Arkansas worked for about 90 minutes on a sloppy practice field at Freedom High School in Orlando as preparations for the Capital One Bowl began to slow down as game day approaches.
The grass surface was at least workable Thursday, vastly improved over the previous two days after 6.5 inches of rain on the weekend left it almost swampy.
"It was so soft and wet the last two days that it took work to get your feet out of the mud to even move," said defensive tackle Keith Jackson. "Today was much better."
Because the Citrus Bowl (Purdue vs. Maryland) will be played Friday night in the same stadium the Hogs will play Wisconsin's Badgers at on Monday, neither team will get even a walk through practice on the surface that will be used for the game.
"That's a concern, playing on that field just after a game has been played two days before," said Gus Malzahn, UA offensive coordinator. "That's why we even elected to practice on this high school field the previous two days. It could be that we find a surface for our game exactly like we had the last two days. It was tough on timing to be out there, but maybe it will help us if we play a game in that same conditions."
The forecast calls for rain on Sunday night and for a 70 percent chance of more rain on Monday. So, Malzahn's concerns are valid.
"We hope it turns out that the field is firm and fast in the stadium, but we are prepared either way," Malzahn said. "The timing was off the first day we practiced (on the sloppy field) when we got down here, but it was better yesterday and it was really good today. We feel good now that we've done it and we didn't get anyone hurt. It was so slick yesterday that we were worried we'd lose someone to an injury, but we didn't."
Head coach Houston Nutt said the Hogs have had three solid days of work and will taper off on the physical aspects of the practices for the remainder of their Orlando stay.
"We've had good focus, good concentration and we've gotten a lot done both here and in Fayetteville," Nutt said.
"We've gotten after it pretty good for this game. The first two days here were very physical.
"Today was a good mental day. We are in good physical condition for the game."
Linebacker Weston Dacus, bothered by stomach flu, returned to practice Thursday.
"He's back today and that really helped," Nutt said. "He's gotten over his sickness. He's lost a little weight, but he'll get most of it back before the game. He'll be alright."
Nutt knows what he'll face in the Badgers.
"They are big and strong, they don't beat themselves and are good in all three phases of the game," he said. "They don't make mistakes, they don't turn it over and they don't give up big plays on defense. That's how you win games.
"They have big-time wideouts that can make plays, a real fast tight end and they have a strong running back. Defensively, they control their gaps. They do a great job in all phases."
Nutt was asked about comparisons between the Big 10 and the SEC.
"We have a lot of respect for the Big 10," he said. "We learned about the Big 10 when we played Minnesota in the Music City Bowl. Some people say they are big and slow, but we saw they have speed and quickness. We know Wisconsin will have real speed and quickness.
"I'm partial to our own league. We know that each week in the SEC you better come with your chin straps buckled. This is going to be a good matchup, a good ball game."
The Arkansas players have continued to work for this game just as they have all season. In fact, weight lifting, just as it was in the season, was part of the regimen Thursday.
"Today was a day of lifting for our offense, and the defense will lift tomorrow," line coach Mike Markuson said. "We are doing things just like it's another game, getting after it."
Malzahn said the Hogs want to close out the season with an 11th victory and have worked hard to improve their passing game with the bowl workouts.
"Both of our quarterbacks have had good workouts down here," he said. "They had good timing today and we made some nice plays in the passing game. Robert Johnson finished our practices today with a very nice catch and a big play. We are doing a good job throwing the ball right now.
"We know we'll have to throw in this game. Wisconsin has been very good at stopping the run. They have linemen that don't get blocked much and their linebackers really run to the ball. They have very good tacklers."
Tailback Darren McFadden had a solid day Thursday. Coaches and players alike said he appeared close to full speed, the best he's looked since sustaining an ankle sprain in the SEC title game against Florida.
"If he's not full speed right now, he's real close," Malzahn said. "And, with Darren, if he's 95 percent, he's really good. That's about what he's been all year with that toe. So he's as good as we've seen him right now."
Malzahn said the Hogs will continue to use the Wildcat package with McFadden at quarterback in the bowl game even after Florida shut down those plays in the title game.
"We probably just needed to add a few more wrinkles and we've done that," Malzahn said. "We'll see what we can do with it in this game. It's been good to us and we'll stick with it. Give Florida credit for stopping it, but it also hurt that Darren wasn't full speed. When you don't have your best player healthy, it hurts you and you saw that against Florida."
Kevin Woods (left) shares a ride with Darren McFadden at Disney World on Wednesday afternoon as part of bowl festivities in Orlando. In the background, Casey Dick and Robert Johnson share a ride.
Photo by Zac Lehr
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