Commentary: Cotton Bowl Outlook

Here are thoughts from HI.com Publisher Clay Henry on the Hogs' chances against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

It was a bit ironic that Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops thought it important to point out that Arkansas didn't work out on its first day in Dallas ... a day the Sooners used to get in a light practice. It seemed the Sooner skipper was trying to make it sound like the Razorbacks were taking his team lightly.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Arkansas is souped up and ready for the Sooners, and did plenty of work in Fayetteville before breaking for Christmas on Dec. 21. The Hogs came to Dallas ready for the Sooners.

In the personal view, an Arkansas team has never worked harder in its bowl preparations than what the Hogs did in Fayetteville before Houston Nutt sent them home for some Christmas cooking and Santa Claus.

"It was more like spring football or two-a-days than bowl practices," said Shannon Money, the Hogs' senior left offensive tackle. "We got after it. It was full pads, full contact almost every day. We worked hard and our timing should be good for the bowl game. I think we are all ready to play Oklahoma and look forward to this game. The coaches worked us extremely hard. I've been here five years, and this is the hardest I can remember us working for anything."

If there is anyone who looks forward to playing Oklahoma, it is Houston Nutt. Remember, his alma mater is Oklahoma State. His wife also graduated from OSU, and they hate Oklahoma about the same way Alabama fans hate Auburn, and Texas fans hate Texas A&M.

When Nutt learned the Hogs might draw Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, he was quick to find some film on the Sooners to give his players and coaches. They were breaking down OU film even before LSU beat Tennessee and the final bowl pairings were announced.

So, you can count on one thing, Nutt isn't going to take the Sooners lightly. It's not going to happen and is about as farfetched as finding no security at an airport.

It doesn't make sense that Stoops would even say such a thing, unless he was trying to be silly. I've heard the OU coach doesn't have much personality or sense of humor. That would probably explain his comments ... poorly conceived attempts at humor.

But, don't think Nutt's plans were poorly conceived. The Hogs were well versed in their game plan when they left Fayetteville. They know the Sooner schemes, and rushing to the practice field after spending the day traveling to Dallas wasn't in the plan. Nutt wanted an extra day for his squad to digest what he assumes was a huge Christmas dinner, and didn't want to chance an injury after they'd sat in automobiles on bumpy interstate roads.

Some might fret over the possibility of not having tailback Cedric Cobbs against the Sooners. Cobbs didn't practice on Thursday. He's still bothered by a sore back after sustaining an injury last week lifting weights. He's listed as questionable, although Nutt said Thursday that he expects Cobbs to play in the game.

However, it's the personal view that tailback play will not be a problem for the Hogs against the Sooners. Cobbs is a gifted player, but Brandon Holmes is full speed and is more of a slasher, the kind of runner that might be best suited to play against a Sooner defense that runs side to side in a grand way.

Here's another clue; expect Fred Talley to play in the Cotton Bowl. Talley has practiced the last week and a half and should be ready for the Sooners. With Holmes, Talley and true freshman Decori Birmingham available at tailback, Cobbs may not be missed as much as some fear.

How the Hogs' quarterbacks fare against OU's blitzes will probably be more important than whether or not Cobbs plays. Zak Clark and Matt Jones will be asked to recognize OU's changing fronts and account for Roy Williams. The Sooners like to hide Williams in coverage against spread formations, then send him on blitzes. The Hogs must find Williams and neutralize the OU strong safety, perhaps college football's most celebrated defensive player.

I think the Hogs will accomplish all of this and win the game. The fact that most give the Hogs no chance will work to their favor. Emotion and passion are the best assets in a bowl game. The Sooners are favored by 13 1/2 points, but I call it, Arkansas by 17-15.


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