Herring Commends Olajubutu's Play

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring sounded a bit like Yogi Berra on Tuesday when he said, "Half this game is all mental."

Herring had been talking about the improvement in the Hogs' defense in general, and linebacker Sam Olajubutu in particular. Olajubutu leads the Southeastern Conference in tackles.

"Sam does not fear hard work and does not fear anyone," Herring said. "He's maturing. He's been probably the most inspiring guy in a dim situation at times. You wish you had 3 or 4 'Butus.'"

For now, Herring is happy to settle for one more experienced starter at linebacker: Pierre Brown, who has returned to practice this week after being out with a knee injury.

Had Brown played last week, Herring said he might have been able to get the Razorbacks calmed down and lined up correctly on the fateful third-and-goal play on which Alabama receiver DJ Hall caught an unhindered 5-yard touchdown pass from Brodie Croyle.

"We fought our guts out; it's just sad that the last (TD) play is all you're going to hear about," Herring said. "They'll be talking about it 30 years from now, when I might be selling trash cans. It shouldn't have happened. It's ridiculous."

Still, Herring said his work-in-progress defense did make strides against Alabama.

"You're trying to get better after the Vanderbilt game and all of a sudden you face a Southern Cal team that's going to inhibit your growth," Herring said. "We took a tremendous hit. Our mind was bruised, our body was bruised, our spirit was bruised. We took a step backward, but then two leaps forward (last week). That's all you can do, men. There are no secrets."

Typical of Arkansas' progression is defensive end Anthony Brown.

"We moved guys around, trying to get a 4-3 front established that resembles a 4-3," Herring said. "He (Brown) needs to play. He needs game experience."

Herring said the same is true of freshman linebacker Freddie Fairchild, who went from lining up on the wrong side on his first play at USC to making six tackles against Alabama.

"I was just hoping he would put his (uniform) on straight at Southern Cal," Herring said. "But from Day 1 to now he's made vast improvement. He gives us an alternative for depth. Right now we're short at linebacker."

Arkansas is thought to be making defensive ends, linebackers and safeties a priority in recruiting.

While most of the staff heads for the recruiting trail on Thursday, Herring and Hogs coach Houston Nutt will conduct practice.

Nutt scrimmaged some of the reserve Razorbacks for 22 spirited plays on Tuesday, he said.

Herring, asked what came out of that on defense, said, "The down-the-line guys -- we want to keep their skills sharp. They get rusty and you never know when you'll have to pull from that pool. Freshmen, walk-ons, some older guys not playing, you keep sharp.

"Brandon Sturdivant, a walk-on linebacker, has some talent and can tackle. He might develop, so you keep a sharp eye on him. You also get to see guys like (safeties) Desmond Williams and Elston Forte, and (tackle Fred) Bledsoe, who has kinda gone to the backdrop. It's a good chance to see guys like that."

Herring pointed to Olajubutu as the model of a player who hits with explosiveness and sometimes knocks 315-pound offensive guards on their back, despite his 5-foot-9, 227-pound build.

"He's the total package, within a small package," Herring said.

Herring said Olajubutu and the Hogs showed character on Saturday by not quitting in the wake of USC's 70-17 win.

"That gives you a feeling of some hope," he said.

Arkansas cornerbacks coach Bobby Allen agreed.

"I think the kids have some personal pride," Allen said. "They know we didn't show up and play any kind of the football we're capable of against USC. On film, we saw we were our own worst enemy.

"Then, knowing a little bit about Alabama, a team we play year in and year out, we didn't try to over-complicate anything and we made some improvement."

One bit of good news Tuesday was that UA defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, who left the Alabama game with an ankle injury, was already back at practice.

"He was not full speed, but he pushed through it," Nutt said. "I'm proud of him."

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