DALLAS – The No. 24 Arkansas Razorbacks concluded preparations for the 72nd AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic by practicing just over an hour in sunny, ideal conditions at SMU’s Ford Stadium. Arkansas (8-4, 4-4 SEC) will square off against the No. 7 Missouri Tigers (11-2, 7-1 Big 12) in the Classic on New Year’s Day.
The Hogs worked out in helmets, “skulls” and shorts, as is normal for their scheduled “Thursday” practice, on the two grass fields adjacent to Ford Stadium. Arkansas focused today on special teams, passing drills and the two-minute offense.
Arkansas head coach Reggie Herring was pleased with how practice has gone for his team since its arrival into Dallas on Dec. 26.
“I feel as good as I can feel about our practice this week,” Coach Herring said. “I guess we’ll find out how practice was this week on Jan. 1. Things get a little repetitive now. When you have this long between games, half of the battle is going to be which team can come out ready. The start of the game will be critical.
“Today was more of a mental practice than a physical practice. I’ve never really liked the ‘Thursday’ practice, because the intensity is usually not there. I thought today was a solid ‘Thursday’ practice for us, and now it’s time for the players to get ready mentally and spiritually for the game.”
Coach Herring said his team has the highest respect for the Missouri Tigers, champions of the Big 12 North.
“We’re going to get our best from Missouri. We have a lot of respect for what they’ve accomplished this year. Coach (Gary) Pinkel has done a tremendous job there. They’re ranked No. 7 in the country and are a proud bunch. We better have a chip on our shoulder on Tuesday.”
Senior fullback Peyton Hillis was held out of practice for the second day in a row as a precaution after tweaking his hamstring earlier this week. He is expected to be ready for the Classic on Tuesday. The rest of the squad is at full strength for the game.
Tomorrow the Razorbacks will visit the Cotton Bowl stadium for the first time this week with a “walk-thru” from 3:00-3:40 p.m. The walk-thru is CLOSED to the media.
The 72nd AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic will be televised nationally on FOX Sports and broadcasted nationally on Westwood One Radio. Kickoff is slated for 10:40 a.m. CST on New Year’s Day.
Head Coaches News Conference – Arkansas Heaqd Coach Reggie Herring
Sunday, December 30, 2007 Omni Mandalay Hotel
Opening comments: “With this platform for our school, the things we’ve been through this year with the exodus of Coach (Frank) Broyles, there could not be a finer venue in the country. It could not come at a finer time. … I’ve been to Orange Bowls, Sugar Bowls. I’ve been to a lot of bowls. This is almost a bowl game on steroids as far as great people, friendliness, gifts, accommodations. It’s hard not to compliment this bowl game. It’s really special.”
On the Missouri program: “In the old Big Eight, when I was at Oklahoma State, we always thought that the University of Missouri was the golden jewel. All it took was a great football coach with tremendous passion, spirit, a great staff and energy. (Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel) is now doing at Missouri what we were waiting for coaches to do 20 or 25 years ago. That’s a credit to him and his staff. We have so much respect for what they’ve done this year. If you’re a football fanatic, you have to love what Gary Pinkel has done with the University of Missouri. He has gotten them to a point where they’re nationally known. We have a tremendous amount of respect for his talent. He has talent across the board.”
On the Arkansas program: “We’re in a transition stage. But the one thing we have at the University of Arkansas is that we’ve got great coaches, great kids and a great support staff. That’s why this transition has been extremely easy for me. … Obviously, the end game is Jan. 1. We’re going to expect a tremendous battle. His kids have a lot of great pride. Our kids have a lot of great pride. It should be a tremendous football game.”
On whether all players have shown the proper amount of respect to the Missouri team in their comments during the week: “We’re all human. As much as you try to teach these 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds to temper their talk, things happen. … They got a tongue lashing. They got put in the corner with the dunce hat on. We spanked them a little bit. … All it takes is for you guys (media) to get hold of the wrong guy in the wrong corner with the biggest mouth, and all of a sudden he is speaking for the team. … We’ve got a lot of respect for Missouri, and one or two of our players do not speak for this football team.”
On his experience of replacing Houston Nutt as head coach for the bowl game: “It goes back to the support people, all these players and the great job that Coach Broyles and Jeff Long and Coach (Bobby) Petrino have done. Everybody has to give and take a little bit. Everybody is working together. … All of that has made my job very easy. … There is one thing that is sacred for players outside of what’s going on, and that’s going to practice and going to work. When you go to work on that field, you have one focus and that’s football. The stock market could crash. Who knows? Maybe Osama Bin Laden might ride by on a horse and you wouldn’t know. … We probably had a couple of more practices than most people who are getting ready for bowls because we wanted to make sure our focus was on football.”
On whether the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic should be a BCS bowl: “There’s no reason for the Cotton Bowl not to be a part of the BCS. Everything is in place.”
On whether the two defenses have been overshadowed by the offensive stars on both teams: “You take away about three or four plays out of every game, those other 68 plays on defense were pretty good football for us. … What Missouri has done on defense, on the other hand, is to be consistent. They play fast. They play physical for four quarters, and they’ve done it throughout the whole year. They complement the toughness of Gary’s offense. Yes, they’re getting overshadowed.”
On the in-house examination of questions concerning TB Darren McFadden: “We’re expecting Darren to play. At the same time, there’s a process. … You have to have all of the confidence in the world in these people (who are looking into the situation). They’re professionals. Darren McFadden is a great, great, great person. He would never do anything to hurt the University of Arkansas or his teammates. You have to first understand that. As we go through this day and age of information, we have to sort it out. The only sad thing is that the sorting out makes it look like there’s something there. … That’s probably not fair. But at the end of the day, proper people are handling this, and we’re going to get to the bottom of this. But we expect Darren to play.”
On the pinkeye outbreak among Arkansas players: “Just don’t shake my hand or you’ll get it tomorrow. My eyes are a little itchy this morning. That thing has been going on for a long time. It started LSU week. Every time three or four guys would get it, we would send them home. All of a sudden, they would come back healthy and there would be three more. They would just pass the baton. We now have it, I believe, under control as long as Darren, or Casey Dick or one of our cornerbacks doesn’t come up with pinkeye the day of the game. (Fred) Bledsoe is back, Marcus Harrison is back, everybody is back. For the first time, the University of Arkansas can suit up a team that’s at full strength. That for us is encouraging.”
On McFadden’s abilities as a running back: “We believe at Arkansas that he is the best player in the country. He’s the most volatile player. He’s the most explosive. You can stop him for 15 straight times and then that 16th time he’s going to go. That puts pressure on a defense. … If we had ever had receivers healthy enough to balance our game, Darren McFadden might have had an even more explosive year. … He’s a very talented and very spirited young man. Football is a very hard game. It takes commitment and sacrifice. But this guy excels in that arena. That’s what separates him. He has the intangibles and the tenacity to thrive in this game. That’s what makes him so special.”
On Missouri QB Chase Daniel: “You wish all of your kids would play like Chase Daniel with the passion, the spirit, the tenacity, the built-in leadership. He’s a gamer.”
On how the Arkansas players have responded to adversity: “They built a sort of Teflon coating of hardness that has gone along with the transition. It has made them even mentally tougher and stronger with their character. … I have so much respect for these players. That’s why I’m here instead of out looking for a job. This game is about these players, and that’s all I care about. They are special, special kids. Don’t think the outside will affect these kids on Jan. 1. This is a close bunch. This is their day, along with Missouri. This is a special moment for them.”