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Arkansas hits the road again this week to play Vanderbilt, and much of the talk has centered around Arkansas' improved rushing attack and the inability to get off to a good start.
"We look forward to another SEC road test against a very well-coached Vanderbilt team, a team that's playing very well on both sides of the football right now," Razorback head coach Bobby Petrino said Wednesday. "We did have a good practice yesterday. Our players are excited about the challenge to go on the road again, and we're looking forward to getting back out on the practice field again today and getting ready for the game."
Tank still out
Defensive end Tenarius Wright started the first four weeks but broke his hand in the first quarter against Alabama. The projected recovery time was four-to-six weeks, and this weekend will mark the fifth week since the injury occurred.
"He is getting closer," Petrino said. "He actually came out yesterday and did some individual work and is doing some running, change-of-direction. But he's still a ways away. I don't think there's any way he plays this week."
Fullback Kiero Small is a big reason the rushing attack has improved. He seems to make a few devastating blocks each game. Arkansas did not have any scholarship fullbacks to replace Van Stumon, and they had been seeking one for some time. In the last class they signed Small out of Hartnell Community College in California.
"We've honestly been looking for a fullback for three years and have had a real tough time finding one," Petrino said. "We ran into Kiero as he was playing linebacker. We researched his background a little bit. He was a really good running back in high school up in Maryland. Did a really nice job. Got to know him, really liked the type of person that he is and the toughness that he has. He's come in here and really picked the offense up quick. Really understands a lot about football. He's played very well for us.
"I think it's the spread offenses and all the passing games that's popular right now. It's hard to find the big fullbacks."
Behind Small, Arkansas has been having more and more success with junior tailback Dennis Johnson, who missed 11 games last season with a bowel injury and got off to a slow start this season due to a hamstring injury.
"It was awesome for us. We've all been cheering for Dennis since he's been back off of a very serious injury from last year," Petrino said. "He had to work hard at it. Struggled at times in spring ball, and he just kept a great attitude, kept working hard. We all know he's capable of having big games. He's done it since he's been here as a freshman. Certainly we needed it the other day, and he came through for us."
In games starting before noon this season, Arkansas has fallen behind a combined 52-24 in the first half, 35-17 against Texas A&M and 17-7 against Ole Miss. Arkansas raced back to win those games, but that is not going to happen all the time. Saturday's kickoff in Nashville is set for 11:21 a.m.
"Definitely we feel like we need to do a better job," Petrino said. "We need to get going offensively. We've stuttered. We haven't been able to take things from the practice field on to the game field right off the bat. It's important for us to get going fast on offense. Then defensively we need to be more aggressive.
"We know it's up to us to take care of our business. We also understand that the way you do that is you just focus on one practice at a time and one game each week. And if you think anything past that then you've got a chance not to be prepared and ready to play. We're just really focused on concentrating on coming out to practice and getting beater."
One of Vanderbilt's strong points is the secondary, which could make it tougher for Arkansas to come back if they fall behind early. Vandy leads the SEC in interceptions this season and is also tied for third in sacks.
"Their secondary is very good," Petrino said. "They do a nice job with what they do scheme-wise. Theyr'e very experienced back there. When you put on last year's video, they're the same guys we played against a year ago and they're much better. We know we need to come in and get going off the bat."
Consistent QB Play
Most every school in the SEC has had issues at quarterback. Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Vanderbilt and South Carolina have all made changes with the starter and Kentucky has benched their starter during a game. Tennessee had an injury to their starter and LSU has two quarterbacks who believe they should be the starter. Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama have been consistent with the same starter each week and have not had to pull their guy in any game.
"You always want to keep your quarterback healthy. What it does is you continue to get experience and work hard at getting better each week, and I think Tyler has been able to do that."