Arkansas stays focused ahead of Alabama visit
By KURT VOIGT
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Tyler Wilson quickly headed off questions this week about looking ahead to next week's showdown with No. 1 Alabama.
The Arkansas quarterback's thoughts were squarely on Saturday's game in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium against Louisiana-Monroe, especially after an up-and-down performance by the No. 8 Razorbacks (1-0) in a season-opening win over Jacksonville State.
"Internally, we understand every week that (looking ahead) is not going to happen," Wilson said. "Anybody who watches the film knows we've got to scratch and claw to win every week. That's just the way it is. It doesn't matter who we're playing."
Arkansas gained 564 yards of offense in its opening 49-24 win over the Gamecocks, doing so despite four fumbles - three that were lost. The win was what the Razorbacks wanted in their first game under coach John L. Smith; the quality of their performance was not.
Jacksonville State had its way at times in against an Arkansas defense that was ninth in the Southeastern Conference last season, gaining 193 yards in the first half, 163 through the air. The performance was hardly what first-year Razorbacks defensive coordinator Paul Haynes had in mind for the opener.
"We were put behind the eight ball a little bit in the first half, but we've got to keep them out of the end zone," Haynes said.
Haynes was particularly frustrated by a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive by the Gamecocks near the end of the first half. The drive only took 2:01 off the clock and was exactly the type of drive Arkansas doesn't want to allow when the Crimson Tide visits Fayetteville next week.
The Razorbacks were put through a series of tackling circuits this week during practice in an attempt to clean up their poor tackling in the opener, and they hope to see improved results against the Warhawks.
"We never want to give up 24 points in a home opener like that," Arkansas safety Ross Rasner said. "We expect a lot more out of our defense. I think we've had a good week of preparation, so I think you'll see a whole lot better defense this week."
The game is the season opener for Louisiana-Monroe, which enters its third season under coach Todd Berry. The Warhawks are no strangers to facing Arkansas in Little Rock, having lost to the Razorbacks 31-7 there two years ago.
That game was the first for Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning, who was 7 of 17 passing for 74 yards in his freshman debut. Browning, now a junior, has come a long way since - accounting for 2,926 yards of total offense last season.
Prior to Berry's tenure, Louisiana-Monroe nearly defeated the Razorbacks in War Memorial Stadium four years ago. The Warhawks led that game 27-14 in the fourth quarter before falling 28-27.
Berry, for one, doesn't expect Arkansas to need any extra motivation this week after last week's struggles and with Alabama looming.
"They're going to be well-prepared against us," Berry said. "They're not going to overlook us or any of those other kinds of things. They're looking, I think for a lot of reasons, to play big."
Last week marked the return of Razorbacks running back Knile Davis, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury. The junior had 70 yards rushing on 18 carries and exited the game healthy, but Arkansas lost starting fullback Kiero Small this week with a foot injury for an indefinite amount of time.
When the Razorbacks held on to the ball last week, the offense showed flashes of its usual explosive self. Wilson threw for an opening game school record of 367 yards, and offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said "we could have scored 70 points" against Jacksonville State without the fumbles.
Arkansas will likely need its best offensive performance next week against the Crimson Tide.
For now, Smith is only concerned with improving this week on both sides of the ball.
"We're mature enough, and after this last week ... If we go to the field and don't concentrate on getting better, then we're not very smart football team," Smith said. "I think they understand what we have to get done."
Updated September 7, 2012