Where Do The Hogs Head From Here?

ORLANDO, Fla. — As he zipped up his equipment bag for the final time this season, Felix Jones spoke of the frustration of losing a game that statistically was so one-sided.

"It's real frustrating," the running back said. "We go out there and do what we got to do as an offense, and we see the defense out there busting their butts every play."

But as Jones pointed out, there is a simple reason for why Arkansas came up short against No. 6 Wisconsin despite gaining 167 more yards than the Badgers in Monday's Capital One Bowl: Too many mistakes.

"Most of it was on ourselves," Jones said following the 17-14 loss in the Citrus Bowl stadium. "We were stopping ourselves."

It should take a few days for the hangover from the bowl game to subside. When it does, the No. 12 Razorbacks (10-4) will get the chance to look back on the 2006 season and decide for themselves whether it will be remembered more for the 10-game winning streak that exceeded expectations or the three straight losses down the stretch.

And then the question remains: Where does Arkansas go from here?

"I'm kind of a person that likes to move on and look forward. It was a great season and it's over with now," defensive end Jamaal Anderson said. "I don't feel like wanting to sit there and dwell on the season when we've got an even better chance to do something bigger next year."

In the locker room following the loss, Arkansas' coaches and players tried to sound optimistic about the future. They spoke of shifting their attention to recruiting and working out in the offseason.

But it was apparent that there was plenty of pain caused by letting a game that they could have won slip away. Arkansas won the time of possession battle (30:29 to 29:31) over Wisconsin, which entered the bowl game ranked first in the nation in that category.

The Razorbacks held the Badgers to only 33 yards of total offense in the second half, and minus-five yards rushing for the game.

Still, Arkansas self-destructed, amassing 123 yards in penalties and not taking advantage of enough scoring opportunities to pull out the victory.

"That's why we play the game. A few mishaps, a few holes could have filled in and it could have been a totally different story," Arkansas wide receiver Marcus Monk said. "But we've just got to accept it and move on." Had things worked out for them, the Razorbacks would have been only the third team in school history to win 11 games in a season. They also would have assured themselves of a top 10 finish, though they'll likely end up ranked in the bottom half of the final top 25 poll.

"They're hurting," Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said of the players. "We're all hurting right now, but we'll be able to look back and take some things that will make this team better here in the future and give us some momentum for next year."

First, the team must address several issues over the next few weeks.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt has indicated that a contract extension for Malzahn will be worked out some time over the next week. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring can also expect an extension, though he said he hadn't thought about it while preparing for Wisconsin.

Several Arkansas underclassmen, meanwhile, must make a decision about whether to return for their senior season or leave for the NFL.

Cornerback Chris Houston has the best chance among the juniors of skipping his senior season, but he hasn't given any indication that he's made a decision about the NFL yet.

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft is Jan. 15.

Both Anderson and Monk, meanwhile, said after Monday's loss that they planned to return for next season.

"That's what I plan on doing," Anderson said.

But the player who is perhaps the most uncertain about his future is quarterback Mitch Mustain, whose freshman season included everything from eight straight wins as the starter to being at the center of controversy after his mother had a meeting with athletic director Frank Broyles in December.

Mustain decided not to transfer, but the former Springdale High star hasn't been too committal when talking about his future with the Razorbacks.

"I'm not going to get into that," Mustain said when asked after the Capital One Bowl if he'd be back at Arkansas next season.

It could make for another interesting offseason.

"The way I see it is, we got to challenge the guys that we got to get better and we got to go recruiting," Herring said. "We've got to get better at everything. We can't stay the same."


Hawgs Daily Top Stories