Confident Hogs Ready For 'Bowl Trip'

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas was down in the dumps earlier this month, losing any chance of becoming bowl-eligible after a 14-10 home loss to South Carolina.

Seniors cried after the game. Freshmen thought about next season. And the Razorbacks weren't sure if, or when, the doom and gloom that had dominated coach Houston Nutt's eighth season with the Razorbacks would ever end.

What a difference two weeks can make.

Arkansas has done plenty of smiling since rallying to knock off struggling Ole Miss (28-17) on Nov. 5 and following it with a 44-10 win against woeful Mississippi State last Saturday. A two-game, Southeastern Conference win streak won't eliminate the fact Arkansas (4-6, 2-5 in SEC) is missing out on postseason play, but Nutt believes two wins -- of any kind -- have given the Hogs a much-needed jolt of confidence.

"When things aren't going well and the adversity we've had, being so close, boy, it just really hurts," Nutt said. "Winning, that's the fun part about it. That locker room, if you could've seen it the past few weeks, that's what you coach for.

"You see 18-, 19-year olds with that kind of smile and the feeling you have when everybody's working together, it's a great feeling. It's been huge for us."

Nutt is hoping those new-found feelings will carry over to Friday's season-finale against third-ranked LSU. He said the Razorbacks will treat the game as a bowl trip to end its frustrating season. Nutt also said it will be a good measuring stick.

"We're playing it like it's a bowl trip for us," Nutt said. "We're playing it for a trophy (the Golden Boot) and, to me, it's going to determine how far we've come since September. It's a big game and it's a great opportunity for us."

Arkansas feels better about its chances after turning in its most complete half of the season last Saturday. The Hogs held a 41-3 halftime lead against the Bulldogs behind their resurgent offense, suffocating defense and explosive special teams.

In fact, it was Arkansas' highest scoring first half in 14 years in the SEC. The previous best was a 35-point first half during a 42-6 win at Vanderbilt in 1995.

Right tackle Robert Felton said it's a "great feeling" to finally put together a dominating performance and believes Arkansas should've done so all along. He said the Razorbacks have struggled, but are confident entering the season finale.

"Most people think we're probably going to give up and throw in the towel (after the 2-6 start), but we won these last two games," Felton said. "We're not done yet.

"We're still kicking. We're still fighting."

LSU has been a tall task the past two seasons, outscoring Arkansas 98-38. The Tigers rolled to a 55-24 win en route to the national title in 2003. LSU also handed Arkansas its only loss in Little Rock during Nutt's tenure last November (43-14).

The Tigers (9-1, 6-1 in SEC) routed Ole Miss 40-7 last Saturday and moved from fourth to third in The Associated Press' Top 25 poll after Miami's 14-10 loss to Georgia Tech. LSU's only blemish was a 30-27 overtime loss to Tennessee on Sept. 26, but the Tigers have won eight straight and sit atop the SEC Western Division.

Arkansas is the only team standing in the Tigers' path to the division title and a trip to Atlanta for the conference championship game. LSU also is alive in the Bowl Championship Series standings, holding out hope that No. 1 Southern California or No. 2 Texas will sustain late-season losses.

"It's a great opportunity for us," said Arkansas freshman quarterback Casey Dick. "We get to go out there and see if we can get the boot back. That's our main goal. That's one thing that we want, to send all these seniors out the right way.

"That's what we're going to try to do."

Dick has done his part the past two weeks, breathing some life into Arkansas' struggling offense. The Hogs outscored Ole Miss 21-3 in the second half of its 28-17 win. Then they outscored Mississippi State 41-3 in Saturday's first half.

The combined 62-6 advantage over four quarters was more than Arkansas had mustered in its previous four SEC games. The Razorbacks tallied 60 points -- in 16 quarters -- during losses to Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina.

"It feels great to come out here and get these wins like this," said tailback Darren McFadden, who rushed for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Bulldogs. "We knew we had a pretty good team. We'd lose a ballgame by a couple points because of mistakes. We're finally getting those mistakes corrected."

Arkansas won't have as much time to work out any kinks because of its shortened week, which is altered because the game will be played one day early.

Nutt said the Hogs treated Sunday like a typical Monday, studying film, game planning and meeting. Arkansas will practice today, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Nutt jokingly said the Razorbacks seem to catch streaking teams "just right," but is more concerned with his players this week. He's interested to see how far their confidence after two wins will carry them against the Tigers on Friday.

"They're looking forward to it," Nutt said. "They've already been talking about it. We're just going to have a great Thanksgiving week and get ready to go play.

"This is the one game we have left that's guaranteed and we're playing a top-notch team. It's going to be good to see exactly where we are and how far we've come."


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