FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Following Arkansas’ 46-26 win over Troy in the season opener, head coach Houston Nutt held his weekly press conference Sunday to discuss the game. Below is a brief transcript of Coach Nutt’s comments.
“It’s always good to win the first one. There were a lot of good things and there were some things that were disappointing, but what’s good is—I didn’t like the open date back when—(the open date) is at this time. We can really take this film and scrutinize, analyze, go through every part of it, dissect it and really get better and correct some things. We’ve got to do a better job at kickoff coverage, punt return and there are some things in our zone coverage that we can do better.
“I thought our defense really came out in the third quarter and I thought they played extremely hard. It wasn’t so much about adjustments as it was about getting after it. I thought our cover corners really stepped up and started playing the ball, and they did it without penalties and that’s what we have to do.
Offensively, I thought we stopped ourselves too many times. There were too many times were we missed assignments, (had) missed blocked and missed a hot (read). All those things can be corrected. That’s the thing about this type of game because you try to tell your guys all the time there’s more parity in football than ever before and if you don’t come out here and play with energy, passion and play as hard as you can, a Troy University can beat Arkansas. It can happen and we saw evidence of that during the day with Appalachian State beating Michigan, a No.-5 ranked team, at home. All those things can happen, so that’s why this is a very good win and now let’s learn from it because now we’re getting ready to step into the SEC.
“I was proud of Michael Grant, Matt Hewitt and the safeties. I thought they played hard maybe other than one or two things. Matterral Richardson did a good job with coverage. Jerell Norton, especially in the second half, really improved and played the ball well; he’s a good hand-eye guy. Even (guys like) Jamar Love, Shedrick Johnson, they have some things to improve, and Kevin Woods, we’re going to need all those guys. Matt Harris, Walner Leandre and all those guys we’re going to need. They have to keep coming. Jonathan Luigs, Robert Felton and Nate Garner had a solid effort. There are some things, they will tell you, they can get better at doing and we have to improve. On the left side we had brand-new starters, Jose Valdez and Mitch Petrus, for the first time out. They weren’t quite as physical as we’d like them to be, but once they started getting into a groove, they got better. I think the most impressive thing was (the offensive line’s) pass protection. Their pass protection was very, very good.
“Did we execute perfectly in the passing game? No, but I think Casey (Dick) did a very good job with some different things with the running game, managing the clock, so all those things I was proud of. He missed a hot (read) to Andrew Davie early on that could have really been a big play for us. He missed a screen, that got batted down, to (Darren) McFadden which was going to be a huge play, but all those things can be corrected, so I feel good about that. We just have to get (the receivers) the ball a little bit more.
“David Lee wanted to make a point that we were trying to get the ball to our backs and get it to them early and give Casey (Dick) confidence and I think that was the right thing to do. I think (David Lee) called a very good game and we did get the ball to the backs. Peyton (Hillis) had six catches and you see how valuable he is to have back. We’ll probably work him a little bit more on punt return. We’ll keep Michael Smith and (Reggie) Fish going, but we’ll also have Peyton in there for the next two weeks because you just can’t drop balls. We can’t put (the ball) on the ground. We were in safe a couple of times and when you’re in safe, you have to fair catch the ball.”
On handling Troy’s defense:
“They had eight or nine players up in the box with the safeties creeping down each time, but I thought Darren ran very physical and made some hard-earned yards. I thought he did a good job of running with the (shoulder) pads over his toes. Felix Jones was the same way in showing great quickness. They really competed last night. And you saw Michael’s (Smith) (48-yard) run at the end. That’s what he can do for us, just protect the ball and be that lift for us and really save legs and make big plays.”
On the WildHog formation:
“I think Darren got a little anxious on a couple of them and the ball was on the ground, and actually, that wasn’t the WildHog when he did that, but he was in shotgun formation as the quarterback and he was reading (the defense). He just ran through the mesh a little too quick trying to pull it (back). When you get in between that halfway of giving it and pulling it, that’s when the ball gets on the ground. He’s a good ball handler and we’ll get that corrected. But there were some good things. When you go back and look at that WildHog where we handed to Felix, then we faked to Felix and run the power, that’s seven or eight yards. Then all of sudden you fake to Felix and fake like you’re going to run the power and now you throw it to a true freshman Crosby Tuck, which was set up beautifully. Darren actually through off his back foot on that one, so you see how strong his arm is. He was very accurate with it.”
On second-half changes:
“We really didn’t have any adjustments at halftime. The only thing we challenged them on was ‘this is your home, look at the fans.’ What a wonderful atmosphere. I love watching the freshmen come in through the walk. To see the environment, to see sons and daughters playing catch, to see the grilling and tailgating, it’s just great to see coming down from the Tyson building (Poultry Science Center) into the walk. You challenge them on the fact it’s a privilege to be a Razorback and it’s about laying your heart out there on each play. You have to play hard because anything can happen in this game. This ball doesn’t bounce up and down, this ball bounces everywhere, so we went to play the ball better. We want to play much, much harder. We want to get off the field and the defense is going to set the tempo. That’s what Coach Rocker, Reggie (Herring), Bobby (Allen) and Chris (Vaughn) did, they challenged them to play harder to do the right things and get off the field. It wasn’t so much about adjustment as it was about ‘hey, let’s go play.’
Concerns going into the season opener:
“I was really concerned with how (the new players in the secondary) would be in their first game out. Jerell Norton started, taking over Chris Houston’s spot. We’re talking about Shedrick Johnson, Jamar Love, so I was concerned with their newness. How are they going to be? They got better as the game went on. The biggest thing to come out of this (game) was that they didn’t panic. They really came out and played hard, and that’s what you appreciate.”
On the defensive front:
“(Chris Wade) had 62 plays and he’s got to get a little bit tougher at times, but he showed signs. Malcolm Sheppard has one speed—he goes hard all the time. He’s in the middle, so he was getting doubled a lot, but he did a good job. Adrian Davis had 58 plays and makes more tackles and shows signs. There’s some inexperience right there because he’s learning on the run. He played free safety in high school to linebacker when he got here and now he’s at defensive end. It was good to see (Fred) Bledsoe and (Marcus) Shavers get out there. I thought they really hustled. Are they there yet? No, but they keep coming. “(Weston) Dacus had 68 plays and had about eight tackles and a sack. What a leader! He is really a warrior for us and I really love the way he played. Michael Grant runs things down because he has so much speed. If someone gets out, he’s right there. He’s so valuable.”
On D.J. Williams’ impact:
“We knew (D.J. Williams) would be that type of guy. He’s doing a great job in the blocking, don’t let that go unnoticed. He made a beautiful catch. Our quarterbacks believe in him now to catch the football. He’s a sure-handed guy and runs good routes. He’s only going to get better.”
On Alex Tejada:
“We just have so much confidence in Alex (Tejada). For the first time for me in 10 years where you feel like ‘get the ball to the 35 yard-line and let’s kick it.’ He’s going to make it. His demeanor, focus and attitude are excellent, so I’m excited about having that. It helps us to know we can rely on those three (points).”
On the kickoff return unit:
“James Shibest does a great job with our kickoff team. There were some excellent blocks, and that’s what you love about Darren. Darren is so unselfish. He was the first one in the end zone to congratulate (Felix). He has one job if he doesn’t get the ball (on kickoff), he’s got to protect that edge and did a great job of blocking that guy. It allowed Felix to take off (for the touchdown).”
On teams concentrating on the run:
“We’re used to it. That’s what most teams will do to us—bringing seven or eight guys in (the box) and sometimes nine, so we’re used to that. You have to give a lot of credit to Mike Markuson and James (Shibest) on the blocking. The fullbacks are doing a good job with blocking, too. But it’s going to get tougher now as it goes, and that’s where our passing game has to come on.”