Arkansas at Kentucky-Petrino's Return Holds Promise For A Hostile Reception

John StevensCorrespondent IOctober 17, 2008

This weekend marks the first return of former Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino to the Bluegrass State since his departure from Louisville for the Atlanta Falcons in 2006. It is not likely he will be embraced as the conquering hero returning home from battle.

Bad blood exists not only between Petrino and Louisville, but between he and the collective residency of the state.

Petrino was victimized locally for his departure to the Falcons after having signed a long term contract with Louisville under the direction of A.D. Tom Jurich, that was designed to keep the then celebrated head coach in place.

In all fairness to Petrino, Jurich had told Petrino that he expected him to stick around for the long term unless the Patriots came offering a bigger deal. It turned out that it wasn't the Patriots who came calling, but Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons.

Blank offered Petrino a package that was so much more lucrative and benefiting his family, that I suspect it would have been difficult to resist by any top notch college coach who thought that they had aspirations to coach at the highest level of football, in the NFL.

Petrino quickly found that the big business environment of the NFL was not only not for him, but that living in Atlanta had taken a toll on his family and their quality of life. It is said that in a previous conversation that Petrino had with Blank and his GM, that they had agreed that if Petrino found that he was unhappy at Atlanta, all he had to do was let them know and he could hard feelings. Later it is said that they couldn't recall having had the conversation with Petrino. When the Arkansas job came open, Petrino acted and made a hasty departure from Atlanta. 

You can take exception with the way the departure was made and perhaps that could have been handled in a different and better way. But, the bottom line is that Petrino never benefited from his players on the Falcons buying-in to his new system and the level of mutual respect was apparently very low.

Fast forward to today. Petrino and his Razorbacks are traveling to Lexington to meet a 4-2 Kentucky team this weekend that has lost two SEC games to Alabama and South Carolina. The Razorbacks come in fresh off of a big win over Auburn at Auburn last weekend.

Making things more interesting is that Rich Brooks and Bobby Petrino are very familiar with one another having coached against each other in four games while Petrino was the head coach at Louisville. Petrino won all four and the last one was a beat-down with a win margin of 31 points. Kentucky fans would love nothing less than to send Petrino packing with a loss.

This is an important game for Kentucky who must view this as one of few opportunities remaining this season to secure a likely win. They would like to go bowling again and with Florida, Mississippi State, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Tennessee looming in the future, they need to win this game.

It is also a big game for Arkansas who has taken "baby-steps" of improvement while getting their heads handed to them by top ten teams for three weeks in a row, prior to the Auburn game.

In the Auburn game, the Razorbacks saw the things Petrino has been trying to teach them, begin to come together. The Auburn win gave them hope as a team. A Bobby Petrino coached team that has been previously embarrassed and then has found themselves, is a dangerous team to face. They not only want to win, but now they believe they can. Look out.

Kentucky comes into this game bitten not only by the injury bug(Lyons, Dixon, Lanxter, Pryor and Johnson) but the team has apparently been bitten by the flu bug this week as well. Multiple players have succumbed to sickness and have been day to day in practice.

Arkansas on the other hand, comes into this game almost completely healed with their entire original starting crew healthy again. With those players that have been forced into action while injured starters have been out, this should lend unexpected and experienced depth to the Razorbacks at positions on both sides of the ball.

The one common opponent of both teams is Alabama. Both lost to Alabama. Kentucky played Alabama close, but perhaps not as close as the score might indicate. One thing that both teams had in common is that Alabama victimized them with big running plays. Alabama had to running plays that accounted for 114 of their total 282 yards rushing against Kentucky. Alabama was 5 of 16 on 3rd down conversions while Kentucky was 5 of 17. Alabama turned the ball over 3 times to Kentucky turning it over 2 times in that game.

Take away those two plays and it reduces Alabama's rushing to 168 yards. Similarly, Arkansas was victimized by Alabama for two runs of 149 yards(both for TD's). Remove those two plays and Alabama would have had 179 yards rushing. Eleven total yards difference between what Kentucky and Arkansas would have allowed had it not been for big plays. Alabama escaped Kentucky with a 17-14 win.

Alabama had 402 total offensive yards vs. Arkansas. Against Kentucky, they had 388. Fourteen total yards difference. Kentucky racked up 286 yards of total offense against Alabama and Arkansas had 309. Twenty-three total offensive yards difference. Alabama only turned the ball over once time against Arkansas, while Arkansas gave Alabama the ball 4 times. The Arkansas-Alabama score should have been more like 21-14 in favor of Alabama, than the 49-14 score that was recorded.

Turnovers on the part of Alabama helped Kentucky keep their game close. Arkansas on the other hand, through their gifts to Alabama, helped Alabama manufacture a substantial lead that was deceiving.

The bottom line to me is that this is going to be a fairly equal game. The strong point of Kentucky is their defense. The strong point of Arkansas is their offense. The edge in team health has to go to Arkansas. The edge in coaching also has to go to Arkansas as there are few coaches that can be as unpredictable offensively as Petrino.

The overlooked edge is that Arkansas is just now waking up to the fact that they can be a good and competitive team. Kentucky, with indecision at quarterback and all the players that they have out, are just hoping they can remain good and competitive.

I suspect that there will be little warmth expressed by those in attendance towards Petrino when he enters Commonwealth Stadium. I suspect there will be even less after Arkansas beats Kentucky. Take Arkansas and the points.

That's my view, from outside the boundaries.