Coaches Corner: Houston Nutt

Coaches Corner is a regular feature sponsored by the Arkansas Toyota Dealers. This edition is a Q&A with Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt. Arkansas Toyota Dealers sponsored a trip to Austin for the Texas game. Stacy Cardin was the winner. Our next promotion will be an all-expenses paid trip to Lexington, Ky., for the Arkansas-Kentucky basketball game.

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Coaches Corner:

Hawgs Illustrated: What are you looking for in the defensive line this week against Texas?


Houston Nutt: We are looking to find our best combinations up front this week. We played a lot of different players in our last game and we are still not sure we have all the answers in that area.


We would like for some of our older players to step up, but that hasn't happened yet. We've challenged them to play better, but we haven't seen it. There are some that have the physical characteristics. They look like an All-America in their uniform, but they haven't played well, not with any consistency.


You hate to go with a true freshman at defensive tackle. That's not a fair proposition. They don't have the thickness or the physical maturity to play in there. But, we may be in a position where we have to go with the young players and just move forward. We are looking hard at Jeremy Harrell this week. I'd hope an older player would recognize that they are about to miss their opportunity and step forward. That hasn't happened even with Jeremy practicing a lot with the first team.


We like what Jeremy brings to the table. He has a lot of toughness, just like Keith Jackson Jr. Both of those freshman are active and tough. They just aren't quite as big as you'd like to play in the SEC. You've got to have some physical size to play in there. You are going to get double teamed a lot and you better be a big one to handle that. That's where you'd like for Jeremy and Keith to be a little bigger, but we are going to go with our best players. Right now that may be Jeremy Harrell inside.


We like Titus Peebles, too. He's a player that if you really get down to it, he was a calf-with-the-cow type of deal when we first decided to take him. We went after another player there at the same school. Those two were close friends. They'd played together for their entire lives. But, the more we looked at Titus, the more we liked him. We first looked at him because he was playing with the other one and thought it was better to bring them both.


When we really get a chance to work with Titus after he got here, we liked him even more than when we first saw him. He's a great young man, and he comes to play. He's got great, quick feet and he plays hard. He can really run for a big, thick player. He's going to help us and we are so glad to have him.


HI: Special teams play has been critical early in the year. Your team blocked a punt in the opener, but gave up a big play on a fake punt. Texas scored twice on kick returns. How important are special teams in this week's game with Texas?


HDN: First, special teams are always important. They are big every week. With Texas you know that you are going to face a team with great team speed. They have speed all over the field and it really shows up in special teams when the field is spread. You must do a great job on coverage. We know that and it will be a big factor in the game.


You are right about the big plays in punting situations. We are so proud of our freshmen in the kicking game and the way they played in the first game. Jacob Skinner, Brett Goode, Rusty McEntire and Chris Baleseiro did great. All of those are freshmen except Chris, but it was really Chris' first game. They did a fantastic job.


HI: The fake punt could have been a big play. Tulsa surprised you and got a field goal. How much do you worry about a fake punt and how does it affect a game when it works?


HDN: When someone hits you with a fake punt, it can be a huge play. For example, the other night we had made a stop on the first possession and thought we were going to get the ball back, and, wham, they have a big play and some momentum. It really gives you a boost when you hit one like that.


HI: When is the best time to try a fake punt?


HDN: Of course, when you are near midfield, everyone expects it. You can hear the calls from the sideline … watch for the fake … and you hear them more when a team is near midfield. The risk isn't as great there because you've got some field behind you to protect the defense a little bit in case it doesn't work. The risk is minimized, but it's such a more logical place that you see the defenses prepared for it a little better. The time to surprise someone is when you are on your end of the field a little bit. No one expects it there.


You feel a little bit easier about doing something like that when you've got a great defense. Oklahoma does a lot of things of that nature because they have the protection of knowing that they have a defense that still isn't going to give up many points. You are more comfortable doing it in that situation. If you aren't quite as strong on defense, you are uneasy about trying a fake punt. There are some great plays out there. We saw a good one from Tulsa.


HI: Will the two QB system continue at Arkansas in the future?


HDN: I think it works well for what we have at quarterback right now. We have two different quarterbacks with maturity and different strengths. I do think what we have at quarterback right now makes it hard for the defenses to prepare each week. They better be looking at the passing game with Ryan and the option packages with Matt Jones. Both run those areas well. And, both can handle our running game and all of the checks. It's a good situation for what we have right now.





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