The Razorbacks almost shocked the world with an upset of No. 1 Florida last Saturday in Gainesville. But they fell short 23-20. Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said he hopes his team drew some positives even in defeat.
"I think it's something we can take and build on," said Petrino, in his second season with the Hogs. "We can build confidence from it and understand we were right there with the No. 1 team in the nation. We had an opportunity to win the game and then we watched film and saw how hard we played and how well we executed the game plan. So we build from it."
The Razorbacks got their lone SEC win against Auburn at home, a 44-23 victory on Oct. 10. They've also lost in the league to Georgia 52-41 at home and at Alabama 35-7. An 47-19 win against Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, is an impressive line on the resume'.
The Hogs come to Oxford a bit of a mystery team, not unlike their 11:21 a.m. foe this Saturday, Ole Miss. It is apparent the Razorbacks are improving.
"We are trying to take it one week at a time, but the future does look bright," said Arkansas redshirt sophomore defensive end Jake Bequette, with 18 tackles on the season.
The Razorbacks hope that bright future begins in Oxford.
"We played a tough team, but it's time to focus on Ole Miss," said Hog quarterback Ryan Mallett, having a terrific first season at Arkansas after transferring from Michigan. "We're looking forward to this week. It's another road trip, but we're going to try and get back in the win column."
Mallett, a 6-foot-7, 238-pound redshirt sophomore, has completed 103 of 187 passes with 14 touchdowns to three interceptions. He said the Razorback offense will have its hands full with the Ole Miss defense.
"They are experienced in the secondary. They always have a fast team, but their backs are really going to test our wide outs," Mallett said. "They're big up front, we'll see how our guys do going up against another big opponent."
Arkansas is scoring nearly 35 points a game but allowing 27. On the ground, the Razorbacks' opponents hold a slight edge in total rushing on the season 862 to 801. But through the air, mostly because of the arm of Mallett and a talented receiver corps, the Hogs have outgained their foes 1,815 yards to 1,522.
Petrino is pleased with his quarterback's progress this season.
"Ryan did a great job of competing," Petrino said of his performance at Florida where he was 12 of 27 for 224 yards and a touchdown. "He stood in the pocket, got hit, and completed passes. He made big plays to get the ball down the field to put us in position to score. Obviously, he doesn't feel as though it was his best game because that's the type of competitor he is. He wants to complete every pass. But when you're going against a good defense, it's just as important to take care of the ball. He did that very well for us. I thought he gave us a great opportunity to win the game."
The Razorbacks' offense has been impressive all season. It's the defense that has shown much improvement lately.
"They've played hard," Petrino said of his defenders. "They've done a nice job of doing what you need to do to play good defense. They've stopped the run and have been very sound in gap control and getting the linebackers to come downhill and attack which doesn't leave many seams. We've tackled much better and have shed blocks much better. We've done a much better job on first-and-10 and that puts pressure on the other team to throw the ball. When we've been in good situations on second and third-and-longs, we've done well rushing the passer. We had six sacks against Florida when they came into the game having only given up five. Our coverage played well."
Bequette said the Hogs defense will be tested again this week with Jevan Snead at the control of the Rebel offense, a situation similar to facing Tim Tebow last week at Florida.
Tebow was 17 of 26 passing for 255 yards and a touchdown against the Hogs and was also the Gators' leading rusher with 69 yards on 27 carries.
"That's life in the SEC," Bequette said. "You play great players week in and week out. You can't put too much praise on them and too much pressure on yourself. Ole Miss is a very good team. They are balanced. They throw and run the ball well. We can't focus on one player and let the other ones beat us."
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