UA Offensive Line Needs To Continue Big Play

FAYETTEVILLE -- The first question about Arkansas' football team this week dealt with its frame of mind following a tough 35-32 loss at South Carolina last week.

That was answered in a hurry.

"Coach (Houston) Nutt knows what to say to these guys," said Arkansas offensive line coach Mike Markuson after Tuesday's spirited practice. "The players really gave us great effort in practice today."

The Razorbacks were still giving mental effort even as Markuson spoke. Behind him on the darkening practice field, Hogs defensive end Jeb Huckeba was demonstrating a technique to his backup, 6-foot-7 Jamaal Anderson.

Even in defeat against South Carolina, there had been some bright spots. De'Arrius Howard rushed 21 times for 91 yards, for example. Arkansas gained 247 yards on 45 rushes for an average of 5.5 yards per carry.

Could that type of attack be an ongoing emphasis for Arkansas' offensive line?

"No question," Markuson said. "But it won't be easy. Ole Miss has a great defense. They have two junior interior linemen, No. 68 (McKinley Boykin) and No. 72 (Michael Bozeman) who are exceptional. Man, do they play hard!"

Boykin and Bozeman, who weigh in the 295 range, are limited in publicity because they play for a sub-.500 Rebels team, but Markuson was happy to serve as their press agent.

"Both of them will swim you, butt you, throw you down," he said. "Their fundamentals are as solid as anyone's in the Southeastern Conference."

Never mind that both teams are 3-5, Markuson said.

"The stakes are high in this game," he said. "Both teams are still fighting. We've gotta do something to get to a bowl. We're going to play to the bitter end, and I know they feel the same way."

Late in the South Carolina game, Arkansas found something to hang its hat on -- a consistent running game. On its 9-play, 59-yard drive for a 32-28 lead, Arkansas ran the ball eight times for 51 yards, including six Howard carries for 42 yards.

"We didn't start the drive with that in mind, but you run a play, it works, you get some momentum and run it again," Markuson said. "Now you have a mindset. (UA quarterbacks coach) Roy Wittke was hollering from the press box, 'Keep running the ball!' We had some good gains and threw a nice little naked bootleg for Matt (Jones) in there."

Markuson was asked what got into Howard, who had not carried the ball a single time in a 20-14 loss to Georgia two weeks earlier.

"Coach Nutt really challenged him," Markuson said. "We felt we matched up well against South Carolina and he could do some things against them. He stepped it up and ran hard up inside. That takes some pressure off Matt when you're making four and five yards a crack."

It helped that Markuson's linemen were finding a groove, too.

"I'm so proud of (UA right guard) Gene Perry," Markuson said. "He's a fifth-year guy, playing with heart and soul. He wasn't the most fundamental guy coming out of East Mississippi Junior College, but he plays the position so hard."

Markuson added that Kyle Roper played well at center, Stephen Parker had six knockdown blocks at left guard, Robert Felton fit in well at right tackle and Tony Ugoh returned to form at left tackle.

"Tony is a great athlete," Markuson said.

Markuson had kidded sportswriters that Arkansas would run the ball 60 times against the Gamecocks. The Hogs got three-fourths of the way there.

"These guys deserve a break," Markuson said about the Razorbacks. "They're working hard. Last week was brutal. That was a weird game, with a lot of unusual situations."

Just as in last week's matchup, Arkansas and Ole Miss mirror each other in many team stats. The Rebels have allowed 26.6 points per game (11th in the SEC) while Arkansas has yielded 25.4 (eighth). Ole Miss is ninth in total defense (397.5); Arkansas is 10th (399.2).

The key stat may be rushing defense. Ole Miss has allowed 163 rushing yards per contest. Arkansas hopes to surpass that by a good margin today.

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