By Robbie Neiswanger
Arkansas News Bureau
NEW ORLEANS — Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said his team’s first practices in the Louisiana Superdome would be used to knock off the rust from a lengthy Christmas break.
He deemed the mission accomplished after Thursday’s workout, their second of the week, in preparation for the Sugar Bowl.
Arkansas, which held a two-hour practice open to the media, ran through drills and portions of its gameplan for Ohio State in the Jan. 4 game. Petrino said he was impressed with the stamina of his players, who came back from the break it better condition than the Razorbacks imagined.
“I think our players came back in shape,” Petrino said. “They obviously worked out when they were home. We didn’t bounce too many balls off the carpet. We’re throwing it and catching it very well. So I’m excited to get into (today), which will start our normal weekly preparation for a game.”
Arkansas will move into their regular game week work with practices today, Saturday and Sunday. The Razorbacks will hold one final walk-through on Monday before Tuesday night’s game.
Offensive guard Grant Cook said the first two workouts have been important to help Arkansas get back in the flow of practice and to get used to the surroundings for the Sugar Bowl.
The Hogs will be playing in the Superdome for the first time, but it’s not the only game they’ve played in a dome. Arkansas has played in Dallas Cowboys Stadium the past two years.
“We had to knock a few cobwebs off (Wednesday),” Cook said. “Having five, six days off, you get a little rusty. (Wednesday) he did a good job of scheduling the practice, kind of getting everything, knowing the ropes, getting our technique back.
(Thursday) was a lot more fast paced. We kind of got our wheels back under us and we’re getting ready to roll.”
Preparing for Ohio State is the goal this week, but isn’t the only item on the agenda for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas practiced Wednesday, then visited a children’s hospital, went bowling and attended the New Orleans Hornets-Los Angeles Lakers game. The Razorbacks were also scheduled to attend a dinner party on Thursday night.
“The workouts have been great for us,” Arkansas receiver Jarius Wright said. “We’ve enjoyed the atmosphere. We’ve enjoyed being in New Orleans. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Petrino on Raises
Petrino spoke for the first time about the raises Arkansas’ assistant coaches are scheduled to receive for next year.
The nine one-the-field coaches have been recommended for salary bumps that will total roughly $200,000. The raises must be approved by the Arkansas Board of Trustees during its next meeting next month. Petrino sounded as if he felt the coaches deserved more than they’ve been recommended for, though.
“You really can’t say enough about our staff,” Petrino said. “I don’t know if we gave them as much of raises as we’d like to, but you have to work at what you got.”
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel’s Christmas night was interrupted by a few phone calls last week. An internet report was published saying Tressel planned to step down after the Sugar Bowl, something he said was “not true at all” Thursday.
“Apparently it was somebody on a website using their freedom of speech,” Tressel said. “God bless America, I guess.”
Tressel added: “It’s a waste of time. But this world is ever evolving with wastes of time.”
Arkansas and Ohio State have worked their way through a long layoff waiting for the Sugar Bowl. The matchup was set in early December, giving each team nearly a month to prepare.
So Petrino was asked if his team would have any new wrinkles offensively when it took the field next Tuesday night.
“We’re going strictly Wishbone,” Petrino said. “You’ll see us come out and run the true triple option. Ryan’s doing a good job. He’s opening at a 45 (degree angle), reaching the ball back, not riding it past his front hip. We worked hard at that.”
Petrino was only kidding. We think.
Arkansas’ players sounded a little starstruck about their experience at the Hornets-Lakers game. By who depended on which player you asked after Wednesday’s practice.
The main attraction was Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who scored 20 points and played limited minutes in a blowout win.
“He played good in the first quarter, hitting every fadeaway jumper I saw,” Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg said. “He was being Kobe.”
But rap artist Lil Wayne also was in attendance and caught the eye of the Razorbacks as well.
“You can’t miss him,” Arkansas receiver Cobi Hamilton said. “We were more concentrated on Lil Wayne than Kobe Bryant.
“That’s what we listen to.”
1962 Sugar Bowl
No. 1 Alabama 10, No. 9 Arkansas 3
Arkansas coach Frank Broyles’ team won a share of the Southwest Conference championship in 1961 and its reward was a Sugar Bowl date against top-ranked Alabama. The Crimson Tide, coached by the legendary Bear Bryant, rode a dominant defense into the New Year’s Day game and frustrated the Razorbacks on the field.
Arkansas — which was confident it could move the football on anyone thanks largely to Lance Alworth’s talents — never got on track against the Crimson Tide. Alabama scored a touchdown on the sixth play from scrimmage, led 10-0 at the half and kept the Razorbacks out of the end zone the entire game.
In the end, Arkansas finished with 168 yards of offense. Alworth rushed for 15 yards on 10 carries and caught two passes for 55.
Alabama fullback Mike Fracchia, meanwhile, was named the games most valuable player after scoring the only touchdown in the first quarter. He also ran for 124 yards on 20 carries to help Alabama wrap up a national title, its first under Bryant.
Follow Arkansas beat writer Robbie Neiswanger on Twitter (@NWARobbie) for news and notes from the Sugar Bowl.