Defense Earns Passing Grades

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' defense, which had spent the better part of the Hogs' four-game losing skid blowing assignments, missing tackles and surrendering yards and points, had plenty to smile about after the 35-3 win against Ole Miss. But defensive end Jeb Huckeba said he expected a little more.

"I was mad we gave up three points because we really shouldn't have," Huckeba said. "We wanted to pitch a shutout." The Razorbacks might've fallen short of their first shutout since 2002 when Ole Miss place-kicker Jonathan Nichols booted a 33-yard field goal before halftime, but Arkansas turned in its best defensive performance of the season. Arkansas kept an opponent out of the end zone for the first time all year, limited the Rebels to 343 yards and made key stops on third and fourth down all afternoon. "It was huge for us to be able to come out here and do what we did (Saturday)," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack. "We missed some tackles and probably should've held them to about 250 yards to be honest with you. "But I'm proud we won and we held them to three." Wommack said the secret to Arkansas' success was a small number of mental mistakes, defensive backs that finally stayed on top of receivers and a defensive line rotation that kept the Hogs fresh up front. Backups like defensive end Jamaal Anderson and Keith Jackson turned in strong performances. Veterans like Vickiel Vaughn and Jeb Huckeba continued to shine. And the secondary earned its highest grades, including free safety Randy Kelly, who performed flawlessly while providing much-needed intensity. "There were very few mental mistakes, which was positive," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, who spent time with the defense during practices last week. "A lot of harder hits than normal. The hitting was real crisp. I saw guys flying around." Wommack said the next challenge is performing with consistencyand building on Saturday's performance at Mississippi State. That'll be an important test because most of Arkansas' defensive struggles have come on the road. Arkansas, which is 0-3 on the road, has surrendered an average of 39.3 points and 444 yards in losses at Florida, Auburn and South Carolina. "We didn't play as good as we can play," Wommack said. "We just held them down and stopped them at the right time. I was proud of their effort. It was Senior Day and these guys laid their hearts out. I thought it was big. "Now we'll see if we can win on the road." Catching Up Nutt is hoping the Razorbacks can get more production out of tight end Jared Hicks the next two weeks after the junior turned in the best outing of his career Saturday. Hicks, who entered the game with 10 catches in his career, caught a career-high three passes for 42 yards and his first 2 touchdowns. Arkansas had more plans for Hicks, but hasn't been able to accomplish much because of his sprained shoulder. Hicks has been held out of contact drills most of the season and hasn't been healthy since the season opener. "It's been hard because he can't raise his shoulder up," Nutt said. "We can't zero in on a lot of things we'd like to do like we did with (former Arkansas tight end) Jason Peters. But he's feeling good and we knew with the way (the Rebels) pursue the line of scrimmage, after you got the run going, they will commit to bringing that safety down to get eight or nine in the box. "Jared's a good target and runs a very good flag route or a skinny post. He can do those things and use his body. We felt like we could get him open. It's just been hard with his injury." Let's Get Physical Receiver Chris Baker finished with one reception against the Rebels. But Nutt said the sophomore's acrobatic catch was one of the day's biggest plays. Baker's catch came on the third play from scrimmage, when the Razorbacks faced third-and-8 from their own 22. He was covered closely by Ole Miss cornerback Charles Clark, but went up over the sophomore to pull in a 26-yard catch that gave the Hogs life. Fullback Peyton Hillis scored on a 1-yard touchdown run five plays later to give Arkansas a 7-0 lead it wouldn't relinquish. "He hadn't really done that before where he'd go and really go after a ball over a defender," Nutt said. "He was very aggressive. That's a big play. We don't punt there. Instead, we keep the drive going and really got us kind of kick-started. "I know (receivers) coach (James) Shibest has been talking to Chris about being a little bit more physical," Nutt said. "If there's one part of the game he needs to improve on, it's that. He really made a great, great effort to go get that ball." Knock Them Down Arkansas' starting offensive line of left tackle Tony Ugoh, left guard Stephen Parker, center Kyle Roper, right guard Gene Perry and right tackle Robert Felton paved the way for 297 rushing yards Saturday. It was the unit's second straight start together, following a successful performance at South Carolina where the Hogs rushed for 247 yards. Nutt said the offensive line earned high grades and recorded its most knockdown blocks of the season. Roper led the way with 11, but Parker (8), Felton (8), Ugoh (5) and Perry (4) all got in on the act. Also, tight end Mason Templeton recorded 6 knockdown blocks and Hicks added 2. Backup linemen Nate Garner (1), Tyler Morgan (2) and Chase Pressley (1) bumped Arkansas' total to 48 knockdown blocks Saturday. "We were getting a little nasty," Parker said. He Said It Nutt didn't expect the Razorbacks to jump out to a 28-0 lead and cruise to a 32-point win Saturday. But Nutt said it was a sign of what the Razorbacks could've accomplished if not for critical mistakes during their four-game losing skid. "I thought it would be a very close game," Nutt said. "I think it shows what we can do when things are going right. We don't turn the ball over. You don't make foolish mistakes. When the defense plays as hard as they did, I think it shows the things that we can do. You'd love to have two or three plays back from South Carolina. Two or three plays back from Georgia and Texas and on and on and on. "But you can't do anything about that." Extra Points Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones didn't practice Sunday because of a strained right hamstring. Nutt said the senior should be available when practice resumes Tuesday. ... Tailback De'Arrius Howard and fullback Brandon Kennedy sustained slight concussions, but were back on the practice field Sunday. Both should be available for Mississippi State. ... Backup quarterback Robert Johnson completed 2 of 4 passes for 47 yards in more than a quarter of work Saturday. Nutt said Johnson performed well after a rough outing in the fourth quarter against Georgia.

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