Preparing For No. 1

With two consecutive wins over unbeaten teams in hits pocket, University of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino talks Monday about his Razorbacks (3-2, 1-2) preparing for the nation's top-ranked team in Florida (5-0, 3-0).

It's not often that you get a shot at a former Heisman Trophy winner, the defending national champion, the top-ranked team in the country and the nation's best defense all rolled up into one.

But the University of Arkansas has all that in front of it on Saturday when the Razorbacks (3-2, 1-2) travel to face celebrated quarterback Tim Tebow and No. 1 Gators (5-0, 3-0) at 2:30 p.m. on CBS in a place dubbed "The Swamp."

"You don't have to work a lot on motivation for this game," Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said Monday. "Our guys will be ready. They know what's at stake. It's a great opportunity to go play at their stadium, play another game on national TV, and show that we're a better football team (than a 35-7 loss at No. 2 Alabama). That's the motivation."

The fact that Arkansas has won its last two games over a pair of unbeaten foes in Texas A&M and Auburn by the combined score of 93-42 doesn't hurt the morale – which certainly took a hit after the nationally televised disappointing effort at Alabama.

"I think our confidence is better," Petrino said. "We've had two good games back-to-back. We've seen ourselves perform well on video. We went out and played extremely well in three phases.

"It will be the challenge to really believe, everybody in the building, everybody that gets on the plane, believe that we can go win the game," Petrino added. "Then play with our technique and play with our fundamentals and match their speed. I think that will be the key to the game."

Ironically, Arkansas will be playing its fourth straight unbeaten team when it matches up against Florida, which won at No. 4 LSU 10-3 on Saturday night.

The Gators defense is tops in the country in total defense (202.6 yards), pass defense (115.2 yards), least yards allowed per play (3.4) and scoring defense (6.4 points).

"They're good, they're fast, they're big (and) they play a lot of different guys," Petrino said. " They basically have two-deep across the board that get in and play and participate.

"We're going to have to do a good job of blocking the front and be patient," Petrino added. "I thought there was some things that Tennessee did real good (in a 23-13 loss at Florida) with being patient and running the ball and taking four yards, five yard gains and not getting behind the sticks.

"What they've done so well and this year is they create negative plays," Petrino continued. "They put you in second and long or second and extra long, third and long. That's when they're tough because they tee off on third down."

No player in college football has gotten more attention than Tebow, who has been part of two national championships.

The bruiser certainly has the admiration of Petrino, who knows that the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner has to hit some.

"That's the key to anybody that you play is that you stop the run and you get opportunities to hit the quarteback and try to get his vision down," Petrino said. Tebow is a great football player. He's a unique football player in the fact that he runs the ball as much as he does throwing the ball. He creates a lot of problems for us. A lot of our game plan, and things that we'll emphasize, will be to understand what he does and what he likes to do and try to stop him."

Tebow heads up an offense that is second in the country in rushing with 284.6 yards per contest.

"Their running backs can go the difference any time they touch the ball," Petrino said. "That's the scary thing. They do such a good job with the read option series on whether they're giving the ball or Tebow is keeping it and running it.

"You have to be assignment oriented," Petrino added. "You have to make sure your eyes are exactly where they're supposed to be and that we're defending the gaps we're responsible for. They're running it a little different than everybody else in the world as far as how hard they hit it downhill and how much the quarterback shuffles forward. It's really designed because they have such fast running backs. They just need a little crease."

Arkansas played its most complete game of the season Saturday the 44-23 whipping of Auburn.

"We played better in all three phases," Petrino said. "Defensively, we did a real nice job in the first half. Take out a couple of plays in the third quarter and we did a nice job in the entire game.

"Offensively, we were very consistent, being able to mix the run and the pass, which makes us tough," Petrino added.

"I was real happy with our special teams,' Petrino continued. We set up three touchdowns on special teams - two by Dennis Johnson's returns and one by the fumble that Andru Stewart caused. That's huge when you set up three scores with your special teams, you're certainly winning the battle there."

Two of the better players on defense Saturday were jack linebacker Jerico Nelson and strong safety Elton Ford – who combined for 19 tackles.

Nelson was in the game more than Freddy Burton because of the spread offense.

"He's a great football player for us," Petrino said of Nelson. "A lot of the things we do are designed because of what Jerico can do. He's that cross between a safety and a linebacker that's real good blitzing, real good tackling, can play man coverage. So you can put him in man coverage. He's been a big part of our defense.

"The only concern you have with Jerico is him playing too many reps," Petrino added. "We need to develop some depth behind him so he can stay fresh and doesn't get worn down in the second half. He's not the biggest guy in the world. We have to develop somebody who can rotate and get him off the field sometimes." Burton has been sliding inside to play linebacker when Nelson is in the game.

"Freddy has kind of moved inside when we play against the three wide or the spread teams," Petrino said. "He rotates in there with Wendel (Davis) and Jerry (Franklin) and Freddy has done a good job with that, too."

Ford has made quite the comeback from a broken neck injury suffered late in the 2008 season.

"He's done a real nice job for us," Petrino said. "He has a real good understanding of what we're doing. i think he's really improved in his pass coverage – the number of batted balls and the number of defended passes that he's had. And he's done a nice job of tackling one on one. Tramain Thomas is a guy we like a lot too. he's a good football player. but he just hasn't been back healthy yet."

Petrino admits to not being certain that Ford could come back as well as he has from the injury.

"I'm real impressed it was a concern going into the season - how is he going to react to it?," noted Petrino. "…The whole time as a coaching staff, you're saying, ‘ok, how is he going to react, how is he going to react.' We've seen no hesitation at all. He's done an excellent job of coming downhill and tackling and playing football."

Petrino was also quick to praise improved play by the offensive line – headed up by DeMarcus Love.

"It graded out good," Petrino said. "We improved a lot. We did a real nice job in our run blocking. and again when you talk about the offensive line, you include (tight ends) D.J. Williams and Ben Cleveland in there because they both did a nice job blocking. Our receivers did a great job blocking downfield. We kind of dominated their secondary as far as our guys blocking their safeties and blocking their corners and allowing us to get more yards once we got on the edge."

Petrino pointed out the play of DeMarcus Love as a key in the offensive line.

"He was playing fast, and run blocking, finishing," Petrino said. "He did a great job. a lot of times he was one-on-one in pass protection and did a great job against two real good defensive ends. Any time he was one on one, (Mitch) Petrus played a solid game. We rotated in at the weak guard and both guys did a good job."


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