Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Players’ objective still same
Arkansas interim coach Taver Johnson said consistency is a key.
FAYETTEVILLE The initial shock of Arkansas football Coach Bobby Petrino’s firing was still echoing around the walls of the Broyles Athletic Center when Tyler Wilson and Tenarius Wright stood before their Razorbacks teammates to deliver a message.
Their message: We’re going to be OK. Don’t let this deter us from reaching our potential in 2012.
“We sat in there and we talked and let it be known that our mission had not changed and we still want to accomplish our goal: To wina championship,” said Wright, a linebacker. “We’re all in.”
“I think we’re confident we can beat anybody,” said Wilson, Arkansas’ starting quarterback. “That’s always been our mind-set.”
“We play for each other, and at the end of the day, the team is still here,” running back Knile Davis said. “I feel like once they make the decision about the coaching situation, we’ll be fine.”
Odds makers in Las Vegas seem to think the same.
Arkansas had been installed as a 15-1 shot by vegasinsider.com to win the BCS national championship, the eighth-best odds in the country, before Petrino’s firing, and they have not moved the needle on the Hogs’ odds since.
The betting site covers.com wrote, via Twitter, that Caesar’s Palace justified its lack of movement on Arkansas by saying: “Unless T. Wilson and K. Davis were on back of bike w/ [Petrino], we’re holding pat.”
Sportsbook.com also said it was not making any changes to its line, according to covers.com.
“Your attitude and effort gets you where you want to go, and it shouldn’t be sidetracked or thrown off by what’s hit us recently,” defensive tackle Alfred Davis said.
LSU has 4-to-1 odds to win the next BCS title by vegasinsider.com, followed by Alabama and Southern California (5-1), Oklahoma and Oregon (8-1), Georgia and Florida State (12-1) and Arkansas.
The Razorbacks, coming off an 11-2 record, a Cotton Bowl victory and a 21-5 mark in the past two seasons, believe they have the pieces in place to contend.
“The structure has not changed at all,” offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said.
“There was nothing wrong with the football program. There were some personal issues that happened.”
Defensive coordinator Paul Haynes has been around the team since Cotton Bowl preparations in December, and he said he’s liked the response he’s seen since Bobby Petrino’s transgressions became public.
“The players have responded awesome,” Haynes said. “They love this coaching staff. They love this program. They love this university.
“We just talked to them about, hey, our goals have not changed.”
Assistant head coach Taver Johnson, who is serving as the interim head coach until the end of the spring, said maintaining a consistent approach is key.
“Any time you have a bit of normalcy when you have chaos is great,” he said. “Right now, we haven’t batted an eye.We’re here. We’re here now, today, this second. Our players know that, we know that, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Wilson elected to come back for his senior year rather than declare for the NFL Draft. But he said Bobby Petrino’s messy departure has been frustrating.
“... Part of the reason I decided to come back was because I felt like our foundation and everything here was very firm. Top program in the country,” Wilson said. “Obviously this is a setback and frustrating, but I think we’re able to move on and press on without him.”
“Our goals haven’t changed,” Davis said. “We’re still trying to get that national championship.”
Sports, Pages 21 on 04/15/2012