The Arkansas Razorbacks return to Fayetteville this weekend to face Kentucky. The Hogs finally snapped their losing streak last week, defeating Auburn 24-7.
Kentucky faces its own struggles this season with a 1-5 overall record. Both teams are looking to salvage what remains of the season, and both teams will see Saturday’s game as an opportunity to take advantage of a struggling opponent.
Here are five keys to John L. Smith and the Razorbacks keeping their momentum going against Kentucky.
Last Saturday’s victory against Auburn confirmed what fans have known all season: the Razorbacks win when Tyler Wilson has time to make plays.
It was the first game of the season where Wilson was actually healthy and had an offensive line protecting him. He passed for 242 yards, did not throw an interception and was only sacked once.
Compare that to the rest of his season where he has had to pick himself up after almost every play and was injured during the second game of the season due to repeated blows to the head.
When the offensive line protects Wilson, good things happen. If he is given the same time and space to perform against Kentucky as he was given against Auburn, the Razorbacks will come out of Week 7 with a win.
Dennis Johnson effectively replaced Knile Davis at running back during Week 6. Matt Jones of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that John L. Smith has stated that Davis performed better in practice this week and will play a more prominent role in Saturday’s game against Kentucky.
But say Davis continues with his lackluster play on Saturday. That will give Dennis Johnson more opportunities to carry the ball and make an impact in the same manner he did against Auburn.
So far this season, we have seen that Johnson makes the most of the opportunities given to him. If he can continue his hot streak, he will further solidify his role as the Hogs’ current primary running back, and take advantage of Kentucky’s struggles to stop the run.
Austin Tate will have to fill Chris Gragg’s offensive shoes for at least another week.
Tate performed well against Auburn. He had 44 receiving yards over four receptions. His challenge will be giving quarterback Tyler Wilson another consistent target on the field besides Cobi Hamilton, and coping with a Kentucky passing defense that is more stingy than Auburn.
That means he will have to perform better offensively against a better defensive team.
If Tate proves himself to be a worthy substitute for Gragg, who is doubtful for this week, Tyler Wilson should be able to cope with once again having to play a game without one of his preferred receivers on the field.
Alonzo Highsmith has not been given enough credit for his defensive performances this season. He is currently ranked third in the SEC in total and assisted tackles. Arkansas currently ranks 14th in total defense in the SEC.
Highsmith is to Arkansas’ defense what Tyler Wilson is to the offense. They both consistently perform well even if their respective units do not.
In order for the Hogs’ defense to take advantage of Kentucky’s struggling offense, Highsmith has to continue to be a consistent weapon and add more tackles to his ever growing tally.
Hopefully Highsmith can inspire the rest of his teammates to continue improving after their competent defensive performance against Auburn.
Paul Petrino was not on the sideline last week during the game against Auburn. Of all the changes that were made against the Tigers, the decision to place Petrino in the box was one of the most significant.
Petrino’s offense had a great game last week. But the reason they were able to perform may have had as much to do with the team’s sideline demeanor as the play-calling.
Tyler Wilson looked relaxed and in control for the first time all season. The offensive line protected the quarterback and provided Dennis Johnson with the necessary blocking to establish a run game.
Petrino looked like he was in his element. Fans did not see him screaming or stalking the sidelines with a scowl on his face as he had in recent weeks. Whenever the camera panned to him he appeared calm and focused. John L. Smith also appeared to be more in charge of his sideline as opposed to his usual aimless wandering.
While a seemingly minor change, Petrino’s move to the box may have had a major impact on the outcome of the game. Any changes that the Hogs’ coaching staff made last week should continue into this week to help establish some sense of organization and continuity.
If Petrino is able to get the most out of his offense while in the box, he should stay there.