State of the Hogs: Houston Comes Up Big

Arkansas cornerback Chris Houston gets the key man each week. With some help from the rush and his backfield teammates, Houston came up big in the Hogs' 28-14 victory.

STARKVILLE -- The starting lineup lists Chris Houston's position as left cornerback. That's about as big a misnomer as saying Arkansas' 28-14 victory over Mississippi State was easy.

The Arkansas junior defensive back has been flipping from one side of the field to the other all season as he chased college football's elite wide receivers in man-to-man press coverage on almost every play.

It's been the key to what the Arkansas defense has done this year in a surprise 10-1 season.

Listen to Houston's highlight matchups in his first 10 games. He's drawn Southern Cal's Dwayne Jarrett, Vaderbilt's Earl Bennett, Auburn's Courtney Taylor, South Carolina's Sidney Rice and Tennessee's Robert Meacham. He drew another one of the SEC's top gazelles Saturday in Mississippi State's 6-4 Tony Burks.

Too bad for Burks. Oh, Burks did beat Houston and an Arkansas blitz for a 22-yard touchdown reception. However, Houston made Mississippi State quarterback Michael Henig pay for trying to go to his bread-and-butter guy.

Houston, perhaps the SEC's best cover corner, intercepted three passes (one was erased for a holding penalty away from the play), returning one 87 yards for a touchdown. He picked off a desperation pass in the end zone with 27 seconds left to seal the verdict.

Houston has played solid all season, but he entered the game at Starkville without a career interception. He said he felt that was going to change after he finished his film study earlier in the week.

"You could see on tape that they liked certain routes and they kept running the same one today," Houston said. "I just decided to bait the quarterback into throwing it on that one route, and then I closed real quick and cut in front. They ran the same route back-to-back before the one I took all the way back."

Houston said it also helped that he had assistant coach Bobby Allen, who tutors the corners, on the field this week. Allen usually is the defensive staff member in the press box with secondary coach Louis Campbell usually on the field.

"We were playing more corners this week, so we changed it up for better communication," Houston said. "Coach Allen was able to watch the routes and talk with us and help us on the field."

Allen said the change was made Sunday by defensive coordinator Reggie Herring.

"We were going to play so much nickel and dime this week and with so many corners, Reggie just said on Sunday that we'd switch it up," Allen said. "He thought it would be good since we were going to play three and four corners this week."

Allen used five corners against the Bulldogs. Vinnett played in nickel and dime situations and also rested both Matterral Richardson and Houston, the starters, throughout the game.

"We needed all of them today," Allen said. "We had the flu bug going around last night and this morning. We had some guys feeling pretty queasy and I think we may have had some guys pretty tight at the start. When you are tight, you can hyperventilate and we may have done some of that today.

"We hadn't been in this situation, playing a little tight, since maybe the USC game. The situation today was like the USC game because our players wanted it so bad. It meant so much. When you are tight like that, sometimes it causes you to use up a lot more energy. I think that played into what happened today."

Houston was relieved to end his interception drought and was quick to credit his teammates. "I think on all three, you have to talk about the pass rush first," Houston said. "Those guys got great pressure and the quarterback probably wasn't aware of the coverage the way he should have been. And, I was baiting him anyway. The other guys had their man covered, so all of that played a role in the interceptions.

"As far as my play, film study helped this week. I got underneath the routes and then sped up at the end. That's what I was trying to do and it fell into place."

Allen said the cornerbacks have worked hard every week on "getting our heads turned and finding the ball." He was glad to see that work pay dividends. "That's exactly what he did, get his head turned and find the ball with his eyes," Allen said. "He made two very critical, big plays."

Nothing changes next week when Arkansas plays host to LSU in Little Rock. The Tigers have plenty of talent at wide receiver and will attack the UA corners with the passing of quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

LSU's media office is pushing both Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis, both seniors, for All-SEC honors. Look for Houston to draw Bowe, LSU's best deep threat.

It won't bother Houston. It'll be just another day at the office.

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