Hogs Hoping To Bounce Back After USC Debacle

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Arkansas cornerback Michael Coe said the Razorbacks bombed a big test at top-ranked Southern California last week.

The junior figured that was the best way to describe the humiliating, 70-17 loss that will go down as one of the most lopsided in school history. It felt like scoring a 20 on an exam. Coe didn't enjoy the experience, but said the Razorbacks should be judged on how well they respond from the setback.

"This stuff happens in life," Coe said. "You get setbacks. It's part of football and it's a part of your every day life. Things like that happen all the time.

"What you do on the next test is important. You can bring that average up."

Arkansas (1-2, 0-1 in Southeastern Conference) will get a chance to prove it can survive a potentially devastating blow when it meets No. 20 Alabama (3-0, 1-0) in Bryant-Denny Stadium today at 11:30 am. It doesn't matter that the USC trip, which followed a 28-24 home loss to Vanderbilt, identified the large gap between the programs, cast doubt about Arkansas' bowl hopes and even raised questions about coach Houston Nutt's job security this week.

The Hogs are determined to prove they belong in the same class.

"We're going to turn this around," said tailback De'Arrius Howard, who had back-to-back, 100-yard rushing efforts before last Saturday's 4-yard performance against the Trojans. "We're going to shock a lot of people.

"The main thing is that you've got to forget about it. You've got to have a short memory. You're going to win some, you're going to lose some. If you dwell on the past, it's going to come back and bite you in the butt every time."

But it's not a bad idea scanning Arkansas' past following embarrassing losses.

Take, for example, the 51-7 pounding Miami handed out to Arkansas in 1987. The Razorbacks beat Texas Christian 20-10 the next week and finished 9-4. Or the 10-3 loss against the Citadel in 1992. Coach Jack Crowe was fired after the game, but the Razorbacks rallied behind interim coach and current Alabama defensive coordinator Joe Kines to win their first-ever SEC game at South Carolina, 45-7, the next week.

The most recent resurgence came in Nutt's third season, when the Razorbacks fell behind Tennessee 35-0 in the first quarter and lost 63-20. They were 4-5 after the loss, but responded by beating two ranked teams -- Mississippi State (17-10) and LSU (14-3) -- to become bowl eligible for the third straight season.

"Losing questions everything," Nutt said. "It questions the teams, the coaches, the players, everything. But we've been in it long enough to know -- I don't think I've ever gotten whipped like (USC) -- but we've been in it long enough to know some things in life you just don't want to experience too much of. The real challenge for these players is, come back because you know you're better than that.

"Anybody can be on an 8-0 team. Right now is where you define your character."

That's why Nutt got players together on Sunday, canceled practice and told them to spend two days getting USC out of their systems.

Like 2000, Nutt knows confidence can be restored after an embarrassment. He also knows the hangover can remain. In 1997, Arkansas lost at Florida 56-7, dropped its next four and coach Danny Ford was fired after a 4-7 season.

"It can go both ways," said Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle. "They can come in here and be down that they just lost two out of three and got beat pretty bad, or they can come in here with a chip on their shoulder. They got beat bad on TV and everybody saw it and 'We want to go in there and show we're a good football team.'

"That's what we're expecting. I'm sure coach Nutt will have them ready to play."

Alabama is 3-0 for the second straight season, turned in its best offensive outing in coach Mike Shula's tenure during last Saturday's 37-14 win at South Carolina, and holds the nation's No. 2 run defense. The Crimson Tide also cracked the Top 25 this week and have a chance to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1996.

But Shula doesn't expect anything easy against the wounded Razorbacks.

"We know what Arkansas is," Shula said. "We know what kind of talent they have, we know what kind of coaching they have. They are great motivators, their staff.

"They've fallen short the last two weeks and they're going to be more motivated now than they ever have."

Arkansas can draw on its success against Alabama, which is its second straight opponent with a storied history. The Crimson Tide has bettered USC's national championship total (11) by one (12) and has claimed 21 SEC crowns.

The Hogs are 4-3 against Alabama under Nutt and have won the last two, including a 34-31, double-overtime win in Tuscaloosa in 2003. Arkansas came back from a 31-10 deficit in the second half, forced overtime and walked away with a big win.

Defensive end Jamaal Anderson said the Hogs are confident they can rally again.

"If coach Nutt was able to do it (in 2000 after the Tennessee loss) then, I'm sure he's able to do it now," Anderson said. "He's made sure everybody is keeping a positive atmosphere. Everybody knows that we've got to get over (USC).

"Even though it was something we didn't want to happen, it's still a new season."

More importantly, Coe and quarterback Robert Johnson believe the Razorbacks have managed to stay close despite grumblings about the disappointing start.

Johnson said it's impossible to avoid hearing the talk, which includes debates about whether Nutt will survive after the season. But Coe said the Razorbacks have learned to ignore most of it and plan to make good things happen on the field.

"People are going to talk when you do good, they're going to talk when you do bad," Coe said. "You take the good with the good, the bad with the bad. They always say take everything with a grain of salt. You welcome the criticism when it comes. The people that talk, half of them don't know what they're talking about. You don't listen to people who don't have any influence on you.

"You can't let that kind of thing bother you."

Instead, Coe and the Razorbacks are more concerned with spending their energy on finding ways to pass an important test at Alabama.

"It's hard on everybody," offensive line coach Mike Markuson said about the USC loss. "But the sun came up on Sunday. We're all alive, we're all breathing.

"It's time to play again. There's always another opportunity. The guys understand that. We're playing a very good opponent. The guys know it. We've just got to go down there, snap them on and see what happens."

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