On The Road Again

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas used to enjoy all kinds of success on the road.

There was something about riding on the team plane, sleeping in unfamiliar hotel beds and banding together in hostile territory that helped the Razorbacks prosper. Whether it was the jaw-dropping 38-28 win at Texas last year, the dominant 38-17 victory at Auburn in 2002 or the 58-56 seven-overtime thriller at Ole Miss in 2001, the Razorbacks had a reputation for being comfortable and confident when they stepped onto another team's turf.

But Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said those feelings have been missing this season in the losses at Florida, Auburn and South Carolina that leave the Hogs winless on the road.

"That's not like us," Nutt said. "We've always won, did a good job on the road, and we haven't yet."

If Arkansas (4-5, 2-4 in Southeastern Conference) doesn't want to spend the holiday season at home, it'll have find a way to reverse the trend in today's must-win game at Mississippi State (3-6, 2-4). The Hogs, who are brimming with bowl hopes after last Saturday's 35-3 home win against Ole Miss, must avoid falling in Davis Wade Stadium or they'll go 0-4 on the road for the first time since 1999.

It's an uncharacteristic mark for a team that entered 2004 with three road wins in each of the past two seasons and was 6-3 outside the state during that stretch. But adding in the 55-24 loss at LSU last November, the Hogs have lost four straight road games since their 71-63 seven-overtime win at Kentucky on Nov. 1, 2003.

"In my opinion, we've been right at that line to where it could go either way for us," said Arkansas center Kyle Roper. "Everybody has great focus. The effort is definitely there. It's not that anyone is slacking or anything. Everyone's got the effort and wants to be there and has the focus of, 'Let's go win this.'

"It's hard to pinpoint one thing."

It didn't help that Arkansas got off to terrible starts at Florida and Auburn, falling into enormous holes against Top-25 teams. The Hogs were outscored 65-14 in the first half of both games and were forced to play catch-up in hostile environments.

Arkansas got off to a hot start at South Carolina two weeks ago, but faltered in the second half because of turnovers and defensive lapses. The Hogs turned the ball over three times and missed lots of tackles in the 35-32 loss. Arkansas has committed six turnovers and surrendered an average of 39.3 points in road games.

Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones said the Hogs have to correct those inefficiencies to have any hope of becoming bowl eligible.

"I think we have to build on this last game (Ole Miss) and have to forget about the last couple road games we've had," Jones said. "We've played some tough teams on the road. Hopefully, we can look ahead and win this game."

The Razorbacks have won five straight in this series and have experienced success in Starkville, winning three of their last four games there. But none of the road wins were easy. The Hogs needed overtime in 1996 (16-13) and 2000 (17-10) to win at Mississippi State and they jumped to a big lead and held on for a 26-19 win two years ago.

They're expecting another battle against Mississippi State, even though the Bulldogs are assured of their fourth straight losing season. Under first-year coach Sylvester Croom, the Bulldogs have had two weeks to prepare for Arkansas and can ruin the Hogs' quest for a seventh consecutive bowl trip with a win today.

But that's not how Croom is looking at his team's final home game.

"It's a chance for us to win a ballgame, another SEC game, against a very good opponent," Croom said. "That's the way I look forward to it. I look at winning for our enjoyment sake, not to make other people miserable.

"There's no question they're going to be highly motivated, and I expect us to be highly motivated. We've got two games left. This is our last home game."

The last time Mississippi State had two weeks to prepare for an opponent, it picked up its first SEC win with the 38-31 shocker against then-No. 20 Florida. The Bulldogs beat Kentucky the next week and have won two of their past three games.

Mississippi State is 3-3 at home this season and is pressing to finish above .500 in Davis Wade Stadium for the first time since 2000.

"It's going to be a real tough atmosphere," Nutt said. "They've had a lot of confidence at home, won some big games there. Whenever you beat Florida and Kentucky, you develop some confidence. That's what (Croom's) instilling in those guys."

Arkansas' confidence was restored after its four-game losing streak ended last week, something Nutt hopes the Hogs build on today. If the Razorbacks beat the Bulldogs, they can become bowl eligible with a win against LSU in Little Rock on Friday.

But safety Vickiel Vaughn said the first thing Arkansas must do is pour its energy into snapping the 2004 road woes.

"We've got to go down to Starkville with at least more concentration, more focus," Vaughn said. "I think we haven't gone down with the focus that we need. Wherever you go, you've got to treat it as if it's your house.

"You've got to say, 'We've got to play our best. We've got to take over this field while we play on this field.'"

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