State of the Hogs: Drawing the Line

Three players missed curfew. There were no surprises from Bobby Petrino. They are on the way home.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Mississippi River is always going to be muddy. I saw it Wednesday when I got to town. Just as wide, just as muddy.

Conversely, Bobby Petrino is always going to be crystal clear. If he says he'll send you home for curfew violations, don't test him.

Sunday night when the team assembled at the Peabody Hotel the Arkansas head coach was emphatic on what would happen if a player missed curfew. He told them he'd sent home a Louisville player from the same bowl a few years back. He would do the same this week for any player who stayed out past curfew.

Players were even told the name of the Louisville player, Willy Johnson. Petrino said Johnson was one of his favorites, but rules are rules.

Wendel Davis and Matt Harris, both senior defensive starters, were suspended for the Liberty Bowl by Petrino on Thursday. Marques Wade, junior wide receiver relegated to scout team duty because of a knee injury, was also suspended. All three missed curfew Wednesday night.

We've been down this road before at Arkansas. Key players missed the Orange Bowl after the 1978 season, disciplined by the father of the East Carolina coach. Lou Holtz went to Miami without Ben Cowins, Michael Forrest and Donny Bobo -- suspended by the Arkansas coach about one month before the Hogs arrived for their big upset of Oklahoma. The Hogs were already without star offensive linemen Leotis Harris, injured in campus workouts.

Obviously, Arkansas made national headlines with one of its biggest victories ever, destroying Oklahoma, 31-6. It may be the biggest victory in UA history outside the run to the 1964 national championship.

So how will the Hogs fare this time? First, if Petrino was going to have to do draw a line in the sand, this was the time to do it. Sadly, it means Harris and Davis have ended their career. But this is not a BCS bowl. It's not a national title game. When the Hogs get to that stage under Petrino, he won't have to worry about his players understanding the meaning of curfew.

Defensively, the Hogs will have to survive without two of the top tacklers on the team. But, they can survive. It's not like this defense is going from great to bad. It hasn't been top shelf at any point this season.

They will survive.

At linebacker, the Hogs will move Jerry Franklin from weakside to the middle, a spot he played last year for much of the year when Davis was injured. He stepped in there when Davis missed the Eastern Michigan game. He's taken snaps at middle linebacker during practice all season. He's been in the plans as the backup there since two-a-days when he actually was plugged in at mike linebacker in some experiments.

They will likely go with several players at the other linebacker spots, based on scheme. They can move Terrell Williams up at weakside linebacker. Or they can go with combinations that feature Jerico Nelson and Freddy Burton in other schemes.

At free safety, it's a simple switch. Elton Ford moves from strong safety, his position last year. He played there often in preseason drills. Tramain Thomas moves up at strong safety where he's played a lot as the backup. Anthony Leon is the backup free safety.

In the personal view, the biggest development in bowl camp was earlier this month when DeDe Jones went down with a high ankle sprain. He's been a regular at defensive tackle the last half of the season.

So how is all this going to play out? The Hogs are going to have to score more points than they did against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Perhaps it's going to be a 45-31 game. I still think the Hogs will win.

And over the long haul, it's crystal clear that this head coach means business -- as sure as the Mississippi will be muddy when we drive home Sunday.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories