Arkansas prides itself on not putting the ball on the ground. There's a huge graphic inside the Broyles Center just down the hallway from the locker room about "protecting the rock."
So when Arkansas put the ball on the ground three times in the first half in a 50-14 loss to Southern Cal on Saturday night, no one was more surprised and disappointed than Danny Nutt, the UA running backs coach.
To say Nutt was stunned that starting tailback Felix Jones was guilty all three times, losing two of, is probably an understatement.
"No one hurts as bad as Felix," Nutt said. "I don't think anyone expected that from him. He won't do that again. We know that. He'll be better than that the rest of the way.
"I think they hit him just right each time, but that's no excuse. We can't have that. We don't have that. We haven't had that the last eight years."
The Hogs didn't scrimmage much during preseason, the backfield coach admitted. But he didn't know if they could have done it any other way with two other tailbacks, Darren McFadden and Michael Smith, on the shelf until the final week of fall camp.
"We hit Felix some the first week, but that's about it," Nutt said. "We just didn't think we could hit anymore than that with so many guys hurt. We had to have Felix healthy. We didn't hit him much and I don't remember putting him in any middle drill. We were kinda gun shy about hitting him with the guys we had already lost."
McFadden actually carried the mostof any UA back. He toted the ball nine times to seven for Jones. That probably was the surprise of the night since McFadden hadn't practiced until six days before the opener after undergoing surgery in preseason for a badly broken big toe.
When did the Hogs know they were going to have McFadden available?
"I knew it 48 hours after he had the pin removed," said the backfield coach. "He was sore, but that was it. No other problems and I knew he is one tough back.
"The doctor told me that it might be close for him to come back for this game, but we knew if anyone was tough enough to do it, it was Darren."
That wasn't McFadden's top form.
"No, I'd say he was about 80 percent," Danny Nutt said. "He missed three weeks of practice. His legs are still heavy. He'll get some zip back in the next couple of weeks. He still doesn't have the timing back. I could tell he wasn't as fast as he's going to be and has been. We'll get him ready now."
The Hogs lost five turnovers for the night while forcing zero from the visitors. As secondary coach Louis Campbell said, "We gave them turnovers and we didn't get nothing back."
That was the thing that upset the Hogs' coordinators.
"That was the story," said Gus Malzahn, the Hogs' first-year offensive coordinator. "It was unfortunate, but we just gave them some gifts. The turnovers are what stand out in my mind.
"I thought we had them guessing at the start and we just turned it over. Those were killers, the turnovers early. That got them on the board. It was really an uphill battle after that.
"Then, we got back in the game, and then we had the tipped pass for the interception. That was the big play in the second half in my mind. It was a third down play and we had him open for a first down. That was a killer, too."
Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said, "What stands out is that we pooped out in the second half. That was poor on our part, but what it tells me is that we just don't have any depth. The second-half effort bothered me.
"SC does a nice job of keeping you off balance with the bootlegs and getting rid of it so quick in the passing game. They protect well and are very good up front. I thought we covered well until we ran out of gas. I guess the positive is that we didn't give up any big plays from their widest."
The Trojans did drop two fumbles, but covered one of them and the other rolled out of bounds before the Hogs could find the handle.
USC's talent was such that they didn't have to do a whole lot to force the UA turnovers, at least scheme wise.
"I was surprised in that they didn't really lay their ears back and come after us," Malzahn said. "They mix it up usually, and they did a little bit, but they mainly dropped into coverage."
State of the Hogs: Turnovers
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