Close Doesn't Count

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said Monday that there's always a fine line between winning and losing.

Unfortunately, his Razorbacks have been tripping on it all season.

Arkansas' close-game efficiency, which has led to memorable wins during coach Houston Nutt's seven-year tenure, have turned into shortcomings. The latest came during last Saturday's 35-32 loss at South Carolina, which dropped the Hogs to 0-3 in games decided by seven points or less.

Arkansas lost to Texas 22-20 on Sept. 11 and also fell short against Georgia in a 20-14 loss on Oct. 23.

"It kind of hurts that we're always in the game and we're always not that far from winning, but it just always kind of slips out of our hands in the fourth quarter," said cornerback Darius Vinnett. "Sometimes it gets tough to keep confidence."

It also was painful for Nutt, whose Hogs grabbed an early lead, were confidently ahead at halftime and scored a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. But defensive mistakes, like poor tackling, and costly turnovers eventually pushed the Hogs to their second straight loss by seven points or less.

Arkansas has been sound in decisive areas during Nutt's tenure, grabbing 17 wins in 26 games decided by a touchdown or less from 1998 to 2002.

"That's what makes you sick when you watch the film of the last couple games of how hard they played, just how close we are," Nutt said. "We talk about it a lot, but man, I just hate it for them. We wanted to win that last game so bad and you're right there, that's just what hurts the most.

"We've got to do a couple things better, not make critical mistakes during a critical time."

Poor tackling hurts, but Arkansas' minus-1 turnover margin has been more costly this season. The Hogs committed three turnovers in the second half against South Carolina and Nutt said the statistic directly reflects Arkansas' shortcomings.

On Saturday, the Gamecocks turned running back Peyton Hillis' fumble and quarterback Matt Jones' interception into 14 points to grab a 28-17 lead. Jones later tossed an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by safety Ko Simpson at the South Carolina 2 in the final minute.

"I saw (receiver) Marcus (Monk) running down the field," Jones said. "I thought he was going to keep going. I think something happened, I don't know. But on film he didn't keep going. I thought he was going to run to the end zone."

Jones has been responsible for 11 turnovers this season, but 10 of those have come in the second half. Even more, the senior has committed seven fourth-quarter turnovers that damaged hopes against Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Nutt said the Razorbacks have placed a heavy burden on Jones, which sometimes forces him to slip into the habit of pressing to make plays. But Jones, who believes he's "not getting as lucky" this season, said the miscues won't be a factor if the Hogs can put together better performances throughout the next three games.

"The games aren't won and lost on one drive and one play," Jones said. "It's the whole game. It's tough, because I feel like if the game comes down to one play, we're going to make it happen. But that's just how it goes."

Bad Call, Good Call
Nutt and Southeastern Conference head of officials, Bobby Gaston, spoke Monday about the inadvertent whistle that overturned a fumble recovery by cornerback Michael Grant in the first quarter.

Gaston reaffirmed that the official who blew the play dead, before South Carolina tight end Brian Brownlee muffed a short kickoff, made a mistake. But Gaston said the officials made the correct decision when they ruled that the play had to be repeated.

"Fortunately, it doesn't happen very often and should never happen," Gaston said. "We're human and we just made a mistake. The unfortunate thing is once we make one we have to carry out what the rules states.

"The rule says you should replay the down when there's an inadvertent whistle."

Gaston said it typically happens once every two or three years, but also occurred during last season's Kentucky-Alabama game. An Alabama player muffed the opening kickoff, but an inadvertent whistle ruled the play dead during the Tide's 27-17 win.

Gaston said the official that made Saturday's mistake was "very distraught" and "very distressed" about the mistake. But Nutt said the conversation with Gaston didn't help him feel any better about the call.

"We just enforce (the rules)," Gaston said. "We don't write them. I can see his point. It would seem equitable that if the whistle itself really had no effect on what transpired after that, you go on and let the play stand.

"That's not what the book says."

Extra Points
Arkansas defensive end Jeb Huckeba will be featured on Jefferson-Pilot's broadcast Saturday as the Southeastern Conference's Good Works Team Player of the Week. Huckeba will be recognized as a representative of the SEC Good Works Team, which is selected based on community service and campus activities. ... Tailback DeCori Birmingham pushed past former Hog Derek Holloway to claim the school record for kick return yards. Birmingham, who already owns the school record for total return yards, now has 1,211 kickoff return yards. ... The Hogs opened the week as nine-point favorites against Ole Miss. It's the first time Arkansas has been favored since the Alabama game on Sept. 25 and the fourth this season. Arkansas is 3-0 when they're favored.

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