Arkansas looks to cure first-half woes at Vandy

Associated Press  |  Last updated October 25, 2011
Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette doesn't have the answer. Bequette is just as mystified as anyone else when he's asked about the Razorbacks' poor starts over the last month. The latest came last week when Arkansas fell behind 17-0 to Mississippi before eventually rallying for a 29-24 win. It was the fourth straight game the No. 8 Razorbacks (6-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) have fallen behind. They've rallied in each of the last three for wins, but Bequette is well aware Arkansas can't keep spotting opponents leads if they hope to return to a BCS bowl game this season. Not in the SEC, and most certainly not when the Razorbacks travel to face an improved Vanderbilt (4-3, 1-3) this week. ''We all prefer to get a big lead and keep a big lead, but football is a game of adjustments and a game of momentum,'' Bequette said. ''We've been able to overcome some early deficits, but we got to figure out why we're starting slow and correct it.'' Arkansas never did find an answer in the first of its slow starts this season - a 38-14 loss at Alabama on Sept. 24. Then again, it's not like anyone else has found an answer for the undefeated No. 2 Crimson Tide so far this season. What's been more troubling for the Razorbacks have been their first-half performances in recent weeks. The troubles began when Arkansas fell behind 35-17 against Texas A&M, followed by an early 14-7 deficit to Auburn a week later. The Razorbacks rallied in both of those games, outscoring the Aggies 25-3 in the second half and scoring the final 31 points of the game against the Tigers. Against the Rebels and former coach Houston Nutt last week, however, they never did hit their stride - needing a late interception by Eric Bennett to stop Ole Miss' last drive and secure the win. ''I know we were ready to play on Saturday,'' Bequette said. ''But for some reason on Saturday and the last three, four games, we haven't started very fast and really kind of dug ourselves into a hole, which is not good.'' Arkansas can ill afford to dig itself a hole this week against the Commodores and first-year coach James Franklin. Vanderbilt defeated Ole Miss 30-7 earlier this season and is coming off a convincing 44-21 win over Army last week. Despite the Razorbacks recent slow starts, Franklin doesn't see a trend or specific way for the Commodores to take advantage early on Saturday. ''That's always an emphasis ... knowing how to finish games, how to finish halves and drives and series like that,'' Franklin said. ''That's not really a thing that I address with the team or focus on what's Arkansas doing. It's more about us and being the best Vanderbilt we can be.'' Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said there hasn't been one reason for the slow starts, but he did say the Razorbacks will ''re-evaluate everything'' in an attempt to start better. The most consistent problem early in the last three games has been a defense that has allowed an average of 22 points in the first half. Arkansas' SEC-best offense has done its best to keep up, scoring an average of 15 points in the first half, but it would prefer the defense play the entire game like it's the second half. The Razorbacks have given up only 10 second-half points in the last three games, a positive Petrino is stressing this week as Arkansas searches for first-half answers. ''There's a lot of people that want to talk about the things that are wrong, all the negatives,'' Petrino said. ''Which I understand; that's a part of the business. ''But I like to look at the things that are positive. Our toughness, our character, our heart and really the thing that showed up so much at halftime and in the second half is our competitive spirit.'' The only thing the close call at Ole Miss cost the Razorbacks was a spot in this week's BCS rankings, where they fell from ninth to No. 10. However, another slow start could cost them - especially with so much left to play for. Arkansas returns home for three games following Vanderbilt, against South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi State. It then closes out the regular season at No. 1 LSU, providing plenty of chances to secure that second straight BCS bowl berth. ''At this point in the year, I don't think it matters,'' Bequette said. ''I mean, if we keep winning and doing our job, the BCS rankings and the bowl games, that will all take care of itself. --- AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report
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