|Razorbacks' bad start not what embattled coach needed|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 24 September 2007 13:45|
No Freedom of Information Act requests this time. Instead, the crowd just booed.
Houston Nutt understood who the jeers were directed at, and unless the Arkansas coach can produce a quick turnaround, there could be more to come. Nutt's 10th season with the Razorbacks is off to a miserable start after losing fourth-quarter leads each of the last two games.
``Nobody wants to win more than the players and coaches, so it really hurts,'' Nutt said. ``This was a painful two weeks and we could have won both of them. That's what makes it tough.''
Ten months ago, Nutt was riding high - his team had clinched a berth in the Southeastern Conference championship game with an amazing 10-game winning streak. Since then, almost nothing has gone right for the Razorbacks or their embattled coach.
Arkansas dropped its last three games last season, and after an offseason filled with turmoil, they're off to a 1-2 start this month. That's five losses in six games - and the most recent one was particularly ugly. Arkansas led 20-7 in the first half and 29-21 in the fourth quarter before Kentucky scored the game's final three touchdowns for a 42-29 victory Saturday night.
Nutt, whose job security figures to be a hot topic now, was asked about the home crowd's booing.
``I've been booed before right here,'' Nutt said. ``It's all right. If that's what they want to do, it's all right.''
The crowd's reaction wasn't much of a surprise after a turmoil-filled offseason that included the departures of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and quarterback Mitch Mustain. Fans used FOIA requests to investigate Nutt's cell phone records. One man filed a lawsuit over a nasty e-mail a friend of Nutt's family sent to Mustain before he transferred.
Amid all that, there was still the sense that this season could be a happy one. Darren McFadden was returning after finishing second in last year's Heisman Trophy voting. Fellow tailback Felix Jones was also back.
McFadden and Jones have done their part. McFadden leads the nation in rushing at 173 yards per game, and Jones is averaging 119 and has returned two kicks for touchdowns. Against Kentucky, McFadden and Jones combined for 449 all-purpose yards.
The Razorbacks lost anyway. Arkansas still isn't much of a threat to throw the ball - and quarterback Casey Dick isn't the only one to blame for that. Arkansas has been hurt by injuries to wide receivers Marcus Monk and Crosby Tuck and tight end Ben Cleveland.
The Razorbacks didn't complete a pass in the third quarter against Kentucky, when their offense began to struggle after a productive first half.
``I felt like they weren't respecting our passing game,'' McFadden said. ``We haven't done a whole lot passing this year. That's something we have to work on.''
Arkansas lost to Alabama 41-38 two weekends ago on a touchdown with 8 seconds left, but the Razorbacks could at least take pride in the fact that they rallied from a three-touchdown deficit. There was no silver lining against Kentucky.
Arkansas led 29-21 in the fourth quarter when a roughing the kicker penalty led to a Kentucky touchdown. That was the second big mistake the Razorbacks made. Late in the second quarter, with Arkansas driving, third-string running back Michael Smith fumbled. The Wildcats' Trevard Lindley returned it 66 yards for a touchdown - and Arkansas led just 20-14 at halftime despite a huge edge in yardage.
Smith was arrested Sunday on suspicion of charging nearly $100 to a stolen credit card. The timing couldn't have been worse.
``That's what we preach. You're not doing right off the field, you're sure not going to be doing right on the field,'' Nutt said. ``What's surprising is he comes from a great family. He doesn't need it. He doesn't need the money, he doesn't need anything like that financially. ... It's kind of like his fumble - hard to explain.''
Defensive linemen Marcus Harrison and Ernest Mitchell have been suspended at various points this season, which hasn't helped a defense that's been shaky. Arkansas doesn't seem to have recovered from the losses of defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson and defensive back Chris Houston to the NFL.
``You put Chris Houston there in that secondary, it's different. You put Jamaal Anderson in there, it's different,'' Nutt said. ``But those are things - it's not going to happen. So somebody has to step up.''
This slide isn't likely to last. North Texas comes to town this weekend, and Chattanooga is up after that.
But those easier games underscore the Razorbacks' dilemma. Their nonconference schedule is soft, so the SEC season is all that matters - and the early returns are disappointing.
``The only thing I know how to do is just go back to work, roll up your sleeves and you go back at them,'' Nutt said. ``That's the only thing I know how to do.''