Leader Blues

Friday, August 21, 2009

SPORTS >> Rhinos look to put Storm loss behind, focus on Panthers

Leader sports editor

The Arkansas Rhinos have no time and can’t afford to stew over a poorly played game in last Saturday’s 22-6 home loss to rival Nashville.

The playoffs are on the line the rest of the season, starting with tonight’s 7:05 kickoff with the Memphis Panthers at Bob Hill Memorial Stadium at Jacksonville Middle School.

The Rhinos fell to 4-3 after a woeful offensive performance against the Storm. Arkansas managed just 139 total yards, coughed up three turnovers, committed a slew of penalties and was guilty of several bad snaps on special teams.

“Every game we’ve lost we have not played Rhino football,” said owner and offensive coordinator Oscar Malone. “In fact, we have played up to our standards in all four quarters of any game this year. Actually, I’d really rather save that for the playoffs.”

To add injury to insult in the Nashville game, the Rhinos had three key players go down. Two are expected to play tonight, while top receiver Stewart Franks is a game-time decision. Franks was horse-collared last Saturday and suffered an ankle injury.

Quarterback Damien Dunning is still nursing a high ankle sprain that Malone said he will battle the rest of the year. But Dunning is slated to start and Malone said he retains decent lateral mobility. Safety Tyler Knight went out last weekend with dehydration but will play tonight.

Other good news for the Rhinos: Assistant coach Harry Coleman, who collapsed on the sidelines last week, will be back coaching tonight, though Malone said he would probably work from the press box.

The Rhinos opened the season with a tough 16-14 win over the Panthers, who have gone on to also post a 4-3 record. Both teams have little margin for error in the battle for a playoff berth.

Malone said the Panthers are a quality team with an aggressive defense that will not hesitate to blitz. But the Rhinos will have fullback Joe Wesson back after he missed the Nashville game, and Malone said Jerald Marshall has become more comfortable in the revamped offense, meaning Arkansas will have plenty of weapons available.

On offense, the Panthers run four wideouts and have a tough, mobile quarterback and one dynamic receiver.

Malone said his team might be able to afford one more loss and still reach the playoffs, but he doesn’t want to take any chances.

“I’m telling our guys we need to win out,” he said.

Tickets for tonight’s game have been reduced to $5.