FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas football head coach Houston Nutt met with local media Sunday to talk about the Hogs’ 48-36 victory over No. 23 South Carolina. The following is a partial transcript of the head coach’s weekly press conference.
“I was really proud of our football team. I thought they played with a lot of energy and passion. The senior night really meant a lot to these guys. I think our underclassmen really gave it everything they had for these guys. When you watch the film, the linemen, offensive and defensive, really probably played their best game. They played extremely hard and there were a lot of knockdowns. All the way down the line of scrimmage, the one thing that was very evident was the effort. The defensive line, especially in the first half—Malcolm Sheppard, (Marcus) Harrison, (Ernest) Mitchell, Adrian Davis, Antwain Robinson, Chris Wade—anybody that was put into that game played on a very high level and that excites me. Effort and laying your heart out there really excites me. They worked hard and have had great preparation and did a great job.
“I thought Casey Dick probably had his best game. We didn’t throw that many balls, but it reminded me a lot of last year’s Auburn game where the management of the game was very, very good. He checked out of some plays that were bad plays, we had to (check out). Those things don’t go in the stat book, but he did a great job of that. The passes he did throw were right on the money and he did a good job with that. Andrew Davie continues to get better for us. D.J. Williams and Lance Thompson, those guys are improving.
“With the backfield, what can you say? They’re playing their best football. Peyton Hillis was outstanding. He’s been that way really for the last month and a half. Darren McFadden and Felix Jones—it’ll be hard to ever have a backfield like that with so many weapons. Then we added Michael Smith to the equation this past week and had a little game plan for him. It just added to and helped us. It kept them off balance just a little bit.
“That was the kind of game where you were nervous and scared to death because it’s going to be about whoever has the ball last with the way things were going, especially when they got that on-side kick and went down and scored. You knew you were in for a ballgame, but we answered each time. That’s the difference, we answered each time. Then to run the clock out, again with Casey’s help by using that clock and snapping the ball with one second left, that was great management there. I was just proud of them.
“I thought our special teams did a good job. We can’t get a regular kick anymore. Those guys really have to work hard, but if you look at where we started, there are some things that are going on, that it’s hard to practice. When you squib and sky (kick), those angles are all different, so you have to hustle and make sure you don’t clip. We’re still getting the ball out to the 40- and 45-yard line, so I was just proud.
“It was a great win. What a great night. I was so glad all the former players came here. I just saw it all on a TV show. I didn’t even realize Keith Jackson was here. What a great night, a beautiful college night and what a great atmosphere for a great college football game.”
On Darren McFadden’s performance
“I remember when Barry Sanders hit over 300 yards a couple of times. To do that with that many carries, it takes a special, special athlete to be able to do that and take the pounding, of course Darren delivers a lot of the pounding. He’s rare. That’s why you have to mention him when talking about the Heisman trophy. You have to mention his name. It’s unfair if you’re not going to do that. He’s too good of a football player. To run for 321 yards, take that many carries and do that many things and then do the kickoff return and then throw a touchdown, it’s a phenomenal effort. (Darren) is one of the greatest players to ever walk through here.
On South Carolina
“Blake Mitchell, (Kenny) McKinley, (Cory) Boyd and (Emanuel) Cook—those four names, every time you look up, they’re making plays. You can see why they had that second-half comeback at Tennessee. The film doesn’t do it justice. (Mitchell’s) throws are accurate. They’re faster than you think, bigger and stronger than you think. You can see why they were No. 6 in the country three or four weeks ago.”
On the Arkansas secondary
“I still think we can cover a little bit better and there are some things we can do better. We didn’t check down on the back a couple of times. That’s what we do best. We keep guys from dumping the ball off to the tailbacks like on the fourth-down (play) we had it covered. That was disappointing on the one they hit with (Mike) Davis. There were some deep balls that were very well covered with no place to throw the ball but an incompletion. That’s credit to Matterral Richardson, Michael Grant, Jerell Norton and those guys. There were some balls well played. It’s a thrill-a-minute. I’m holding my breath every time he drops back and he’s throwing it up. It’s either going to be six or an incompletion. There were some downs that were very, very good and you don’t want to take that away.”
On the offensive flow against South Carolina
“(Offensive coordinator) David Lee really wanted to throw it and kept asking to throw it, but I just felt like the running game was so good. I said ‘just keep dialing your runs right now, we’re eating this clock up and we’re hitting eight, nine yards a pop.’ I really thought they got tired, so I was encouraging the run because of the clock. Right before the half, David wanted to take a few shots there, but I just really believed with an 18-point lead and Monk wasn’t feeling as good as he was in the first quarter, I had thoughts of Kentucky. Let’s keep these almost-three touchdown lead. Let’s not give them anything. The way we were running the ball and blocking, we might pop one.
“So we were going to get at least across the fifty and maybe take a shot at the endzone but they had three or four lined up back there toward the goal line when it got down there late. What you do is give it to Darren McFadden or Felix Jones and get some yards. Overall, I was just proud because it was about who wanted it the most and the effort that really stands out in this game.”
On preparing for Tennessee
“The one thing about Tennessee is we know the caliber of athletes they have and know how good they are. They’re going to be working very hard. What we can’t do is just sit back and say we did this or we did that. The reason we executed and had that many yards is because of the preparation. We have to make sure that’s the way we approach that. Ever since we went to Oxford (Oct. 20 at Ole Miss), it’s been that type of work week and it’s been very, very good, so we have to keep that focus and concentration.”
On the Arkansas offensive line
“If you watch the film, they were maintaining the block. It wasn’t just a hit and then turning to look around. (Offensive line coach) Mike Markuson got pretty upset a couple weeks ago and said ‘if all you want to do it watch Darren McFadden and Felix Jones run, you should go buy a ticket and buy some popcorn.’ That’s not getting it done because everybody is eyeballing, everybody is overpopulating (the line) to stop us. If we’re going to block eight-man fronts, you have to at least block your man and maintain. Every one of these guys maintained their blocks.
“Nate Garner probably played his best game as a Razorback. Mitch Petrus probably played his best game. Those guys were running—Jose Valdez, Robert Felton and Jonathan Luigs, besides that snap. I think he really was lured on that by the defensive guy saying go, but we have to be more disciplined waiting for Darren to raise his leg, especially in that crowded, very noisy deal where we were backed up. The offensive line really stayed on the blocks with a lot of knockdowns.”
On the Razorback team character
“These guys have done a good job of staying together. I thought they really fought hard for all these coaches and they’ve done what we’ve asked them to do and stayed together and pulled together. This will teach them far more than football. It will teach them—10, 15, 20 years from now—how to persevere, how to keep going. If you get knocked down, get back up. All those clichés are said, but these guys have actually experienced it. So I’m very, very proud of them.”
On Darren McFadden getting stronger
“When people started raising eyebrows about how many times he was going to carry the ball, that was never a factor. I’ve been around Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas. Some people can (handle the amount of carries). (Darren) gets better on his 15th, 20th, 25th, 30th carry. He gets stronger as it goes along as long as he’s healthy. He’s a strong, strong guy.
“The bigger the game, the bigger he’s going to play. I’ve seen guys go the opposite. A lot of people can’t handle that pressure, but that’s what why he’s going to be wanted in a big way because the bigger the game, the bigger the atmosphere—bring on the TV and ESPN—it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t bother him. He’s focused.”
On Marcus Monk
“That’s the one thing (Marcus) gives you is that threat of being able to score for you and when they pile up and go one-on-one against him, he’s going to win a majority of the time. We’ve missed that a little bit. He’s such a sure-handed guy. I just like him out there because (the other team) is watching him. They played a little bit more cover-2 at times and I really feel like it’s because of Marcus Monk.”
On Kevin Woods
“(Kevin) has been playing hurt for about the last four weeks. What a competitor, but we’ve really got to watch and make sure we don’t do anything to ruin that shoulder. He’s such a fighter and knows this is his last year.”
On momentum after the 80-yard touchdown run
“(That play) takes the air out of them. It gives them no hope when you hit an 80-yard run. You know on that sideline, they have to be thinking all we have to do is get a three-and-out and we’ll come out and score again. And when you get that 80-yard run, it just sucks the life of them.
“Then our defense goes to another level. You have to give our defense credit for stopping them on fourth down. That was critical. Then we ate up almost seven minutes making first downs and that’s what we didn’t do against Alabama. That’s what I hate. We’re playing the ball much better defensively, the things we didn’t do against Alabama or Auburn, but to eat up that much time, that helped.”
On Casey Dick checking out of plays
“I bet it checked five critical plays. There were five plays that were critical and one of them was a pass play where we easily would have been sacked. We have an unbalanced formation and there were two off the edge that are going to blitz on the inside. David (Lee) is hollering ‘oh no, bad call, bad call.’ And there Casey goes moving Peyton back into the I-formation. I said ‘he’s taking care of you tonight.’ It’s something they’ve worked on, but it’s easy in the flow of the game when you have your eye on the 25-second clock, it’s easy to get lost in that, where a young quarterback it would be hard for him to do that.”
On the WildHog formation
“In some non-conference games, it wasn’t a big part of (the offense), but every time we played a conference game, we had it in there. To me, last night was the best we’ve executed (the WildHog)—the best blocking, the best running and ball-handling. We always have it as part of our plan, but it hadn’t been this good.”