John Klein: Arkansas couldn't avoid post-Petrino hangover
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Friday, September 14, 2012
9/14/12 at 5:45 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Arkansas' free-fall was inevitable
It took just two games for many Arkansas fans to ask the question.
Is it too quick to bring back Bobby Petrino?
Petrino, the middle-aged crazy coach that traded Arkansas football's golden future for a ride on a motorcycle with a young blonde, was pushed out the door last spring.
In came John L. Smith as an interim head coach for a team that was a consensus top five pick.
You could see this had disaster written all over it.
"Don't be jumping off the bandwagon," said Smith this week.
Sorry, might be a little late for that plea.
Arkansas lost to Louisiana-Monroe, coached by Tulsa alum Todd Berry, last week. This week? Top-ranked Alabama is coming to Fayetteville.
"I did have a lot of confidence going into the game," said Berry this week. "I felt we would play well and if we played well I thought we could win. I was not shocked we won.
"The reality is we don't have a team full of Heisman Trophy winners. But, we are not void of talent, either."
Berry went out and coached his Warhawks to the most stunning upset of the season.
"I am very excited about what happened," said Berry. "I'm also not going to say I'm surprised.
"Those are special moments. Our job as coaches is to make sure our players can live those special moments."
It is a sharp contrast between ULM and Arkansas.
Two games into the season, Arkansas struggled against Jacksonville State and lost to Louisiana-Monroe.
Next up? The Crimson Tide appear to be the nation's best team.
"It is crucial for us from a mental standpoint, to pump back, bounce back, to get ready to go and go to practice with an energy about us," said Smith. "That's the biggest thing: the mental aspect.
"Everybody has a tendency to drop their chin to the ground and carry it there throughout the week. We have to as coaches, and I thought we did a good job of getting their chin up off the ground and let's get going again."
Berry, who grew up in Miami, Okla., and is a former assistant at TU and Oklahoma State, is one of the most popular media interviews in the country this week.
"The take is all different from recruiting to the way we view ourselves as a team to the way other people view us as a team," said Berry. "From the university standpoint, the publicity, the exposure the university is getting right now is great.
"It's amazing the people that text me different things. I'm over in (insert any city you want) and the sports radio is talking about your team is what I'm hearing from friends of mine in faraway places."
Berry seems to have it going in the right direction at Louisiana-Monroe and will get more opportunities to shock the nation the next two weeks - Auburn and Baylor. ULM also plays Tulane on Sept. 29.
"We've got good players in our program right now," said Berry. "We did not wave magic dust over our guys.
"Our guys have just grown up."
Meanwhile, in Arkansas, a nasty dose of reality is settling in over the Ozarks.
Smith and athletic director Jeff Long, who made the decision to fire Petrino and hire Smith, are being ravaged on the internet and sports radio.
Arkansas fans are quick to point out that Petrino didn't break any laws. He's not in jail. So, by that theory, he is available.
However, the Razorbacks have a lot of questions about this much-anticipated season that has already turned sour.
Arkansas may be without all-star quarterback Tyler Wilson when it faces the Crimson Tide, in what was supposed to be the most important game of the early season between serious national championship contenders.
Wilson was injured against Louisiana-Monroe. Before you start using that as an excuse to lose to the Warhawks, Wilson's injury had nothing to do with Arkansas blowing a 21-point lead.
There were hints that a disappointment was coming when the Razorbacks struggled with Jacksonville State.
Then, there was the full-scale collapse against Louisiana-Monroe. Arkansas couldn't hold off Monroe's late rally to tie the game in regulation then gave up the game-winning play on fourth down in overtime. That has nothing to do with injured offensive players.
Smith acknowledged the obvious.
"It was a disappointing day," said Smith. "All of our guys are disappointed. We are trying to be positive with them.
"Let's get their chins off the ground."
Wilson is now questionable. Running back Knile Davis, who led the SEC in rushing in 2010, does not appear to be fully recovered from an injury that forced him to miss the 2011 season.
"I sense some heistancy," said Smith. "He's not back to where he was."
The Razorbacks have also lost three fullbacks.
Things are only going to get tougher. Unless Savannah State or Florida A&M pop up on the schedule, and right now that doesn't appear to be the case, Arkansas faces a rough road in the SEC West.
The Crimson Tide, who hammered Michigan two weeks ago, is as good as it gets in college football.
There's a world of difference in what Alabama will bring to Fayetteville as compared to what ULM brought to Little Rock last week.
It is time for Arkansas to face some cold hard facts.
No matter how talented, how good the Razorbacks were last year, this is a new season after an incredibly tumultous off-season that included a scandal and eventual firing of a popular head coach.
There's no way that doesn't impact the team.
How much it impacts this team is yet to be seen. But, so far, it appears the Razorbacks are not close to their lofty expectations.
Arkansas coach John L. Smith talks to Arkansas defensive tackle Jared Green (57) during a time out in an NCAA college football game against Louisiana-Monroe. DANNY JOHNSTON/AP Photo