FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson realized something significant after the 24-7 win against Auburn last Saturday.
It was the first time in his five years at Arkansas a Petrino — Bobby or Paul — wasn’t on the sideline during a game.
Bobby Petrino’s absence from the sideline this season been documented. But offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wasn’t on the field for other reasons for the first time Saturday. He moved from the sideline to the press box.
“He was in the box, calling plays, which I think gave us a tremendous advantage in terms of things he was able to see up there,” Wilson said.
Arkansas’ defense earned plenty of credit for helping snap a four-game losing streak last Saturday, but the Razorbacks believe they improved offensively as well after changing where its play caller worked. Petrino — who coached from the box during his previous stint as offensive coordinator with the Razorbacks — moved back upstairs, while receivers coach Kris Cinkovich was down on the field.
The Razorbacks didn’t put up a huge day by any means, finishing with their second-lowest yardage total (372 yards). But Petrino said there was a difference.
“It was just a change I felt I needed,” Petrino said. “I always knew you can see better up there. You take the emotion out of the game, you can see, and I just felt it was something we needed to do. Watching the (Texas A&M) game on film (last) Sunday, I just felt like there was a couple of things that I kicked myself in the butt that I would have come back to, to be honest with you. I thought if I went upstairs I’d see it better, take better notes and do a better job. So that’s why I did it.”
Arkansas coach John L. Smith said the move came after a staff meeting following the Texas A&M loss. The Razorbacks put up 515 yards and only had 10 points to show for it largely because of turnovers and red zone troubles.
So Smith and Petrino agreed it was time for a new approach.
“When I coordinated I was more comfortable there,” Smith said about working from the box when he was an assistant. “If you can get your adjustments made on the field, if you have confidence in those people down there making the adjustments that I want to make, then let’s do it. And he was all for it and I think it was good.”
Petrino believes there were times when it came in handy Saturday.
Wilson agreed, pointing to some plays Arkansas may not have run if Petrino was still working from the field last Saturday.
“There were some naked sneaks I got to run in the flat that were really good calls,” Wilson said. “I think he could see that by some of the things they were doing with their defensive front.”
Arkansas’ play-calling operation didn’t change. Petrino still called them from the box and it was signaled in to Wilson from the sideline. Petrino still had the ability to communicate with his quarterback throughout the game, too.
Wilson said he went to the sideline after a series, put on a headset, draped a towel over his head and blocked out everything else around him.
It helped Wilson complete 22 of 29 passes for 230 yards against Auburn. It was Wilson’s highest completion percentage of the season (75.9 percent).
“I tried to preach that to the guys and say, ‘When we’re on the bench we need to have complete and total focus on what we do and go over our calls and understand it,’” Wilson said. “I had a headset on so I could completely zone out of what the crowd was doing, what our defense was doing on the other end.”
Wilson and Petrino are confident the success will continue when Arkansas (2-4, 1-2 in SEC) faces Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 in SEC) on Saturday in Razorback Stadium.
The Razorbacks still have some issues in the red zone against Auburn after scoring just one touchdown on three trips in the first half. Arkansas ran the ball better against Auburn, too, but expect even more from the ground game Saturday.
Arkansas — which has scored 34 points in three SEC games — ranks 11th in the conference in scoring (23.3 points) and last in rushing (108.2 yards a game). It also ranks last in the SEC in red zone offense, scoring on 15 of 23 trips (65.2 percent).
Petrino believes the Arkansas offense is heading in the right direction, though, and his move to the box was part of the puzzle. The Razorbacks expect more Saturday.
“We played well last week,” Petrino said. “We won at Auburn and that’s a tough place to win. Now we’ve just got to build on that and have a great week of practice and, again, I think it’s as much about us as anything. We’ve got to get ourselves ready to play and go out there and play real well.”