This Is Just What Hogs Need

FAYETTEVILLE -For a disappointed Arkansas team that came so close to knocking off then-No. 7 Texas in packed-to-the-hills Razorback Stadium last weekend, this is just what the psychiatrist ordered.

In a surreal twist that even Arkansas coach Houston Nutt calls "ridiculous," Louisiana-Monroe will be the home team tonight in Little Rock, where the Hogs will get a hero's welcome from the always ready-to-go War Memorial Stadium fans.

The Razorbacks also will get a much-needed rout - probably in the 30-point range as Las Vegas folks figure -during which they can take out the frustrations of letting Texas escape despite outgaining the Longhorns and fumbling away an almost certain go-ahead field-goal in the last few minutes.

No matter the opponent, coaches and players are insistent on taking all teams seriously.

That doesn't apply to us.

Louisiana-Monroe is bad, so bad that the Indians need Arkansas fans to count toward their season attendance so they can remain a Division I program. That's not surprising. We have family down in Monroe (population about 100,000) and ULM never is mentioned, although LSU sure as heck is.

The Indians play their real home games on the 238-acre campus that Bayou DeSiard flows through. On the east side of Malone Stadium are just a few rows of bleachers, not unlike a high school setting. On the west side, the stands go higher up, but just 133 feet. The place can hold 30,427, but never has. Biggest crowd was the 28,725 who attended the Louisiana Tech game back in 1998.

This is a program Arkansas has played four times -all since 1996 - and the Hogs have won by a combined score of 162-49. The last two combined scores were 106-12. Scanning the ULM Hall of Fame doesn't provide many familiar names. The most recognizable probably is Bubby Brister, who briefly quarterbacked the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Indians won just one game last season, coach Charlie Weatherbie's first, and it included a 73-7 loss at Auburn.

Last week, Auburn rocked the Indians 31-0, but Weatherbie managed to remain encouraged.

"I was impressed with the way the defense played pretty much all day," he said. "We gave them three turnovers and we took away two and we had a couple of breakdowns on a screen play, a toss sweep and a long pass play.

"I also was impressed with the shape the players were in physically. They ran well and gave great effort for four quarters. When you come out of a game healthy - especially against a team as physical as Auburn - that really says something about the shape you are in."

So do such quotes.

Louisiana-Monroe's best player is punter Joel Stelly, who has been nominated for the Ray Guy Award. He'll see plenty of action tonight.

The Indians attack from a one-back set and ULM has a pretty good one in smallish Junction City native Kevin Payne, last year's Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year.

There are two other Arkies on the Lousiana-Monroe roster - senior safety Chris Harris and cornerback Jaron James, both of Little Rock.

"I have been looking forward to playing (the Hogs) since I have been in Monroe," Harris said. "I didn't really get recruited by Arkansas, so I can't wait to play against them, especially in my hometown of Little Rock."

If Harris is dreaming of an upset, he's in for a rude awakening.

Despite the heartache, the closeness of the Texas loss has given the Hogs confidence and swagger. Thus far, they have surprised their coaches and fans with a hard-charging defensive front, sure-tackling corners and safeties and the most versatile and dangerous offense in Nutt's seven-year tenure.

And Nutt's play calls have been superb as he has, indeed, tossed much of the playbook at the first two opponents, just as he said he would back in August.

That won't be necessary tonight as Arkansas gets its reserves plenty of important playing time.

Next week, Arkansas kicks off Southeastern Conference play here against Alabama.

But first the Hogs will get a kick out of stomping Lousiana-Monroe and those lingering thoughts of what should have been against Texas.

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