games," Petrino said. "So this is a game we've been looking forward to."

The Razorbacks are a one-point favorite for tonight's game, even though their only win came in a 48-10 rout of Missouri State on Sept. 5. Players feel refreshed after last week's bye, and they have a swagger about them heading into their first game against Georgia since a 23-20 loss in 2005.

It doesn't matter that Georgia coach Mark Richt has a career record of 24-4 in SEC road games. Or that the Bulldogs come in already battle-tested after a season-opening loss at then-No. 9 Oklahoma State followed by a 41-37 win over South Carolina.

"They didn't do nothing special to South Carolina. They didn't do nothing against Oklahoma State," Arkansas cornerback Ramon Broadway said. "You know, anybody can be beat. So like I said, they got to come in and show they're better than us."

Said Richt: "We're going to take their very best shot. Hopefully, we've got enough juice to do it."

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