Arkansas Still Poised for Big Year
By Freddie Vickers
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Despite a recent scandal involving their head coach, the Razorbacks are still poised for a big season in 2012.
The Arkansas Razorbacks roar into spring practice off of a great 2011 season. Last season showed why the Razorback nation is excited moving forward into 2012. Head coach Bobby Petrino has proven to be a consistent winner wherever he has laid his hat, and his offenses have been productive at every stop as well. Arkansas did have some significant coaching turnovers at the end of the 2011 season. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee left to assume the head coaching position at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Coach Petrino chose to replace McGee with a member of his family, Paul Petrino. Petrino took over as Illinois’ offensive coordinator in 2010. With him, the Illini set offensive records for points (423) and points per game (32.4).
The Razorbacks also added a new defensive coordinator, Paul Haynes. Haynes comes to Fayetteville from Ohio State where he served as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach in 2011. Haynes was hired as defensive coordinator after Willy Robinson resigned. Haynes coached at Ohio State for seven seasons, where the Buckeyes compiled a 66-11 record, won six Big Ten titles and played in six straight BCS games.
“He is an exceptional coach and recruiter”, Petrino said when asked about Haynes.
These two coaching changes will only make Arkansas stronger, as both coaches took over in December and both coached in the Cotton Bowl. Arkansas has improved in every year since Bobby Petrino took over and there should be no reason why the Razorbacks won’t continue to improve and contend for the SEC West title in 2012.
The Arkansas offense got big news in the offseason leading up to spring practice. Quarterback Tyler Wilson decided to spurn the NFL and return to Fayetteville after a season where he threw for 3,638 yards, 24 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Wilson looks poised and ready to put up better numbers in 2012. Unfortunately for Wilson, he will move forward without his three top targets from 2011. Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright are all headed to play on Sunday, so wide receiver is a position of concern for coach Petrino and the Razorbacks. Senior Cobi Hamilton will be the leader of the receiving corps and must be a teacher as well as the go-to guy.
If getting the best quarterback in the SEC back for another year wasn’t enough, the Razorbacks also return one of the top running backs in the conference. Knile Davis returns for the 2012 season after sitting out the entire 2011 season with an injury. While on the field in 2010, Davis was one of the SEC’s best running backs. He rushed for 1,322 yards, averaged 101 yards per game and also scored 13 rushing touchdowns. Davis is an All-SEC first-team type running back and may not only give the Razorbacks a punch between the tackles, but a game-breaker that can take it the distance on any play.
This 2012 Razorback offense has all the weapons any team could ask for. But, as all real football experts know, you’re only as good as your offensive line, and Arkansas does have some work to do in that area. Replacing departed Grant Freeman and getting the kinks worked out on the offensive front will be a huge issue moving forward through spring practice. Jason Peacock and Mitch Smothers must be leaders and work to help the offensive line gel before September rolls around.
As loaded as the offense is, defense is the area where the Razorbacks must improve moving forward into 2012. Arkansas finished 2011 giving up 22 points and 371 yards per game. These numbers rank Arkansas in the upper half of FBS, but being in the SEC, they must improve these numbers in order to compete with the likes of Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and South Carolina. All four of those teams ranked in the top 20 in total defense and that should be a main goal for the Arkansas Razorbacks moving forward. In a defensive dominated conference like the SEC, you can only survive and win so many games letting offense dominate your program.
Bobby Petrino knew his defense must improve, so in December, he brought in new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes from Ohio State. The reports from spring practice are encouraging. Haynes is pleased with the effort and versatility of the athletes that he has on his defense. “That’s what the spring is all about, we want to move guys around, get guys repetitions in different positions”, Haynes said. Haynes and the Razorbacks have no choice but to continue to improve, as September is just right around the corner and playing in the SEC, there will be no weeks off.
2011 was a great season for the Arkansas Razorbacks, only having two losses, with those two losses coming against the two teams that played in the BCS National Championship Game. Bobby Petrino knows offense. In fact, he’s probably one of the best offensive minds in college football. However, defense is going to be the name of the game in Fayetteville if the Razorbacks want to be able to dethrone Alabama and LSU and have their moment in the bright lights.
As spring practice has rolled on, the Razorback football program has had some adversity. Jason Peacock was arrested for allegedly buying $35.00 in gas using a stolen credit card. Peacock was suspended indefinitely but has since returned to practice. Bobby Petrino then was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him in the hospital for two days and left a few scrapes and scratches to the face, as Petrino was not wearing a helmet. Then it comes to light that Petrino was not alone on his motorcycle, as previously reported, but that a young 25 year old female employee of the football department was on the motorcycle as well. Petrino and The University of Arkansas have come face to face with the harsh reality of a scandal. Petrino is on the front page of every major sports website and has really overshadowed all sports news recently, even with MLB opening day and the Masters occurring in the same week.
It’s not going to be easy for Petrino and Arkansas to get through this unfortunate event, but if Petrino can put this behind him, he has one heck of a football team moving forward in 2012. This could definitely be a breakthrough year for Arkansas football, especially since they get Alabama and LSU at home. The Razorback nation supports Bobby Petrino as he has made them a consistent winner in the SEC. We’ll just have to see how all this plays out over the next few months and into September when the toe meets leather.