FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas football head coach Houston Nutt met with local media Sunday to discuss the Razorbacks’ 50-48 win over then-No. 1 LSU and the overall 2007 season. The following is a partial transcript of the press conference.
“I am really proud of our football team to go down there to Louisiana (against) the No. 1 team in the country on the road. What a weekend. I just felt so good about our team, their effort and perseverance. What a way to end the season. You start with the seniors. I love their heart and competitive spirit. It didn’t seem like we were ever tired. When you watch the film, there was a lot of energy, a lot of togetherness and these guys made plays.
“I was proud of our defense. They didn’t give up the big one, didn’t give up the big play. They tackled the catch consistently. (LSU) has excellent receivers and an excellent quarterback. I thought Michael Grant and Matterral Richardson played their best games. Kevin Woods, another senior, is a great leader and it was good to have him back. I thought Walner (Leandre) really came on there late. The (defensive front) without Malcolm Sheppard—Marcus Harrison, Antwain Robinson, (Chris) Wade, Adrian Davis keeps coming, Freddie Fairchild—they did some good things.
“Offensively, it was tough starting out. I was a little bit concerned when you fumble the opening kickoff, but the defense puts out a fire. (Darren) McFadden fumbled two or three times and I said ‘you have to hang on to that football, Darren’ and he said ‘yes sir, I’m going to.’ When he says that, I believe him. I thought he played at a Heisman level. What a football player. It is good to have Felix Jones back. When you have Marcus Monk and Casey Dick playing at his best level ever—David Lee has done a job with him and Coach (Alex) Wood has done a job with those receivers. Coach Wood has had the hospital position this year.
“We broke a scoring record this year. It just goes to show you what would have happened if we had Monk earlier. He’s valuable. Robert Johnson did a good job all year. London Crawford, Reggie Fish and the tight ends did a great job. I was proud of Andrew Davie, D.J. Williams and Lance Thompson.
“With the offensive line, that was really the first question I was asked about because you lose Tony Ugoh, you lose big (Stephen) Parker, you lose (Zac) Tubbs, so the very first question in August was how do you feel about your offensive line. I think they answered the bell to lead the league in rushing and I think we’re fourth in the nation in giving up the fewest sacks, so they answered the bell and I was really proud of them. You start with a senior like Robert Felton, Nate Garner really competed hard, Jonathan Luigs—what a football player—and then DeMarcus Love had to come in and we had Mitch Petrus on one side and had to move Robert Felton to left tackle because of Jose Valdez’s injury. Robert was the most valuable player because we could move him from tackle to guard to center. What a football player.
“Sometimes you ask me on short yardage, why would you not have your Heisman Trophy candidate on the field? We have a lot of confidence in Peyton Hillis. He made a lot of first downs on third and one. He scored in overtime by turning around and handing him the ball when you feel like your line is getting push. Same thing with Felix. Felix gives you a different gear, a different type of back. You’re not afraid to turn around and pitch to him on a two-point play. The only reason I bring that up is because sometimes (the media) ask me ‘why would you not do that.’ It’s because you believe in what you’re doing, you believe in the offensive line, you believe in Felix Jones and you believe in Peyton Hillis. Peyton Hillis probably played his best game as a Razorback—catching it, blocking it, running the football 65 yards against the No. 1 team.
“I’m just proud of them. The emotion and celebrated locker room, that’s what you live for as a coach, that’s what you live for. That locker room as the best we’ve ever experienced. There was so much happiness, so much joy and let’s be honest, this was difficult season. Under the circumstances, for guys to start out 0-3 (in conference), it could have easily gone south, but the one thing, the one trademark that we have is we keep fighting. We keep playing and we stay together. They do it for each other. I’m proud of them.
“Darren McFadden—what can you say? Three straight years over 1,000 yards. I wish we could figure out the YAC, the yards after first contact—how many yards does he get—because that would be something. He is a tough, tough guy. Again, I wasn’t trying to call anybody out. I got a few messages. I love Lou Holtz. I don’t know Mark May as well, but I love Lou Holtz, played for him, coached with him. If you ask him, he knows I stood up for my guy. I just want my guy to be mentioned in that Heisman (race). He was second last year in the Heisman Trophy ballot and he’s having a better year this year, so why wouldn’t he be there? I just think he deserves that. I just felt like he deserves to be mentioned and he really has earned that and I’m really just proud of him.
“More than that, I’m proud of the way he’s handled himself being very, very unselfish. He’s been very humble. If you look at him on the sideline, he’s the first to congratulate Peyton Hillis when he runs for 65 yards. In the endzone, Darren McFadden is there first to congratulate Peyton. That’s the kind of heart and spirit you preach and talk about, but you know that’s not always easy to do in 2007 to have the relationship of Felix Jones and McFadden where they’re best of friends, there’s not one selfish bone in their bodies. They love each other and I love that.
“So, it’s been a heck of season to finish it up. If you look, we have some national championship coaches in this league that have won national titles that have held up the crystal ball, and they’re going to win six (games) this year. I think there are two coaches that are going to win six. It’s a difficult league and it’s hard to get to Atlanta, Ga., each and every year. That’s not to say that we’re not trying to.
“Last year, we had some unbelievable luck. We had the wind blow a ball down before it went through the upright. We had some great breaks last year. We had some opponents miss some field goals. This year we weren’t quite as lucky. If you saw my face Aug. 9, the day Marcus Monk went down, that would tell the story because I was sick. Sick because I knew without Marcus there was going to be even more population around the line of scrimmage, so that hurt. I thought these guys hung in there and fought, fought, fought.
“I’m proud of them. We gave them the weekend off. We have our first team meeting tomorrow at 5:30. I can’t wait to see their faces. They’ll get going with school. Then, hopefully, we’ll find out what bowl we go to probably after the (Southeastern Conference) Championship Game.”
On bowl game possibilities
“I’m hoping the Cotton Bowl is going to call us. We have a lot of tie-ins there, but again, I know the Liberty, Independence, Music City, we have great ties in with the SEC. I’m just a little partial with it being Coach (Frank) Broyles’ last year, I’d love to get back to the Cotton Bowl.”
On taking the ball first in the third overtime
“Usually, on that option, if we have a choice, we say defense go back out there. I thought our offense had them a little bit more on their heels. I wanted to put the pressure on them. We thought they were getting tired a little bit, so I told Reggie (Herring) over the headset we’re going to go ahead and take the ball. I know it’s not normal here, but we’re going to take the ball, it’s a gut feeling. We’re going to try to put pressure on the. Of course, he had no problem with that at all. It was good and it worked out for us.”
On Casey Dick’s fourth-and-ten completion to Peyton Hillis in overtime
“You go home if you don’t make that. Again, I want to give credit to, first of all, Casey Dick. I thought he made good decisions all night long, but to scramble out of the pocket when your first and second receivers are not there and then for Peyton to have the sense and football instinct to say I have to go get open in a scramble drill. They left him open. That was a huge play in the game, big turnaround.”
On running the WildHog against LSU
“David Lee and Coach Wood got a head start on it before I did and as soon as I came down to the meeting room, immediately they said ‘WildHog this week.’ I asked how much (and they said) 30 to 35 percent, maybe more. I get a little bit antsy with reading it because that means there has to be ball handling, it has to be very secure ball handling, and you’re depending on two guys with a loose pocket and a guy that’s reading the defensive end. It’s happening pretty fast. Darren has gotten so good at doing that and he read the long runs perfectly and even the four-yard runs. Those are big runs against LSU because if you recall, LSU was giving up about 87 (rushing) yards per game, so that was a big running day.”
On DeMarcus Love’s play at right guard
“What you love about DeMarcus is that he hits folks. When he pulls and when he goes and attacks linebackers, he’s very, very physical. He ties them up (and) cuts them up. I think was a good move for us and it’s good for him. Hopefully we get Jose back full speed, get him a lot of playing time because you’re going to lose Felton and you’re going to lose Nate Garner. We’re losing two good ones.”
On future plans
“We had some little preliminary discussions and we have some more coming this week. We’ll wait until that time to see what comes out of it. Again, right now, I’m excited. Chancellor (John A.) White and Coach (Frank) Broyles want me here. They want me to stay and that’s a good feeling and I’m excited about that.
“(The prelim discussions) were just with Chancellor White right now. Jeff Long was still at the LSU game and he had relatives there, so we’ll wait until this week, about mid-week when he gets back, and have some more formal discussions. As you know, there are always evaluations. I have to evaluate my staff and myself after the last regular season game and they have to do the same up on The Hill and the athletic director, they have to do the same, so we’ll see.”
On open positions around the country
“Right now there are so many (job openings). This is the time of year. There are seven or eight jobs right now and there’s going to be more. There’s not just one thing on my mind right now. Again, we have 19 solid commitments after all this that are still hanging there very, very strong and I’m proud of that. All I’m doing right now is just touching base with those guys. We start recruiting, actually half of my guys are on the road tonight, and then we’re going to get organized in the morning and get ready for that first official visit.
“The thing I’m not good at is ‘I’m going to call this person or that person.’ I’ve never been that kind of guy. I always take care of the job that I have and if you’re doing a good enough job, they’ll call you, but that’s why I feel very fortunate to be here for 10 years because that’s a long time. This has been my dream job I’ve always wanted. I never will forget the night coming from Boise, Idaho, when I got the call from Coach Broyles. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. If you look around the table in SEC, there have been 26 changes, now 27, it’s a very tough, very difficult job profession right now in college football. If you ask all the coach coaches, that’s the first thing they’re saying at midfield: it’s getting tougher, it’s getting tougher. And it is.“You have to have the love for the game and the love for the players. That’s what keeps you going because a lot of people say why would you keep doing it. It’s because you love the players, you love the job. It’s the work, that celebrated locker room, the relationships. It’s Darren McFadden coming to hug your neck. It’s Anthony Lucas calling you and telling you ‘I was in the stands in Baton Rouge and I had tears in my heads and it reminded me when we beat them 41-14 and I broke the single-season pass receiving record.’ It’s those things that make you fall in love with that part of the game. Not even talking about when the guys walk across the stage. Everybody has a dream of going to the NFL, but it’s the degree and many of the years we’ve been here, we’ve graduated a higher graduation rate than our student body, so I’ve been proud of that.”