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Nine Games in to the Petrino Era: Taking Stock

AP Photo/April L. BrownThe Bobby Petrino era is now nine games are things looking?

I know this a cliche, but it truly is amazing the difference a few plays here and there can make. Had Tulsa's David Johnson found a receiver in the end zone on that final 4th down, I'd be writing a totally different post now. On the flip side, had the Hogs done just one or two things differently against Kentucky and Ole Miss, then this would also be a very different post. Same goes for the Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe games, for that matter.

But, all that stuff is in the past, and here we sit at 4-5 with three games left. It's certainly been an up and down season...two squeakers over weak teams, then three routs at the hands of really good teams, then four consecutive nailbiters against middle-of-the-pack teams. The elusive dream of bowl eligibility is still out there, although with two tough road games coming up followed by LSU in Little Rock, it won't be easy. But, the fact that it's still in the conversation is a tribute to the team and coaches (and, most importantly, the bloggers).

We were never going to be a world-beating team this year, so the key thing all along has been to watch for signs of improvement. Are the players buying into the Petrino system? Will the system even work? Can these coaches mold a mostly-green bunch of youngsters into a group that can hang with the best of the SEC? Can this year be a setup for bigger and better things in seasons to come?

After looking lost in those first two games (which, in retrospect, wasn't too surprising given the massive turnover in both coaches and players from the previous year) and then getting waxed by Alabama, Texas and Florida, the Hogs weren't showing a lot of outward signs of progress. It was looking like all my questions from the previous paragraph could be answered by a big, fat NO.

But, obviously something was going on because we knocked off Auburn (a feat that, admittedly, is looking less impressive with each passing week) and managed to stay focused even after the crushing 'snatch defeat from the jaws of victory' losses to Kentucky and Ole Miss. In his column today, Harry King offers several examples from the Tulsa game of players hustling and showing signs of unity that surely helped them pull out the big win.

So, after nine games in which the Razorbacks have both won and lost in the craziest and most diverse ways possible it seems like things are definitely starting to click. Sure, there will be more boneheaded penalties, stalled drives and turnovers at the worst possible times, but if you look carefully you can see a really solid foundation being built for next year and beyond. And by that measure, this season has already been a success. (Now, let's go out and win two of the next three!)