FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas football head coach Houston Nutt met with media Sunday after the Razorbacks’ 66-7 victory over North Texas. The following is a partial transcript of the weekly press conference.
“I was really proud of our team. I thought our preparation prior to the game last night was very good and after two tough weekends, the way we took the field Tuesday and Wednesday, I thought we’d have a good game. I thought the intensity and focus were very good. We had 10 pass break-ups. Our (defensive backs) have spent a lot of time this past week with Coach (Bobby) Allen working very hard on trying to get their eyes back to the ball and they had 10 break-ups, which is good. We had a lot of good three-and-outs. We won the field position.
“It was a game that we needed to allow a lot of people to play and also (to allow) the ones that had been playing to gain a little confidence. I thought Casey (Dick) threw the ball extremely well. His play action, faking and ball handling were very good. We’re going to try to build off that. The receivers did some good things. I thought Robert Johnson really competed for a ball in the endzone. Lucas Miller, London Crawford and those guys caught the ball well. Our tight ends are doing well. Andrew Davie is blocking well. D.J. Williams (and) Lance Thompson have been getting better.
“Felix Jones and Darren McFadden are special backs. They are something. We are lucky to have a duo like that that can do so many things—catch, block, run—and be so unselfish. It was good to get so many people the ball. Peyton Hillis had some carries. Brandon Barnett had some carries, so we had three guys go over 100 yards (rushing) and that’s always good. All we want to do is try to get better this week. Take this week, build on it and go to practice like you did last week with that sense and purpose to get better.”
On defending the North Texas passing game
“They were third in the nation, and that’s what they do—throw it 50 or 60 times a game. That’s what concerns you by how we had been playing the ball, so I was proud of the focus. We put some pressure on the quarterback at times, not a great deal, but at times we did which caused him to rush his throws. The defensive backs played better. The entire secondary played better.”
On Brandon Barnett
“I was proud (of Brandon). He got a little wind and tired. He’s a little out of shape, but he did some good things. He found some holes and then used his speed, but he’s got to protect the ball. That was probably the first time he’d been hit since the scrimmage in the fall. I was proud of him and he did some good things. I thought our second-team offensive line—DeMarcus Love, Michael Aguirre, (Mike) Moffitt, Ray Dominguez, Wade Grayson—did a nice job of opening some holes for Barnett allowing him to get 100 (yards), so it was good.”
On Nathan Emert
“Nathan Emert is highly intelligent. He was cool. You would have thought, if you were just watching the game, that he been out there five or six games. He gets the signals and handles the 25-second clock. Usually that’s the first thing when a guy goes in cold off the bench and hasn’t played in a couple years, you think he’s going to miss a signal or two or get a couple delay of game (penalties), maybe even have a fumbled snap, but he didn’t have any of that. I’m glad he’s on our team. He’s a good operator and threw the ball well. He’ll only get better.”
On the Razorbacks gaining confidence
“There was a lot of hurting going on the last couple of weeks because we could have easily won those games, in our players’ minds and coaches’ minds, and that’s what hurts the most. No one wants to win more than the players and coaches, so the only medicine for that is to go back on the field to get better. The best medicine is winning. That was so good to see those smiles on the sideline and a celebrating locker room, that’s the thing you live for to see (a player) happy, wet from sweat and congratulating his teammate on a great win. We got to play a lot of people so it was good.
On Jerell Norton
“We’re going to get him a lot of work this week (on punt return). He has a lot of skills. He played offense in high school and that was a tremendous runback. What’s more impressive is there wasn’t one person close to a penalty. That’s what you worry about with a 100-yard (return) and 10 other guys trying to go make a block and go hit somebody or get them below the waist. I thought that was really good. We’ll get him some more work this week with punt return.”
On the balance of playing and resting players
“We’d be sick to our stomach today if we were sitting around this table saying ‘Darren hurt his ankle’ or ‘Felix has a swollen knee.’ It’s not worth that. They did enough. They got over 100 yards and the way you look at it, to me, Darren is still right in the middle, and he’s a front-runner, of the Heisman Trophy race. We wanted to win the game, but we have a long season left, so to me it’s the next game. It’s 45-7 at half, and you don’t have too many of those games, and you’ve already got 138 yards and two touchdowns. What you love about Darren and Felix is how they turn into cheerleaders. They encourage their teammates the entire second half and (are) into every play. That’s what you love about those guys. They were encouraging Barnett, coaching him on the sideline. They are real team players.”
On Damario Ambrose
“(Damario) is sometimes out of control and goes in the wrong gaps, but here’s what you know about Ambrose: he’s going to go 100 miles per hour and play real hard. That gives you a chance. Coach (Tracy) Rocker has to stay with him and get him going in the right direction, which he will. He’s got to learn his plays a little better, but you don’t have to worry about his effort and that’s what you love.”
On avoiding a letdown
“We don’t have time for a letdown right now. We have some making up to do. The only way you do that is to go back to work and have the same focus as last week. We’re going to Little Rock. I think that’s good timing to go to Little Rock with a little different atmosphere. There are going to be a lot of people down there excited and waiting on us. There’s a lot of anticipation. Our players talked about that last night. I think that’s a real positive. We want to get better, that’s the main thing. We want to get better so that when you step back into the SEC, you’re a totally different team than you were in September and a better team—offense, defense and kicking game.”
On defending the North Texas running game
“We got better, but we’re not satisfied at all. We’re looking for bigger things from Marcus Harrison. We’re looking for better things from Ernest Mitchell. We just know we can play better. We have to continue every day to work harder at stopping the run better. (The defense) gave us good field position yesterday. The defense did a good job overall, but I know that we can do even better.”
On the status of Michael Smith
“(Michael) will come back to work today. We’ll get him back lifting and running. (Student Life Coordinator) Rodger Hunter still has some things he has to do with him, but he’ll probably start practicing. We may even go a little scout team with him, maybe for a day or two. I think it probably hurt him pretty good to miss a game like that. It’s a good lesson that if you’re not there, someone else will go for 100 yards—you miss out on a 100-yard game and someone else got it. Hopefully it’s a good lesson learned. We don’t know yet (if he’ll play Saturday).”
On Marcus Monk
“You’re talking about a 1,000-yard receiver. You’re talking about one of the biggest playmakers in the SEC. If you do overpopulate the line of scrimmage worried about Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, there’s some one-on-one throws that we had gotten this time last year. Our record would be different with Marcus Monk. There’s no question about it, so I hope we get him back real soon.
“The one thing about Marcus because of his basketball upbringing: it doesn’t take him long (to get back into shape). His wind has always been very good. He’s been in the pool running almost every day. It’s going to come to this: can he plant, can he cut, and can he come out of breaks? The running straight ahead, right now, he can do that, so hopefully we’re getting close.”
On areas of improvements
“I still want to continue working on punt return much harder. I want to continue on our passing game. We can still do some things better there. I think once we got up, I thought our offensive line took a little bit of a break. They can be more physical. We’re better than that. It’s hard, as you say, when you see long runs break off and see a lot of scoring going on, you think everything is good, but there are some things we have to get better at—fundamentals, run blocking, pass blocking. Our protection has been pretty good for the most part. We can improve.”
On Darren McFadden approaching Ben Cowins’ UA career rushing record
“I handed the ball off to Ben Cowins. I know how tough Ben Cowins is and he’s a great back. Darren McFadden is a back that is probably just as tough as Ben Cowins and that’s saying a mouthful because Ben is very tough. Darren probably has an extra gear. I think Ben would agree with me. He has a little faster twitch with more take-home speed. I’m talking about longer runs, Darren can probably do that a little better, but both of them are great. There’s a reason they flew him to New York (as a Heisman finalist last year) and I appreciate how humble Darren has been about the whole thing. He’s been very humble. If you watch the games, he’s one of the best players in the country. He came in second last year, and to me, there’s no reason for him not to be leading right now.”