Defending The Home Turf

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' goal was scribbled on a board in coach Houston Nutt's office Sunday, about a dozen hours after the Hogs' 49-20 win against Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.

It was discussed passionately by assistant Tracy Rocker, who pushed the message in his defensive line meeting room two days later. It also was pinned to a bulletin board Wednesday after Alabama's Keith Brown said the Crimson Tide's young team must treat Reynolds Razorback Stadium like it was "our home field."

And it has been a source of motivation for every UA player the entire week.

"You must protect your home field," said Arkansas linebacker Pierre Brown said.

Brown and the Razorbacks kick off their Southeastern Conference slate against undefeated Alabama today at 2:30 p.m. with the thought imprinted in their minds.

Arkansas has had little success in crucial games here, notching its last big Razorback Stadium win against then-No. 17 Auburn in 2001 (42-17). The Hogs are 4-5 in SEC games in Razorback Stadium since that season -- they're 2-4 since 2002 -- and added to the big-game frustration with the 22-20 nonconference loss to then-No. 7 Texas two weeks ago.

Defensive end Jeb Huckeba said it's important for that to change today.

"If we want to be successful in our conference, we've got to (win here)," Huckeba said. "There's no other option. That's what we've got to do. We know that. We feel like we're prepared to do that.

"It's just a matter of doing it now."

Huckeba couldn't offer any explanation for the Hogs' Fayetteville troubles. He said it's particularly head-scratching since the Razorbacks are undefeated in SEC play under Nutt in Little Rock. But the senior said he believes Arkansas simply has not made key plays in big games here.

Arkansas' only SEC wins in Fayetteville since 2001 have come against Auburn, Ole Miss (2002) and Mississippi State (2001 and 2003). The five losses are to Tennessee (13-3) in 2001, Alabama (30-12) and Kentucky (29-17) in 2002 and Auburn (10-3) and Florida (33-28) in 2003.

Even more, the top-four attended games in Razorback Stadium history have resulted in losses, including Alabama's win in front of 73,551. The other three of those losses were to Texas (75,671, a stadium record set in Week 2), Auburn (74,026) and Florida (73,934).

Arkansas defensive backs coach Bobby Allen doesn't think the Hogs are cursed here. He said their Fayetteville record has more to do with the competition in Razorback Stadium.

"You might look at it as struggling," Allen said, "but you play here in Fayetteville and play against Florida, you bring in Tennessee. The teams we play here at home, it's not like you're bringing in the Sisters of the Poor.

"They're all top-10 football programs."

Alabama (3-0, 1-0 in SEC) isn't ranked today, but comes to Fayetteville with plenty of motivation.

The finally bowl-eligible Crimson Tide remembers well its 34-31 double-overtime home loss against Arkansas (2-1, 0-0) last September. Alabama jumped out to a 31-10 lead in the second half, but the Hogs scored 21 points in little more than a quarter to force overtime.

Tide place-kicker Brian Bostick missed a 38-yard attempt that would've won the game in the first overtime. Arkansas' Chris Balseiro made a 19-yard chip shot in the second overtime to complete the win.

The Tide spiraled, winning just two of its final eight games after the loss to finish 4-9.

"We have a lot of paybacks on our schedule this year and this is no less than any of them," said Alabama left tackle Wesley Britt. "We owe Arkansas something for coming into Bryant-Denny Stadium and beating us, a come-from-behind victory like that."

"Of course, them coming in here and escaping out of here, excuse my language, sucks," said Tide safety Charlie Peprah. "We want to go in there and try to put it to them on their home field."

Second-year Alabama coach Mike Shula won't have quarterback Brodie Croyle to run his offense after the junior sustained a season-ending knee injury against Western Carolina last week. In his place, Alabama will operate behind Marc Guillon, a third-year sophomore who transferred from Miami.

The Tide has been here before. In that 30-12 Arkansas loss in 2002, Croyle made his first career start here in place of the injured Tyler Watts. Tailback Shaud Williams went 80 yards and into the end zone on the first play from scrimmage to help the Alabama rally around their young quarterback.

"That first play took a lot out of us," said Arkansas safety Lerinezo Robinson. "Eighty yards. That always hurts. It just stuns the crowd and takes a lot out of you because you're all amped up for the game and thinking, 'We're about to shut them down' or whatever.

"Whenever something like that happens, it gives you a second guess, like, 'Are we really ready?'"

Arkansas can't afford to waste another opportunity here against a youthful Alabama team -- armed with easy wins against Utah State, Ole Miss and Western Carolina -- playing on the road for the first time this season. No. 9 Auburn (2-0 in SEC) is off to a quick start and the Hogs face upcoming games at No. 16 Florida, at Auburn and against No. 3 Georgia next month.

That's why their emphasis has been on winning a big game - this one - in Fayetteville.

"You want to protect (your) home field," Brown said. "You want to win the big game and you want to get off to a good start in SEC play.

"And what better way to do it than right out here (today)."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories