‘We can play with anyone'

FAYETTEVILLE -- The schedule was daunting, especially for a young team.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said he stared at the obstacles his Hogs faced earlier this summer and feared the worst. With top 25 teams like Texas, Georgia, LSU, Florida and Auburn on the 2004 schedule, any program replacing 18 starters and two dozen seniors was prone to taking nasty licks against top-notch programs.

But Nutt's opinion changed after Arkansas' 22-20 loss to Texas on Saturday night.

"All summer long I was so concerned about our schedule," Nutt said. "But I'm not anymore. I don't even worry about because I know how far we've come."

The Razorbacks aren't exactly interested in collecting a morale victory from their heart-breaking loss to No. 7 Texas, but there was plenty to pull from the close call. The most important is that a team considered an afterthought by most preseason prognosticators showed much more determination -- and talent -- than imagined.

Arkansas fought back from a 9-0 deficit against Texas and squeezed out a 17-16 lead in the first half. The Hogs also piled up 458 yards of total offense against a Texas team that demolished its opening day opponent, North Texas. They made a handful of costly mistakes (four turnovers) that were the difference in the game, but also showed maturity by making a few important plays along the way.

"When I came in the locker room (Saturday night) I told them how proud I was of their effort, their heart," Nutt said. "It's so easy to get in the negative because you feel so bad right now. It's so easy to second guess and I don't want them to do that.

"I told them we proved something (Saturday). That we can play with anyone."

But in the end, the last three possessions will be remembered as another chapter in Arkansas' history of heart-breaking home losses to Texas. The Hogs fell to 3-17 against the Longhorns here and lost their 22-game win streak against regular season, nonconference foes by committing three turnovers in the final eight minutes.

Quarterback Matt Jones had a hand in all of them.

His underthrown pass intended for senior receiver Steven Harris was snared by Texas defensive back Cedric Griffin's left hand. His game-ending, desperation heave was plucked out of the air by defensive back Phillip Geiggar.

And then there was Jones' fumble at Texas' 7 with less than three minutes left.

"If you had told me at the end of the game we're going to have 458 yards, I'd say we're going to win this game," Nutt said. "But if you told me we're going to have 458 and four turnovers and they're going to have zero turnovers, I'd say we're not going to win the game."

Receiver Steven Harris said leaving Reynolds Razorback Stadium without a win against Texas was a painful pill to swallow.

The senior didn't get much sleep after the game, running through various replays in his head and wondering where he could've made a difference. Senior Jeb Huckeba also didn't get to sleep until 3 a.m., slowly winding down after the big game.

Even Nutt said he tossed and turned after the late-night loss.

"It's a difficult situation to forget quick," said Huckeba, who finished with seven tackles and one for a loss. "But one thing I do like about this team is we have the character and the heart that we can bounce back and stay positive."

"It's hard to do, but it's football," said Harris, who caught two passes for 26 yards. "You win. You lose. You bounce back. We know now we can play with anybody. We can go forth from here."

Arkansas began wiping the close loss out of its system Sunday afternoon, opening preparation for Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock.

Nutt said the biggest concern is eliminating the four turnovers and other costly mistakes (like long snapper Brett Goode's snap over punter Jacob Skinner's head for a safety on the first possession) that proved to be the difference in the game.

But Nutt was impressed that Arkansas had the game "right where we wanted it" with a chance to beat a top 10 team at home with a young team. He also believed his team stood "foot to foot" with the Longhorns, who felt "they were fortunate to get out of here" with a win in front of Arkansas' record crowd of 75,671.

The good news for the Razorbacks is Saturday's loss didn't derail plans of challenging Auburn, LSU and Alabama for the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship. Nutt said most of his inexperienced roster got a good look at the level of play the Hogs face when the SEC slate begins Sept.25 against Alabama.

Arkansas will play eight consecutive SEC games after Saturday's date with Louisiana-Monroe.

"We have really grown up from last night," Nutt said. "I think we really learned some valuable lessons. The greatest thing is, I don't like to see anybody hurt, but it really gauges the temperature and the pulse of your team when you come into a room and there's not a word being said, tears and some heartache in there.

"That's the way I feel and that's the way I want them to feel because they care and they wanted to win so bad."

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