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Early struggles show scrutiny Arkansas will face

Associated Press Modified: September 3, 2012 at 4:48 pm •  Published: September 3, 2012

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas had a clear picture in mind about how its season would start against Jacksonville State, and trailing 14-7 early in the second quarter definitely was not it.

Despite the early deficit, caused by a pair of fumbles and a shaky secondary, Razorbacks coach John L. Smith kept his composure on the sidelines. He didn't feel a sense of panic from the players in his first game as a head coach since 2006, nor did he have any doubt Arkansas would come back to win, handily so.

"Well, truly I was kind of calm, to be honest with you," Smith said. "I was not that upset because we're better than that. 'Hey, OK, we'll get our feet on the ground and we'll start to play the way that we can play.'

"... I wasn't looking for the sky to fall, by any means."

The No. 10 Razorbacks (1-0) avoided peril in the end, gaining 564 yards of total offense in a 49-24 win over the Gamecocks (0-1). The game included a school record from senior quarterback Tyler Wilson, with 367 yards passing and three touchdowns.

The positives, however, were easy to lose track of for fans as they watched Arkansas struggle at times with an FCS opponent — particularly when Southeastern Conference foe Alabama appeared in midseason form in a convincing win over Michigan on Saturday night.

The Razorbacks still have time to prepare for the No. 2 Crimson Tide's visit to Fayetteville in two weeks. They host Louisiana-Monroe this week in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium, but the opener illustrated just how scrutinized Arkansas will be this season in the post-Bobby Petrino era.

Petrino was fired in April after the revelation that he hired his mistress to a position in the athletic department, and that he initially tried to cover up her presence during an April 1 motorcycle accident.

For all of his many personal failings, Petrino's coaching signature is still squarely on the Razorbacks this season. His staff was left intact after his firing, and that includes Smith — the former Michigan State and Louisville coach who was an assistant the last three seasons at Arkansas under Petrino.

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