On-Campus Frustrations

FAYETTEVILLE -- It has been the site of too many disappointing performances the past few seasons, a glaring fact that has caused plenty of head scratching around the Broyles Center.

After all, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt believes it became one of the "prettiest stadiums" in the country after a whopping $110 million was poured into an expansion effort completed in 2001. It holds close to 72,000 screaming fans, sports an enclosed end zone that helps trap noise and has been a comfortable home for the Hogs.

But Reynolds Razorback Stadium hasn't been very kind to Arkansas the past few seasons.

And junior linebacker Sam Olajubutu said the Razorbacks can't figure out why.

"I really don't know," Olajubutu. "We have had a couple of losses up here, but I really don't know what it is. I guess that, as a team, we just have to work harder and play harder. I really can't explain it."

Arkansas, which has experienced more frustration than elation in big games on-campus lately, will try to buck the trend when it plays its most-anticipated home game of the season against No. 21 Auburn on Saturday. The Hogs are 14-8 in Razorback Stadium since the stadium's expansion in 2001 and, after its 28-24 loss to Vanderbilt here last month, are 6-7 in Southeastern Conference games during that stretch. They're also 1-3 against ranked teams.

Some results have been mind-boggling, like the 29-17 loss against Kentucky in 2002. Others have been heart-breaking, like the 22-20 loss against seventh-ranked Texas last September. Arkansas hasn't enjoyed the home-field advantage it envisioned, but the Razorbacks hope their recent on-campus frustrations will come to an end Saturday.

"There are some games that, no doubt, we should've won," said Arkansas cornerback Michael Coe. "There are some where we didn't make plays at the end. But all these games were winnable. If it's a home game, we need to win. It's all about protecting your yard. This is where you live. This is where you come to practice every day.

"There comes a point where you've got to put the nail in the coffin and seal the deal."

Arkansas didn't have much of a problem during Nutt's first three seasons on campus.

In fact, the Razorbacks won their first 15 home games -- in Little Rock and Fayetteville -- and were 17-2 from 1998-2000. That included an 8-2 mark in Fayetteville. Arkansas' dominance in Little Rock hasn't faded -- it is 9-1 there from 2001 to 2005 -- but the Hogs haven't experienced the same success on campus.

Nutt said some of the struggles should be chalked up to Arkansas' stiff competition in Fayetteville.

"I think it's a great atmosphere," said Nutt, who has compiled a 40-11 home record in his eight-year tenure. "I think we've just played some big-time teams here. When you play the caliber of teams that we play, it's tough. We've just got to win a big game like that to get that home pride back and get that good feeling that you have.

"It's not a simple, simple task. It's very difficult."

It's hard to argue. Arkansas' home schedule since 2001 has been an attractive slate for fans, but a nightmare for coaches. The typical SEC West rotation with Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss has been mixed with other games against Florida, Georgia and nonconference foe Texas since 2003.

Arkansas hasn't recorded a win against a ranked opponent in Fayetteville since 2001, when the Razorbacks stunned undefeated and 17th-ranked Auburn 42-17. Nutt said Arkansas "hit on all cylinders" that afternoon, turned in big plays each quarter and cruised to an easy victory against the Tigers.

Nutt hopes the Razorbacks can repeat the Fayetteville feat against Auburn on Saturday.

"It's time to win a big game here," Nutt said. "It's been tough. You want to win a big game here. This is a great atmosphere, a beautiful home stadium. But you play tougher games here. That can't go unnoticed.

"But we've got to learn how to finish it, use this home-field advantage and get over the hump."

Linebacker Pierre Brown, who has been around for most of the disappointment, said that has been a problem.

The Razorbacks had no trouble disposing of Ole Miss in 2004 (35-3) and 2002 (48-28) and Mississippi State in 2003 (52-6) and 2001 (24-21). They even turned in big plays during last season's 27-10 win against Alabama, which was playing its first game without injured starting quarterback Brodie Croyle. But the Hogs haven't recorded many big plays down the stretch in tight games in Fayetteville since 2001.

Who can forget former quarterback Matt Jones' fumbles in the fourth quarter against Texas and Auburn? Or the holding penalty George Wilson committed against the Tigers in 2003, wiping out a lengthy touchdown run? Or Tony Bua's late-hit on Florida quarterback Chris Leak, ending Arkansas' fourth-quarter comeback?

Arkansas' last five losses in Fayetteville -- against Auburn and Florida (2003), Texas and Georgia (2004) and Vanderbilt (2005) -- have come by seven points or less.

"It's tough. It's frustrating," Brown said. "We can't seem to win the big one at home. I feel like the crowd gives us great support. We just haven't made the plays down the stretch.

"You have to know how to win sometimes. Good teams, great teams, they just know how to win when it gets to crunch time. USC, Texas, LSU, the great teams, they know how to win. They found a way to win games.

"We haven't done that thus far. But we're looking to turn it around and it has to start somewhere."

Brown doesn't believe the new and improved Razorback Stadium is cursed, but the senior said Arkansas is searching for ways to exorcise its Fayetteville demons. Most of the Hogs are well aware of the home frustrations. Nutt said it'll even be part of his motivational speeches to the team this week.

Coe said Arkansas' goal is to try to establish the kind of "mystique" in Fayetteville that has helped the Hogs feel invincible in Little Rock during Nutt's tenure. He said it's something the Hogs face on the road, traveling to places like Florida, Georgia, Auburn and LSU.

If Arkansas has similar dreams, Brown said it must begin with a Fayetteville win against the Tigers.

"We just haven't been able to pull out the close ones here," Brown said. "But we're going to be looking to turn that as soon as possible. Turn the tide and make some things happen. I've always been a firm believer that if you play hard, and if you do what you're supposed to do, the ball is going to bounce your way.

"Eventually, you're going to get the bounces you didn't get in the past."

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