The Razorbacks (4-7, 1-6) were knocked out of postseason contention after last week's 31-28 loss at Mississippi State. Despite the heartbreaking loss to the Bulldogs, there were a few bright spots for first-year head coach Bobby Petrino, but they did not overshadow another huge setback for the Hawgs.
Michael Smith, who entered the game as the Southeastern Conference's No. 2 rusher, managed just 60 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. All but 15 of Smith's 60 yards on the ground came on the Razorbacks first possession of the game.
On the season, the junior tailback has carried the ball 207 times for 1,027 yards and eight touchdowns. Yet, to add to the Razorbacks woes on the year, the talented back’s status does not look good for Arkansas' final game.
"I don't expect that he will be available for the game," Petrino said. "He has a hamstring injury and that is hard to come back from. We are going into the game with the understanding that we will be without him."
As for a replacement, Petrino expects the coming week of practice to produce the answer.
"We'll practice them and find that out," Petrino said. "They have all had their spots during the season where they went into the game as number two. I like the way that Brandon Barnett runs the ball in between the tackles and the physicalness. He hurt us a couple times the other day on assignments and protection.
“Dennis Johnson is coming off an AC joint-shoulder. He should be ready for the game; we'll see how much practice he can get in this week. De'Anthony Curtis is progressing and getting back to his speed. We'll work all three of them and decide later in the week who starts."
While the injury to Smith was certainly a lowlight, Petrino’s offense did find a couple of new weapons in last Saturday’s outing.
Junior Lucas Miller had a breakout game with a career high 10 catches, including an 87-yard touchdown, and 201 yards. Miller's effort was just the second time in Arkansas history that a player had more than 200 yards receiving.
The junior, who has caught 27 passes for 443 yards and two touchdowns on the year, finished the game three yards shy of the Razorback school record set by Mike Reppond against Rice on Nov. 6, 1971.
Getting the ball to Miller was freshman Nathan Dick, who took over the starting job against the Bulldogs in place of older brother Casey Dick. The young signal caller completed 25-of-43 through the air for 333 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
Dick engineered scores in his first two drives of the game, but a stout Bulldog defense shut down the Razorback attack at the end of the first quarter, only allowing Arkansas to put 10 points on the board the rest of the game.
"He did a good job, he really did," said Petrino. "Started out real fast. Really did what he was coached to do. They threw some stuff at him that they hadn't shown blitz-wise and he had to make some adjustments at the line of scrimmage that we missed and that caused us to bog down on a couple of drives in the second and third quarter.
"I like the way he demonstrated leadership, you could see his excitement out on the field, the energy that he gave everybody and the way that he ran the ball," Petrino added. "He showed what I thought maybe he would when it was live that he was difficult to tackle and that he had good instincts in the pocket. You have to be happy with that performance first time out."
Dick nearly staged a dramatic comeback win over the Bulldogs after jumping out to a 14-0 lead only to see Sylvester Croom’s squad score 24 straight points. The Hawgs pulled to within 31-28 after recovering an on-sides kick, but Alex Tejada’s 46-yard field goal sailed wide as time expired to put an end to Petrino’s hopes of earning a bowl bid in his first year at Fayetteville.
"We are coming off a hard fought game that we certainly had a lot of opportunities to win the game," Petrino said. "Good opportunity to tie it and go to overtime and didn't come up with it."
Now that the Hawgs are playing for pride more than anything else, Petrino said that he expects the LSU game to be another big test for both sides of his football team and he hopes it gives them a spark heading into the offseason.
"We've watched a lot of video on them all year long because it seems like they've always played teams before we have," Petrino said. "We kind of know them well. Big physical offensive front, downhill running back that is real physical. They have been erratic in their passing game, but they have also been explosive at times.”