State of the Hogs: Danny Nutt

Danny Nutt knows what's important as the Hogs prepare for the Capital One Bowl. It's simple. It's good health.

Orlando, Fla. - It was eight years ago, but Danny Nutt remembers it like it was yesterday.

"When you get that close to death like I was, you don't ever forget it," Nutt said. "And, I was very close. I knew it. Everyone knew it."

The Hogs' offensive backfield coach spent weeks in the hospital after a delicate micro surgery to stop bleeding from his brain stem. It happened just as the Arkansas football team was finishing off the 1998 season with a trip to the same Orlando bowl the Hogs will play Monday against Wisconsin.

Asked if the Hogs' return trip to Orlando makes that experience bigger in his mind, Nutt just laughed. He said it didn't take coming to Orlando to make him recall the long days in a darkened hospital room and the pain and misery of eight years ago.

"There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about it so coming here didn't change that," he said. "Every day I hope and pray it doesn't happen again. People who haven't been through something like that don't realize how precious life is and how quickly it can be snapped away from you."

He remembers in great detail how his mother and wife sat by his side telling him the details of the Hogs' game with Michigan in the Citrus Bowl (now the Capital One) to the point he told them to stop.

"I was blind during that time. I couldn't see the television, so they had to give it to me play by play," Nutt said. "I finally just couldn't take it anymore. I was hurting so bad. You don't know what it's like until your brain hurts. That's the way I was, blind and laying there in a dark room. I couldn't tell you if the room was square or round. I couldn't see a thing.

"I remember it all so clearly. They operated on me the day before the game and then what happened after that was very painful and a slow, long recovery. It took months and months to get back to normal. Because of that, I don't take a day for granted."

This trip is so sweet because his family is here to enjoy the fruits of a good season and his four daughters including his vibrant triplets are hitting Orlando like Darren McFadden and Felix Jones race through SEC defenses.

"I wake up early, but not as early as the girls," Nutt said. "We practice in the morning, so I'm up to go to early meetings each day," he said. "But they are up waiting on me. They want to know what they are doing that day, which park they are going to see. I tell them I'll catch up to them later in the day that there is ball practice first.

"I'm telling you they are having a blast. They are enjoying every second."

As grand as it all sounds, there is one thing missing. Grandma isn't there to wrap them up in her usual big hugs.

Emogene Nutt, mom to Danny and Houston Nutt, hasn't made it to Orlando yet. She'll fly in for just the game on Monday and then fly out afterwards. She's going slow these days after undergoing a laser treatment for a tumor near the brain diagnosed late in the regular season.

"Mom's doing good and feeling OK," Danny said. "We won't know about the tumor (benign or malignant) for six weeks. We'll find out more on what other treatments she'll need then. We all look forward to seeing her Monday. We all wish she was here, but it's best this way."

The best way to greet her would be with a victory over Wisconsin. There's nothing Emogene Nutt likes better than to see the Hogs win and the running backs go wild, just like the triplets. That's about right, Danny Nutt said. He's been working hard to see if the Hogs can pull that off against a solid Wisconsin defense that is especially tough against the run.

"We've had good workouts," he said. "Darren is about ready. He's had good workouts down here."

Nutt warned that if the Badgers are just focused on McFadden, they are in for a surprise. Jones is in the same category as the Hogs' starting tailback.

"Felix Jones would start at any other school in this country, but he gets overlooked because he's behind Darren here," Nutt said. "I firmly believe that he should have been at the Doak Walker Award with Darren. He should have been in that final group of running backs. He's that good.

"He's just as good as Darren in many respects. He has great ball skills. He's powerful. He's quick and can make great cuts. He has great vision."

Jones is also a 1,000-yard rusher on the season, but he had a slow start when he fumbled three times in the season opener against Southern Cal.

Two of those were the result of vicious collisions, one of them with a helmet connecting on the football. Still, Nutt said his group went back to work with ball drills to make sure that the running backs were using the three points of pressure that prevent fumbles.

"We did two things after that to help our backs and the first was our ball drills that we've done for years and years, those same drills that you see basketball teams use where we work in a five-star routine keeping the football moving," he said. "And, we worked hard on getting it secured with an eagle claw grip, tight inside our forearm and against the rib cage. You do that, you aren't going to lose it.

"The other thing we did is get back to doing what our team does the best, run the football. We did simple things and did them well and we got the ball in their hands."

The Wildcat Package, with McFadden at quarterback, came later in the season and helped put McFadden and Jones in the plan at the same time. McFadden's hand-offs to Jones, lining up at both halfback and flanker, produced big chunks and made it hard for defenses to focus on either one.

"We've got more to do with the Wildcat," said Danny Nutt. "I've coached quarterbacks at both Arkansas Tech and Arkansas. I was the grad assistant under David Lee when Quinn Grovey was playing and I helped him with his option package. We've worked a little with Darren on reading the option."

Except for the first 20 minutes when the Hogs are in special teams and individual work, Arkansas practices are closed to the media even during bowl workouts. But it's during those first 20 minutes that Nutt takes the running backs and works on the Wildcat.

It's obvious that McFadden's skills with the ball and his ability to handle the option are ready to be added to the offense. You can see him flipping soft, perfect pitches to Jones and the rest of the backs every day.

"He can do it," Nutt said. "We'll really get into that in the spring."

First things first. Danny Nutt doesn't want to look too far ahead. He's learned to live life in the present tense, one day at a time.

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