Looking For A Strong Finish

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas has been in this position under coach Houston Nutt.

In fact, it has almost become a yearly tradition. The Razorbacks get off to a slow start with a top-heavy schedule against several ranked opponents. They fall into a deep hole in Southeastern Conference play. And they rally late against softer opponents like Ole Miss and Mississippi State and string together strong finishes.

But Arkansas (2-5, 0-4 in SEC) hasn't been this far behind in Nutt's eight-year tenure, needing to win the final four games if it hopes to become bowl-eligible this season. That's why the Razorbacks hung motivational signs that read "They Remember In November" and "Win in Fayetteville" around the Broyles Center and along the walls in Reynolds Razorback Stadium last week.

"We need to make this to be a good month and that's what (the signs) are saying," Nutt said Thursday afternoon. "We want them to see it everyday when they go to practice. We want to win in Fayetteville. We've had some great, enthusiastic crowds here that have showed a lot of passion and we want to give it back to them."

Arkansas will get their chance to take care of both issues Saturday at 11:30 a.m. against South Carolina in a game that will be televised by Jefferson-Pilot Sports.

The Razorbacks are 2-5 and 0-4 in the SEC play for the first time since 1996, when Danny Ford's team finished 4-7 and 2-6. In fact, Arkansas' worst start after four games under Nutt came last season, when the Hogs were 3-4 and 1-3.

Arkansas has lost its past two games in Razorback Stadium to Vanderbilt (28-24) and Auburn (34-17). The Hogs are 14-10 in Fayetteville since the stadium was expanded prior to the 2001 season. They're also 6-8 in SEC play during that stretch and have lost six of their past 12 games in Razorback Stadium.

"You just go out there and ask for improvement to get better each day," Nutt said. "For the most part, we had some really good practices this week. Open dates, you don't control that, but you've got to take advantage of it and I think we did.

"It's been a good week."

The good news for Arkansas is that they've traditionally experienced success during the final month of the season. Arkansas is 20-10 in November under Nutt, but has won 16 of its past 20 games during the season's final month.

In fact, strong finishes helped the Razorbacks become bowl eligible in 2000, when they won their final two games to finish 6-5. They went 5-0 in November en route to the SEC Western Division Championship in 2002 and were 4-1 in 2003.

Nutt believes a similar finish is possible, especially after Arkansas turned in a strong performance in its 23-20 loss at fourth-ranked Georgia last Saturday.

"I think the way they played last Saturday was a good injection of things we can do when we do things right," Nutt said. "When we execute and we play with 11, we can make some things happen and look like a good football team. When we can eliminate mistakes and eliminate penalties, good things can happen.

"But the thing we're so disappointed about is that final line and that's a 'W'. You want to win."

Coming Home

Arkansas will see plenty of familiar faces on the opposing sideline Saturday in South Carolina co-defensive coordinator John Thompson, defensive backs coach Dave Wommack and running backs coach Madre Hill.

Thompson was Arkansas' defensive coordinator from 2000-01 before taking the same position at Florida in 2002. He was East Carolina's head coach in 2003 and 2004, but resigned after two poor seasons and was hired by Steve Spurrier.

Wommack worked at Arkansas for five seasons and was defensive coordinator from 2002 to 2004. He was fired last December after Arkansas surrendered 397.2 yards a game and joined Spurrier's a few weeks later.

Hill played at Arkansas from 1994-98 and holds the school's single-season rushing record (1,387 yards in 1995). Hills was a graduate assistant in Arkansas' weight room last season, but earned his first full-time coaching position at South Carolina.

"You know them well enough," Nutt said. "You know what they try to do, what they want to do. We've gone against each other in practices quite a bit."

Carrying The Load

True freshman tailback Darren McFadden has shouldered a heavy load for the Razorbacks the past month. That's probably why he hasn't been forced to carry much of his teammates' equipment to and from the practice field.

McFadden was asked about the typical chore handed out to freshmen as part of their initiation to college football. But Arkansas' leading rusher (682 yards and 8 touchdowns) said, surprisingly, he hasn't done much this season.

"I've carried one person's equipment in," said McFadden, who remembered carrying gear during the first week of practice. "I don't remember who it was."

Homecoming Schedule

While Thompson and Wommack will be coming back to a place they used to call home Saturday, the Razorbacks will celebrate homecoming against the Gamecocks.

There is a loaded schedule of homecoming events on tap for the weekend, which will kick off with a homecoming parade on Dickson Street beginning at 7:30 on Friday night. That will be followed by a pep rally at the Greek Theatre at 9. Arkansas also will hold an exhibition basketball game against Southwest Baptist at 7:05 p.m.

The Trough will open on the Poultry Science lawn at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Fans can greet the team from the lawn or the Broyles Center parking lot as it enters the stadium at 9:30 a.m. There will be a Trough pep rally on the lawn and an pep rally at the Alumni Association at 9:45 a.m.

Kickoff is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. It will be regionally televised by Jefferson-Pilot.

Arkansas is 5-2 on homecoming under Nutt. The Hogs have lost two straight on homecoming to Auburn (10-3 in 2003) and Georgia (20-14 in 2004).

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