Running To The Top

FAYETTEVILLE -- There seems to be one constant about Arkansas under eighth-year coach Houston Nutt.

The offense is going to lean on a punishing ground game to win games.

That was the case last Saturday, when the Razorbacks piled up 483 rushing yards in their 49-17 season-opening win against Missouri State. The offensive line pushed defenders out of the way, three tailbacks gained more than 100 yards and, as a result, the Razorbacks lead the nation in rushing after the first week of play.

It's familiar territory. After all, Arkansas ranked No. 1 in rushing offense in the Southeastern Conference during Nutt's tenure, averaging 183.3 yards a game from 1998-2004. The 2005 version of the ground Hogs intend to stay on top when they open SEC play against Vanderbilt on Saturday night in Razorback Stadium.

"That's what we strive for," said left guard Stephen Parker said Saturday night. "I don't know how many run plays we actually ran, but we try to be balanced. If you have success with the running game, you don't stop.

"If we'll average 10, 20 yards a pop, you go with what you know."

The starting offensive line of Parker, left tackle Tony Ugoh, center Kyle Roper, right guard Jonathan Luigs and right tackle Robert Felton had little trouble against the Division I-AA Bears. Tailbacks Peyton Hillis, Felix Jones and De'Arrius Howard slipped through gaping holes and the Hogs averaged 9.5 yards on their 51 rushing attempts.

But Arkansas expects a bigger challenge this week even though the Commodores struggled to get a handle on Wake Forest's ground attack in their 24-20 season-opening win. The Demon Deacons rushed for 274 yards on 51 attempts and tailback Micah Andrews was responsible for 254 yards on 34 carries.

"It has been a strong point being able to come out and run the football," Nutt said. "But we're stepping up. (Missouri State) was a I-AA opponent. We're going to a different type of athlete now. You're in the SEC. They're sky high.

"We're going to have to be ready. Not only running the football, we need to keep improving our passing game. Our receivers are going to have to be ready. I just think everybody, tight ends, backs, you can't be one dimensional in this league."

The Hogs realized that a few years ago, when SEC teams stacked nine defenders in the box and dared quarterback Matt Jones to throw the ball. Arkansas ran twice as much as it threw during the opener (51 rushes, 25 passes), but plans to avoid becoming one-dimensional behind sophomore quarterback Robert Johnson.

That doesn't mean the Razorbacks will change their run-first philosophy when they kick off SEC play Saturday night. After all, Parker said Hogs had so much success running the ball in the opener and have much more in store this season.

"As an offense, we just ran the ball (Saturday night)," Parker said. "We have to get a little more balanced for SEC teams, but, you know, I think (Saturday was) a great first game. I think we established ourselves like we need to."

Prime Time Performers
The Arkansas athletic department's Web site, Hogwired.com, released its inaugural players of the week Monday.

Tailback Felix Jones, linebacker Sam Olajubutu and cornerback Michael Coe were the recipients of offensive, defensive and special teams honors, respectively, for their performance in Arkansas' 49-17 win against Missouri State. The Hogwired.com players of the week are voted on by the Arkansas coaching staff and will be announced after every game this season.

Jones led Arkansas in rushing with 137 yards on 8 attempts and scored on an 80-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He is the first Arkansas freshman to gain more than 100 yards in his first career game.

Olajubutu finished tied for the team lead with 10 tackles against the Bears and forced a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Darius Vinnett and returned for a 44-yard touchdown. Coe started at cornerback, recorded an interception and also returned four punts for 61 yards.

The Southeastern Conference will release its players of the week today and all three are candidates for those awards.

Penalty Flags
Vinnett had no idea he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after his 44-yard fumble return for a touchdown last Saturday.

The senior earned a yellow flag after pulling off his chin strap when he got to the end zone. Vinnett didn't take off his helmet and was swarmed by teammates a few seconds later, but it was enough to warrant a penalty.

"I didn't even know they flagged me until a little later in the game when somebody came up to me and they were like, 'You can't be celebrating during the game because they threw a flag,'" Vinnett said. "I didn't even know. So, I didn't know at first that they flagged me. I just think that next time if I get in the end zone, I just celebrate with the team instead of just popping my chin straps."

Rare Occurrence
Arkansas and Vanderbilt will meet for the first time since 1995 when each program opens SEC play Saturday night. The Hogs won that meeting 35-7 in Nashville, Tenn. and are 4-1 all-time against the unfamiliar SEC Eastern Division foe.

Vanderbilt is the only SEC team Nutt hasn't coached against during his eight years with the Razorbacks.

"It's one of those things where we really haven't played them since I've been here," Roper said. "But we have to go into it like every SEC team and know that they're going to bring their A game. That's how we're going to go about it."
See Razorback Central for more Hog stories.


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