AUBURN - Cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley knows well what faces Auburn's offense on Saturday. He knew even before he watched video of quarterback Ryan Mallett and the fleet of receivers that give Arkansas the Southeastern Conference's most prolific passing game.
On late nights and early mornings, over hot cups of coffee, Lolley talked football with Bobby Petrino. That was 2002. Lolley coached cornerbacks. Petrino was the offensive coordinator on his way to big things. Saturday, Lolley, who coaches cornerbacks now for Gene Chizik, will try to do his part to stymie Petrino's offense when the No. 7 Tigers (7-0, 3-0) play the No. 12 Razorbacks (4-1, 1-1) at Jordan-Hare stadium.
"He’s an excellent football coach," Lolley said Wednesday night. "He’s like the guy we’ve got. He’s relentless around the clock. He is going to work at the game all the time. He has a great understanding of defense and what defensive people are trying to do to him. He understands defensive back play very well.
"When he was here, we used to talk a lot. He understands coverages and schemes and run fits. He’s an excellent football coach. That’s the reason he is where he is. He is going to be a tremendous challenge."
Along the way, Lolley says, he and Petrino became close friends. Petrino left after that season to become head coach at Louisville. He went from there to the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and finally to Arkansas, where he is in his third season./
"We're very close," Lolley said. "Bobby is tremendously competitive. A lot of times, late at night when you are getting ready for other football teams, there is a lot of coffee at 12 or 1 in the morning, Bobby was always here to share a cup. He is one of those guys that is going to work around the clock at the game.
I tried to pick him as much as I could about things like what gives your quarterbacks trouble. He’s not the kind of guy that offers a whole lot. He figures you might play against him one day, but I learned a lot from him."
With the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Mallett at the helm, Arkansas leads the SEC with 354 yards per game passing, almost 100 yards more than than second-place Kentucky. But the threat, Lolley says, goes beyond Mallett and his receivers.
"Coach Petrino," Lolley said, "knows how to run the ball."
Lolley's cornerbacks - starters Demond Washington and Neiko Thorpe, nickel back T'Sharvan Bell and dime back Chris Davis will be under fire from the start.
Lolley says he's been pleased with the development of his cornerbacks, but he says it'll take another level to contain the high-flying Razorback offense.
"We can play better, but we’ve played well in spots," Lolley said. "They’ve been doing what you ask them to do. You can always be better. I’d like to have more picks like we all would, but we make up for some things in some other areas. I think we are playing the run well at times. At times, I wish we played the run better. We ask those guys to do two or three different things. We expect them to be run players first on the perimeter when certain coverages are called. I think we’ve gotten better there.
"Down the stretch here, we are going to have to tighten things up and play tougher on some of the teams we are about to play as far as the receivers. It is getting more challenging each week, and this is one of them. We’ll do some different things this week and hopefully challenge those receivers."