Arkansas' ground game churned out a whopping 483 yards and rolled to five rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Robert Johnson had a relatively successful debut leading the offense. The defense capitalized on Missouri State's mistakes, tackled well and got off to a solid start under coordinator Reggie Herring.
But most of the positives were overshadowed by Arkansas' five turnovers.
"That's the most disappointing thing," Nutt said Sunday. "That's all we talk about, taking care of the ball, taking care of the ball.
"But it seems like we had no regard for the ball whatsoever Saturday from the receivers, the backs, everybody who touched it."
Nutt spent several minutes during his weekly press conference lamenting about Saturday's mistakes, which killed scoring chances, left the defense in tight spots and allowed Missouri State to ponder the possibility of an upset in the second half.
Arkansas fumbled five times, lost four of them and added an interception during the opener. It was just the fourth time in Nutt's eight seasons that the Razorbacks have recorded five turnovers in a game. Strangely, Arkansas improved to 3-1 in those games, but Nutt doesn't want the Hogs to press their luck during next weekend's Southeastern Conference opener against Vanderbilt.
"We can't have it," Nutt said. "We're going to get that corrected. Everybody's got to understand that it's not just word of mouth. It's for real. It's three points of pressure. Any time you're going through traffic or if you've broken free from the line of scrimmage, you know somebody's coming up from behind you to strip and rip it out and tomahawk the ball out. It's your responsibility to protect it."
Arkansas first fumble came on the opening kickoff, when Missouri State kicker Jon Scifres banged the ball off linebacker Freddie Fairchild. It bounced up in the air and back to Scifres, who fielded it and gave the Bears the ball at their own 41.
Nutt wrote off the first turnover as a fluke. But it was a sign of things to come.
Quarterback Robert Johnson threw an interception on Arkansas' fourth play from scrimmage, tailback Peyton Hillis fumbled the ball at Missouri State's 4 in the first quarter and receiver Marcus Monk lost it after a 20-yard catch in the second quarter.
Hillis finished with 135 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns, but lost his second fumble in the third quarter with Arkansas clinging to a 28-17 lead.
"They basically thought nobody could take the ball from them and I can really handle it very loosely," Nutt said. "If you watch the film, the ball is completely away from the body on two of the three fumbles. On one with Peyton, the helmet hit directly on the ball. You just have to be ball conscious. And there's nothing wrong with taking two hands when you're in traffic sometimes to secure it.
"You just can't go about your business like everything's OK. Ho hum."
In addition, Johnson fumbled the ball in the first quarter, but Hillis fell on it. He also dropped the ball in the second quarter, but picked it up and scrambled for a three-yard loss. The play wasn't recorded as a fumble in the official stat sheet.
Neither was freshman receiver Reggie Fish's muffed punt in the fourth quarter, which was wiped out by a false start penalty on Missouri State. Fish caught the ball cleanly on his second attempt and returned it two yards.
"Fumble was just the word of the night I guess," Nutt said.
Said Johnson: "We can't have that, especially going into SEC play next week. We got a win out of it, but turning the ball over as much as we did is not good."
Arkansas wasn't as fortunate the last time it turned the ball over five times.
That happened in the 2003 regular-season finale against eventual national champion LSU. The Hogs fumbled six times -- lost three of them -- and tossed two interceptions in the 55-24 loss. LSU made Arkansas pay for four of the five mistakes, scoring 28 points off Razorbacks' turnovers.
Miscues also played a major role in two college football upsets Saturday.
Oklahoma, which lost in the national championship game to Southern Cal last January, was done in by four fumbles in its 17-10 season-opening loss against Texas Christian. Not to be outdone, Auburn turned the ball over five times and paid for the mistakes with a 23-14 loss to Georgia Tech.
"We talked all week about it. There's upsets every day," Nutt said. "There will be an upset Saturday. Let's make sure it's not in Fayetteville. And sure enough, you look on TV, I don't think anybody in this room would pick TCU over Oklahoma.
"But it's real simple when you have turnovers. And there was turnovers."
The mistakes frustrated a program that has prided itself on protecting the football under Nutt. The Hogs lost six fumbles in 11 games last season and didn't cough it up in their final three outings against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU.
The typical punishment for a fumble among Arkansas' running backs is an extended stint on the bench. That didn't happen in Hillis' case Saturday. But Nutt said fumbling is unacceptable and Arkansas might not be so lenient next time.
"I had two fumbles that I shouldn't have put on the ground," Hillis said. "I feel kind of bad about that. The guy put the helmet on the ball (in the first quarter) and you're still supposed to hang onto it. The second time, I really, really should've hung onto the ball. I'm running wild out there, running over people, carrying the ball out.
"I need to learn to put two hands on the ball."
That's exactly what the Razorbacks will be focusing on in practice this week.
Nutt said Arkansas could've put the game away much earlier than the fourth quarter, when the Hogs scored 21 points to finally pull away. The defense forced five turnovers, scored a touchdown and "should be leading the country (in turnover margin). Instead, it's negated because we gave it away five times," Nutt said.
So Arkansas will ask defensive players, scout teamers and others to poke, strip and swipe the ball from the hands of ball carriers this week.
Nutt doesn't want to watch the Razorbacks stumble through another five-turnover performance against the Commodores.
"I don't want it to ever happen," Nutt said. "I'm glad that it's over and done. (We're) very fortunate."
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