Arkansas closed its Tuesday practice for the first time since the preseason as the Hogs began serious preparations for a nonconference game with Southeast Missouri.
"We were worried this week about attitude and we wanted to send a message that we need to come to work," Houston Nutt said. "It's been a long time since we were rated (in the top 25). It's important for the team to get off on the right foot this week in practice. We wanted to stay grounded and beat Southeast Missouri."
Along those lines, assistant coach Danny Nutt said that his backfield group started sluggish, but got better as the day went along. He said he didn't know if his troops got the big head after both Darren McFadden and Felix Jones topped 100 yards against Auburn last week or not.
"I don't know why, but we didn't get off to a good start, but we did get better today," Danny Nutt said. "We are going to get better. We are going to meet about it tonight and get things going the right way. I wish we had been a little sharper today."
However, Danny Nutt did have special praise for fullback Peyton Hillis and his performance against Auburn.
"That was Peyton's best game," Nutt said. "He made two great catches early and he was blocking great the entire game. He graded out at 97 percent. That's very high.
"On the first reverse, Peyton pancaked the corner. He also got the key block on Felix Jones' touchdown. He had some other fine blocks and really handled his job in a championship manner from the start to the end. He's not even full speed yet, but he played a great game."
Danny Nutt said his two backs ran well, but he said it didn't matter who was playing tailback much of the time.
"It wasn't so much that we had two backs RUN for 100 yards," he said. "It was more like we had a line, a fullback and a tight end block it that way. We blocked it great against a pretty good defense. It was VERY well blocked all day."
On Hillis' play, Nutt said he could see it coming after a three-way conversation he had with Peyton Hillis and his uncle, Greg Hillis.
"I know Greg and I talked before this game and he said he had visited with Peyton as far as the way he was going to play against Auburn," Danny Nutt said. "Peyton really listens to Greg. I know that he talked a long time to Peyton. It was a good heart-to-heart talk. I could tell it really helped Peyton. He blocked his tail off and did it with a great attitude against Auburn. He was a big factor in the way we played."
The Hogs lost cornerback John Johnson for a few weeks. He has an arthroscopic surgery on a knee for some loose cartilage. It was deemed successful.
"It was some slightly torn cartilage and it had to be fixed," Nutt said.
The Hogs got flanker Robert Johnson back at practice Tuesday. Cornerback Jerrell Norton returned, too, but only under the watch of trainers to see if he is ready to play after sustained a high ankle sprain three weeks ago.
Cornerback coach Bobby Allen said Norton did not practice with his unit, but might soon.
"The trainers worked him to see what he could do," Allen said. "We may get him back in a few more days."
Allen praised the work of cornerbacks Chris Houston and Red Richardson, but said the Hogs must do a better job of covering deep.
"I told our corners that Auburn was going to challenge us deep and they did," Allen said. "They were inches away (of completing) a few passes. We've got to work on that and do a better job.
"They did cover well at times and that helped our defensive line at times. At other times, we didn't cover as well and the defensive line helped us. We have to continue to work and get better.
"Chris Houston has practiced and played both at a very high level. He's having a solid year. I thought this was Red's best games as far as making tackles and playing aggressively. But we made too many mistakes and we have a lot to work on this week.
"We've played a lot of corners at times this year. Reggie (Herring, defensive coordinator) wants to match personnel, so if they play three wideouts, we are going to sub corners if we play three wide sets.
"We've played solid at corner overall, but there is a lot of room for improvement. As we move forward, we are going to play a lot of teams that are going to take more chances down the field. We know we have to improve. We've got to get John Johnson back healthy and we've got to get Jerrell Norton back healthy. John Johnson hurt that knee against SC and just tried and tried to play through it but he couldn't.
"It was good to have Darius Vinnett back this past game. He got 25 snaps and that enabled us to give Chris and Red some series off. That will help both of them as we move through the rest of the season."
Quarterback Mitch Mustain, now 5-0 as a starter as a true freshman, said the Hogs had a slow start to practice, too, but as the day progressed "practiced more like the previous two weeks."
Concerning the Auburn game, he congratulated the offensive line for a great job throughout the game.
"They blocked well in both the run and the pass," Mustain said. "I felt comfortable all through the game. I don't think Auburn ever got close (to a sack)."
Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said the same thing.
"It was a great performance by the line," he said. "I will say that Mitch did a great job on the throw early to Monk for the touchdown. Auburn loaded up and came with zero coverage (all man) and gave their corners no help. They brought eight men. There was a safety coming clean and Mitch delivered the ball in perfect timing.
"Monk made a great catch and then maintained his feet. That was a great play. After that, Auburn didn't blitz anymore."
Of course, the Hogs used the pass less and less as the game progressed.
"We felt like we could have passed more," Malzahn said. "But with the way our defense was playing and the way our line was blocking, we didn't see the need. We wanted to keep our defense fresh and run some clock. This game, more than the rest, we let the play clock run down."
The improved running game was more than just a matter of solid blocking, Malzahn said.
"This is the first time we had our three big backs all ready to go," Malzahn said. "Hillis is not quite 100 percent, but he really played well this week.
"Mitch had a nice game. He hit some big passes early. He's done a good job (to go 5-0 as a starter), but his teammates have done a good job, too. He didn't play well one week and his teammates -- especially the defense -- picked him up.
"We will throw more than we did last week as we move forward. I do think with the way we protected, we could have thrown more against Auburn. But we didn't need that.
"We just want to challenge our guys to get better every week. We want to build on what we did well last week and get better."
That doesn't mean run the ball more, it means continue to improve in areas that were not strong.
"We strive to execute every play right," Malzahn said. "We want to improve every play. I will say that we knew all along that the strength of this team was that we should be able to run the ball.
"We knew at some point this year, we would run it well and we are going to continue to try to run it well and keep mixing in the pass.
"Our offensive line has really progressed in a lot of areas. If you saw them the first week of spring and fast forward to now, you'd say they have improved. The offensive line has bought into what Coach (Mike) Markuson is teaching him. Coach Markuson has done a great job with them.
"Zac Tubbs was going against a very good defensive end this past week at Auburn. He did very well. And, Tony Ugoh has taken it to another level. He's raised his play every week. Really, I'm proud of all of the offensive linemen. They all play well, but we really did well on the edges."
Tuesday Grid Update, 10/10
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