COACH BOBBY PETRINO
THE MODERATOR: A few thoughts on preparation and then we’ll take questions.
COACH PETRINO: It’s almost here. We’re looking forward to the game. I think we’ve had a tremendous experience down here. I’d like to thank the Allstate Sugar Bowl staff and the city of New Orleans for making a great experience for our football players, our coaches and their family. It’s a tremendous Bowl. And when we started this thing off 38 days ago, since our last game, we knew we had a long preparation in front of us and our players have done a nice job of handling it. I think our assistant coaches have done a nice job of handling it.
Obviously we’re all ready to get to the game and play the football game. Our fans are exciting. It was fun last night. We had a radio show downtown, and there was a lot of Razorback fans downtown. I think we’ll come out and put on a great show with our crowd, give our players a lot of excitement and enthusiasm and have a great football game.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll take questions.
Q. Special teams in Bowl games usually kind of rear up and play a role. What do you expect tomorrow?
COACH PETRINO: They do in every game. What you have to do is be sound. Make sure you don’t beat yourself in special teams. I think that’s real important. Both teams have very good skilled players, very capable of returning and making big plays. And we’ve worked extremely hard on our coverage game, our kickoff coverage and our punt coverage. I think our specialists get an advantage because we are playing inside so you don’t have to deal with the elements and the wind and rain or anything like that.
Q. You obviously had a difficult experience three years ago with the Falcons. Now you’re here. Could you reflect on your personal journey and what this means to you to be here?
COACH PETRINO: Well, it’s been really enjoyable for me and the players that have been with us for the three years. When we came in the first year we were not very good. We played 16 true freshmen. Not all of them started, but they all played.
We took our lumps. At one point we played Texas, Alabama, and Florida back to back to back and got beat up in all those games. I think what I’m really proud of is our coaches and the fact that we had strong beliefs on how you do things, how you build a program, how you run your offense, your defense and your special teams. And even that year you could see the improvement as the year went on.
And this off season was really special, as a coach, because our players ran the off season. They pushed each other. They made a total commitment to our football team and our football program and it was fun to see that happen and see us mature and become a very good football team.
Q. This is for the first time in a while Arkansas has been on a stage this big. Can you talk about what a win would mean to take this program to another level to put it on a national level of being a contender?
COACH PETRINO: What a win does is finish it off for our seniors. Finish it off for this team the 2010 Razorbacks. And we started this season with real high expectations. We felt like we had an opportunity to get into the championship game. We lost a couple tough games.
I’m very proud of the way our players reacted to that, and just kept working hard with a positive attitude. And a win does two things for us. It sends our seniors out with a special team. Could be considered one of the best teams at the University of Arkansas, finishing the top 5 somewhere probably. And then it starts next season off the right way.
We want to be ranked high when we start next season. And I always feel like the preseason rankings are determined on how you finished and how many players you got coming back.
Q. Continuing what a win might mean, you’ve often spoke of the fan base at Arkansas. Now that you have a feel for them in three years, what do you think it might mean for them it’s a hungry fan base, it’s waiting for this a long time to win the Sugar Bowl?
COACH PETRINO: It’s been really fun this year with our fans and the support that we’ve had. All the games that we’ve played in Fayetteville, how we traveled and went to Dallas and played in the game down there against Texas A&M, the two big games in Little Rock.
But it’s a unique state, because I think everybody in the state are Razorbacks fans. We have other colleges, other universities and they support them, but they can still be a Razorback. And it’s very unique. Something that, as a football coach, you see the passion and the pride that everybody takes in Razorbacks football. And really motivates you. Motivates you every day to go out and recruit hard and work as hard as you possibly can.
Q. Coach, some of the players have commented on the lightheartedness and joking of D.J. Williams in the locker room. Can you comment on that side of him?
COACH PETRINO: Well, D.J. is a special young man. Certainly everyone is aware of his past and the obstacles that he’s overcome and how that has shaped his personality.
You know, the thing that’s so special about D.J. is it’s not only with the football team and with the people in the athletic department, but you can go on campus and see all the professors, other students and everybody knows D.J. Williams. Everyone knows that he smiles and loves life.
And it’s one of those young men that you’re fortunate enough to be around that affects everybody around him in a positive way.
Q. Coach, what was the thoughts and attitude of your quarterback in getting a chance to play Ohio State again?
COACH PETRINO: What Ryan has done a nice job of is once he came to the University of Arkansas, he put everything behind him. He put everything behind him and moved forward and I think that’s important for anybody to do that. And he grew up wanting to be an Arkansas Razorbacks football player. He’s got tremendous personality and love for football.
He’s one of the special guys to coach, because doesn’t take a lot to motivate Ryan. He loves to work. He loves to come in the meeting room. He loves to watch video and study. He’s a great student of the game, and I think he’ll just approach this just like any other big game.
Q. Can you talk about the seniors and have you noticed the body language? A couple of them have said they really appreciated and soaked up this moment and the entire experience about capping it off with a BCS game. Has it been any different than the rest of the season?
COACH PETRINO: It’s different. There’s no doubt about that. When you come down here and you have five practices and there’s a lot of things going on, I think our players have done a nice job of keeping their focus and doing a good job in meetings, doing a good job on the practice field. But certainly they feel the reward that the Sugar Bowl and the City of New Orleans has put out for us to make it a special experience, and they need to have that. There’s no question about that.
Now it’s time to get ready to get focused on getting ready for the game. We came in for breakfast and we’ll have meetings and go through our normal Friday, Saturday routines for a game, and I think our guys will do a good job of focusing and getting ready for the game.
Q. Could you talk about who are the most similar opponent to Ohio State maybe you faced this year would be, or how they’re different than maybe anybody you faced?
COACH PETRINO: Yeah, I’m not real good on making similarities or comparisons between teams. When you look at Ohio State, the first thing that jumps off at you is how well coached they are. They know exactly what they want to do, what their schemes are. Their players execute them. They play extremely physical.
They’ll be as physical of offensive and defensive line that we’ve played all year long. So we got a great challenge ahead of us. It’s been 38 days of studying what they do. And you know, I’m looking forward to the matchup. I think you’ll see a really good football game.
Q. Today is Black Monday in the NFL. Some changes. You’ve already had one BCS coach leave. Teammate of BCS Bowl leave. What is it like for you to be out of the mix of that for a change?
COACH PETRINO: It’s great. I’ll tell you what, I appreciate Dr. Gerhart and Jeff Long. We want to try to get it done as quick as we possibly could, so we all understood the commitments that are there on both sides.
And it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of fun to know that we’re going to continue to build this program the way that we want to.
Q. Coach, a lot has been made recently, especially with the day that the Big Ten has this past Saturday of the difference between the conferences. Do you feel that you have an advantage playing a schedule that you did in the SEC?
COACH PETRINO: No, I don’t think any of that matters for this game. I think what you see in this game is a great football team from Ohio State that’s a tremendous challenge for us.
And you know, what happened in other games, what we play throughout the year, you kind of put behind you and just focus on going out and trying to win this game.
Q. Talk about the seniors, Alex Tejada’s last game, a couple of days, and obviously is there any chances that he might do a field goal or extra point?
COACH PETRINO: Well, the seniors have put a tremendous amount of energy, leadership and commitment, dedication into this football team.
And the leadership that they’ve provided throughout the year is one of the reasons it’s been so enjoyable for me to coach, is because you know, when we had challenges come up and things you thought, well, this might be hard to get the team ready to practice today or might be hard, might have some distractions, the leadership from within the team has really taken that over, and we’ve been very mature and prepared very well.
But as far as the game goes, we play to win the game.
Q. You played on Bowls at different levels. Is there a biggest lesson you’ve come away from, having been a part of so many different Bowls?
COACH PETRINO: There have been a lot of lessons you learn. Most of them are when you get beat. I think what you try to do is just figure out a schedule that allows you to continue to improve as a football player, as an individual football player, continue to work on your technique, your fundamentals, and you also use this preparation as a spring football for the young players.
So that when we get to spring ball now, they’re very familiar with what we do offensively and defensively, and now they can compete for a job in spring football.
And then you try to balance it out for how do I prepare for the game, not overdo it, not try to do too much, and try to get to a normal routine.
And that’s one of the reasons why today we’ll take the travel squad, move to a different hotel and really focus on what we would normally do on every Friday and Saturday of the game.
Q. Last year, last month of the season, Ohio State threw the ball an average of 17 passes a game. All of a sudden in the Rose Bowl, they threw it 34, 35 threw a prior game, what do you expect from Ohio State from an offensive standpoint going into this one?
COACH PETRINO: I think you always try to do what you do best and execute what you do best. And then adjust as the game goes on. So I think they’ll come in and try to live with what got them here.
We feel like we have a great challenge in stopping the run. Not only the runs to the running back with their quarterback runs, and try to get them in third and long situations.
But obviously when you have this much time to prepare, you know, we’re going to see something that we haven’t prepared for. They’ll probably see something they haven’t prepared for. That’s just how the Bowl games go.
Q. I’ve talked to some of your players, Rudell Crim, Jones, and Zhamal Thomas and also Jeff Long and asked about the local flair and if they learned any French or Cajun terms while they’ve been here. I got them all to attempt [French] and I really need you to attempt it as well.
COACH PETRINO: Let’s hear it again.
COACH PETRINO: One more time. If you do something three times then you’ve got a chance to get it.
COACH PETRINO: [French]. One more time.
Q. Let the good times roll.
COACH PETRINO: Let the good times roll. I like it. Good term.
Q. They say a team usually takes on the personality of the head coach. You’ve been here three years. Big week of preparation here. Would you say that team, or this team has done just that?
COACH PETRINO: Well, I don’t know. I’m not sure that’s all true, because you have so many different things that go into a football team. Certainly you feel like, offensively, we have a personality from our staff and our coaches and how we want to operate. Defensively we have a personality that we’ve been working to develop for three years now, and now have it that way.
But I think what I like about our football team is that they’re very aggressive. They’re very, very competitive. And we’ve been able to go out and work as hard as we can to give our best performance each week.
And that’s really what we tried to do as a football team is prepare and have a better game than we had the previous week.
Q. This is the first BCS game, big game, Bowl game for the Razorbacks. But can an Alabama game, that atmosphere, that experience, playing in an Alabama game, the Auburn, the SEC schedule, can this help this team in their first big time Bowl game?
COACH PETRINO: I think it can. We go on the road and all the big stages that we play on, all the loud crowds and hostile environments, I think certainly puts you on the same type of stage that we’re going to be on tomorrow night. And what’s important is, as a football player and football team, is you focus on what you can control and what you do.
As long as we can get to our comfort zone as quick as possible within the game and say, hey, we know what this is about, we’ve been here before, it’s just a different team, I think we’ll execute and play well.
Q. The Ohio State secondary, are they about as talented, good a group as you’ve seen this year?
COACH PETRINO: It will be a great challenge for us. They’ve got two big, tall corners with long arms that are well coached, have tremendous technique.
Their safeties are real impressive because they come downhill and make a lot of tackles, are able to be in zone coverage and get down to the line of scrimmage very, very fast.
Their ability to read run pass is something that’s really impressed me. It will be a good challenge for us. We’ve got to try to get in some one on one situations. And we feel like we have good wide receivers and good quarterbacks. So that’s what a good matchup will be.
Q. How tough is it to prepare for a game when you have this much time off as a lot of obviously Bowl teams do? Would you prefer to see a little closer period between the end of the season and the Bowl season?
COACH PETRINO: Yeah, I think we would all prefer that. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen again. But there’s no doubt that it’s different with this much time and being after the 1st, it’s certainly something that’s a challenge in how you deal with it.
But, again, what we tried to do was go back to really working hard on technique, fundamentals, not overworking our players.
In the early practices, the guys playing in this game were maybe on the field an hour, 20 minutes, hour and a half, we got them off the field and worked hard on conditioning and weightlifting, and then practiced our young guys.
And then once we got closer to the game, we tried to make it just like a regular week, what we would do late in the year on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. So we get some sense of getting back to a normal game preparation.
Q. Getting to a BCS game in your third year, when you set up the master plan, when you took over Arkansas, are you ahead of schedule? Are you right where you thought you would be?
COACH PETRINO: It’s a hard question to answer, because really what you do is you evaluate how you do in spring ball. You evaluate how the two a days go and summer goes. And then you set your goals.
And we set our goals this year to get to the championship game. We really felt like we had an opportunity to do that when we stumbled a couple times throughout the year and lost a couple of hard fought games but we were right in them. We were winning in the fourth quarter in both of those games. And then we put on a nice win streak. Six in a row and kind of snuck up on everybody and had a huge win against LSU to get here.
But we’re always going to set our goals high. We really feel like the program has developed the way we wanted it to and getting continuity with our coaches and getting continuity with our players, staying in the program and getting better.
And then doing a good job of recruiting. So we’ve just got to keep it going.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.