By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Minutes after Arkansas’ 31-24 win at Georgia, while the voices of jubilant players still celebrating in the locker room were heard loud and clear, coach Bobby Petrino was asked about the significance of his team’s victory.
It was Arkansas’ first road win since 2008, after all, snapping a seven-game skid. It came even though things looked pretty bleak in the closing minutes, with Georgia rallying from two touchdowns down to tie the game and in position to win it.
Significant? Of course it was. But Petrino also sounded as if he was already thinking ahead to Arkansas’ next challenge.
“We’ve got to get on the bus, get on the plane and get home, relax a little bit, take a deep breath and then get back to work,” Petrino said. “That’s the key. The maturity now, we understand that you get back to work, you grind and you earn the right to win in practice. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Petrino’s business-like approach is nothing new to the Razorbacks. That’s how he runs his program. But it may be even more evident because of the challenge that lies ahead this week.
Arkansas (3-0, 1-0) took the first step toward its goal of winning a Southeastern Conference championship with the victory at Georgia, but faces a larger test next Saturday. Alabama (3-0, 0-0), the nation’s top-ranked team and defending national champions, are coming to Fayetteville for a pivotal game.
The latest Associated Press Top 25 poll — in which Arkansas moved up two spots to No. 10 — also reveals the SEC West game will have a touch of uniqueness to it as well. It will be the first meeting between top 10 teams in Fayetteville since 1979, when No. 6 Houston beat No. 4 Arkansas 13-10.
So receiver Joe Adams had a prediction after Saturday’s win.
“It’s going to be loud in Fayetteville,” Adams said.
Arkansas set the stage for the big week by taking a 24-10 lead, stumbling, then making game-winning plays in the final two minutes at Georgia. It was a game the Razorbacks put plenty into — Petrino said Arkansas began preparing for the Bulldogs last spring — and managed to get the result they were seeking.
Arkansas is 1-0 in the SEC for the first time since 2006.
“It means everything,” defensive end Jake Bequette said. “We had to get this one on the road to start our season the way we wanted to. Now we’ve got No. 1 coming to our house.”
Alabama has been rough on the Razorbacks under Petrino.
The Crimson Tide has outscored Arkansas 84-21 in two meetings, including last season’s 35-7 win in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Both victories are part of Alabama’s 27-game regular season win streak, which dates back to the 2007 regular season finale.
Arkansas has issues it must address before stepping on the field against Alabama. The run game, which managed 53 yards at Georgia, must improve. There were tackling issues on defense, too, and the fourth quarter struggles nearly proved costly.
But Arkansas believes it will be ready for Alabama, which got Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram (injury) and defensive end Marcell Dareus (suspension) back for the 62-13 win at Duke.
“Those guys are a great team,” Arkansas cornerback Ramon Broadway said. “No doubt about it. They deserve everything they get. But we deserve a lot of things, too.”
The Razorbacks got one reward with the road win at Georgia, which snapped a six-game losing skid against the Bulldogs dating back to 1993. They’re eyeing another one against Alabama.
“In the offseason and even when we started two-a-days, you’re saying we need to be a mature football team,” Petrino said of the importance of Arkansas’ start. “We’ve got to, No. 1, go and win at Georgia and then we get to make it a big game in Fayetteville. So we’re really looking forward to it.”