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Hogs’ Smith Says SEC West Is His Toughest Challenge

Last week in Destin, Arkansas interim football coach John L. Smith got some national pub due to his love of adventurous challenges — running with the bulls in Pamplona, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, etc.

But Smith admitted that his toughest challenge yet will be winning the SEC West:

 

“The hardest one is coaching in the SEC Western Division, yeah.  The toughest division in the toughest league.  Not that I’m biased, but yeah, it’s pretty tough.  From that standpoint, we’re going to have to be good and we’re going to have to win some games… I expect to and our kids expect to, and those are going to be the expectations that we have had and that we’re going to continue to have.

It’s tough.  Every week is going to be tough, as you know.  The good thing this year is that we have Alabama at home and this year we have LSU at home… So that’s good for us.” 

 

Last season — facing both the Tide and the Tigers on the road — Arkansas was hammered 38-14 in Tuscaloosa and 41-17 in Baton Rouge.  Those were the only two blemishes on the Razorbacks record in Bobby Petrino’s final go-round with the Hogs.

The year before, the games were much closer when played in the Natural State (and with Ryan Mallett at quarterback).  Arkansas got nipped late by Alabama 24-20 and actually up-ended LSU 31-23 in their season finale in Little Rock.  This season, the LSU matchup will be played in Fayetteville, as will the Bama game.

The home field should help Smith and his Hogs’ cause.  So should the return of Knile Davis and Tyler Wilson.  The question will be whether or not new coordinator Paul Haynes can cook up a championship-caliber defense in his first season at Arkansas.  Doing so would go a long way toward closing the gap between the Razorbacks and their two national-title contending divisional rivals.

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Petrino At The Podium

Here’s a rundown of Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino’s comments:

* Petrino opened by wishing his wife a happy 26th anniversary.  He said it doesn’t seem that long ago that he and his wife were driving down the highway on their honeymoon “singing ‘Put me in coach.”  (That’s John Fogerty’s “Centerfield,” of course.)

* Petrino said three things give the Hogs a chance to succeed:

1.  “Our experience and our depth.”  Petrino said he’s excited about his senior class.  He believes the experience and depth will give UA a chance to win games “on the road and in the fourth quarter.”

2.  “I really feel like we’re a fast football team.”  The speed at the skill positions “give us an opportunity to be a special offense.”

3.  “I’m very impressed with our football team’s mindset.”  Petrino said his team understands how play and how to practice.

* Asked how he’s able to “plug in” quarterbacks who continue to put up great numbers, Petrino praised Tyler Wilson first.  The coach said he likes his preparation and leadership.  Finally, he answered the question: “I think when you look at our success in coaching quarterbacks, one thing I really believe in is it’s our job to find out what they do well and ask them to do that.”  Petrino says he and his coaches set the playbook aside “and develop the offense around the quarterback.”

* Petrino said “They’re changed, we already changed ‘em,” when asked about Ryan Mallett’s decision to reveal some Arkansas hand signals to Jon Gruden on ESPN.  “I wasn’t real happy with him,” the coach said with a smile.  “But he called me up and apologized and he gave us a few ideas for some new hand signals, so that always helps.”

* Petrino is excited to see tailback Knile Davis “take a step forward” and make progress over last year. 

* “In this conference everybody has good players.  And something we learned as a football team a year ago is it takes a team to win games.  We’ll be as good as our team chemistry and our team leadership because everyone we compete with is going to have very good football players, too.”

* “I’m excited for our defense this year because I feel it’s the first time we’re physically where we need to be on the defensive front.”

* Petrino said he would be fine with Mike Slive’s suggestion to make academic requirements tougher.  “I kind of agree with the thought of ‘let’s toughen the college requirements.’  Let’s make these guys all take the same classes their freshman year.  Let’s take care of our business in college.”

* The coach said the thing that he’s always believed separates the SEC from other conferences is the defensive front.  “The speed and athleticism on the edges and the size and athleticism inside.  I found that out when I came back as a head coach in the league that that was true.  That is one of the big differences.”  He went on to say the SEC offensive linemen have a hard job to do going against such big, talented D-linemen.

* Asked if he thought UA would make so much progress so quickly, Petrino said he thought he might’ve been able to turn things around even quicker.  The coach said he likes having high expectations.

* “You have to have depth at tailback.  And it’s real important that throughout the season you continue to work that depth.  As the year goes on, the running backs are the guys that take all the big hits.  Generally, you have a running back that’s hot and he has some big games, maybe three big games.  And then he gets dinged up a little bit.  You’ve got to put the next guy in there and not miss a beat.”

More to come…

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The Expectations Have Changed At Arkansas

Last season, Bobby Petrino led Arkansas to a 10-win season and a #12 national ranking.  Even without star quarterback Ryan Mallett leading the way in 2011, Petrino wants his Razorbacks to keep improving.

“I was taught that if you have a goal and you can’t verbalize it, then you’ll never achieve it,” Petrino said in an ArkansasSports360.com season preview.  “So we talk about it.  We want to win a national championship.  That’s what our goal is.  That’s what drives us.”

Receiver Jarius Wright says a lot has changed since Petrino arrived three seasons ago:


“It’s just different the way people talk about Arkansas now.  When I first came in we didn’t make a bowl game.  Now we’re talking about national championships.  A lot has changed in three years.”


During the Houston Nutt years, Arkansas would step forward — and then backward — in two-year cycles.  Nine-win seasons would drop off to five-win campaigns.  Then four-win seasons would birth 10-win years.

If Petrino can keep the Hogs moving forward this season — without Mallett at QB — it would signal a step toward true consistency.  And that might lead more people outside of the Ozarks to mention “Arkansas” and “national championship” in the same breath.

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SEC Headlines – 5/31/11 Part Three

1.  Here’s a look back at some of the juicier SEC spring meetings in recent years.  (And doesn’t it say something about a league’s clout that it can have “juicy” spring meetings?)

2.  Considering all of the character questions that eventually dropped him into the third round of the NFL draft, isn’t it a bit surprising that former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett was invited to a Texas’ middle school’s Career Day?

3.  It’s been a remarkably bad year for athletics at Ole Miss.

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SEC Headlines – 4/28/11 Part One

 

 

Hogs Want More Leadership From QBs

In NFL draft circles, there’s been quite a bit of discussion about Ryan Mallett and his lack of leadership skills.  Well Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee wishes his current signal-callers were more like Mallett in the leadership department.

“That’s what we’re missing right now,” McGee told NWAOnline.com.  “Those are the facts.  That somebody has to step forward and be confident and tough enough to push their peers.  That’s not really popular nowadays in this society that we live in to push your guys — the peers that you have.  But for us to be a really good team and accomplish what we want to accomplish, we have to get that done.”

So why was Mallett good at pushing his peers?  “Ryan didn’t really need any friends.  So he was able to push everybody.”

Interesting.  You have to wonder if a lack of friends in the locker room has been viewed by some NFL execs as a lack of leadership.  Clearly, Mallett’s coach felt his willingness to do the unpopular thing is precisely what made him a good leader.

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King: Mallett Should’ve Gone To Meetings Sick

Anyone who’s ever had a stomach bug knows that the last thing you want to be is out in public.  But Sports Illustrated’s Peter King believes Ryan Mallett would’ve helped his draft cause if he’d ignored his nausea during a recently scheduled meeting with the Carolina Panthers.

It was initially reported that the former Arkansas quarterback skipped his meetings with Carolina brass — not to be confused with Tijuana Brass, mind you — after staying out too late partying.  Mallett’s agent and the Panthers shot down the report.  But it still might not help the QB on draft day, according to King:

 

“After the dinner, Mallett’s next scheduled appointment with the Panthers was breakfast at his hotel the next day with offensive coordinator (Rob) Chudzinski.  Mallett arrived for the meeting and said he’d been sick all night and still was feeling nauseous.  He was told to go get some rest, and if he felt better, he could meet with coaches later in the day.  But he continued to feel ill and just flew home that day instead of meeting with the Panthers.

Now, for the majority of players without a history of off-the-field red flags, this would be easy.  Kid’s been traveling a lot, kid got sick.  With Mallett, he should have dragged himself through an uncomfortable day any way possible so that he didn’t give the other 31 teams another log on the fireplace to burn his reputation.  Not a smart move by the kid.”

 

There’s an obvious joke in there thanks to King’s choice of words, but I’ll let it be.

No one is as connected as King when it comes to NFL sources, so when he writes that Mallett hurt himself by not working through his illness, I’ll buy it.  But I don’t think it’s fair.

If Mallett was truly ill, it’s hard to fault him for not leaving his hotel — or his restroom — to meet with potential employers.

However, depending on the time of Mallett’s flight home, one could easily point out that an airport and an airplane is no place to be with a stomach bug, either.

Suffice to say, leading up to this week’s draft, Mallett can’t seem to catch a break off the field.

 

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SEC Headlines – 4/22/11 Part Three

1.  Former Alabama Heisman-winner Mark Ingram says his knee is 100% heading into next week’s NFL draft.

2.  A lot of coaches are now mimicking Nick Saban’s recruiting system at Alabama.

3.  This writer offers up a poetic look at the case of Harvey Updyke.

4.  File this under: Kiss of Death.  Former Lions GM Matt Millen believes Ryan Mallett will “play fine” in the NFL.

5.  Broncos coach John Fox sees former LSU corner Patrick Peterson as the complete package.

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SEC Headlines – 4/21/11 Part Three

1.  Ryan Mallett missed meetings with the Carolina Panthers this month due to an illness, not a late night of partying.

2.  This writer believes Mallett — who some have compared to Eminem and Vanilla Ice — “seems to be a target” rather than a prospect as the NFL draft nears.

3.  Some Hog fans have put up a billboard thanking Bobby Petrino “FOR BRINGING WINNING & EXCITEMENT BACK TO RAZORBACK FOOTBALL.”

4.  Ole Miss has hired a company to produce a feasibility study that will help the school plan for a new basketball arena.

5.  The Rebels’ running backs figure to get a lot of work this fall.

6.  Mississippi State has launched the largest athletic fundraising campaign in the school’s history.

7.  Dan Mullen told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger that he “could absolutely say that Tyler Russell could be our starter.”  (We believe that’s a motivational ploy for Russell and projected starter Chris Relf.)

8.  Here are some of the players Mullen said stood out this spring.

9.  And here’s one writer’s guess as to what MSU’s defensive depth chart looks like post-spring.

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Gruden: Newton The Most Impressive QB He Worked With

Over the past month, as part of a draft preview series for ESPN, former Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden worked with a number of top quarterbacks.  Of all the signal-callers he tested and met with — Ryan Mallett, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, etc — Gruden says former Auburn star Cam Newton was the most impressive.

“I just like the look in his eye, the eagerness and the feeling that he has a lot to prove to everybody, including himself,” Gruden said yesterday.  “I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight.  But this is the kind of guy you’re looking for.”

The ex-Buccaneers coach also defended Newton’s inability to provide a play-call example from Auburn’s playbook.

“It’s not his fault that they don’t huddle,” the coach said.  “Cam Newton will learn quickly what to call formations, what to call shifts, what to call motions. … What he’s got to get ready for right away is learning the terminology and how to spit these player out clearly, quickly, and get the team up to the line of scrimmage where he has time to deal.”

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