State of the Hogs: Nerves

Arkansas dispatched Troy, 46-26, but there was some definite rust in the opening game. That was the theme in the Razorback dressing room.

Nerves. Jitters. First-game anxiety. Maybe it was stage fright.

That bothered No. 21 Arkansas more than Troy in a 46-26 victory Saturday night in the college football opener.

That's what offensive coordinator David Lee said. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring thought he saw that from his secondary.

Ditto from quarterback Casey Dick. Add to that list All-American tailback Darren McFadden and All-SEC center Jonathan Luigs.

"You put a black shirt on the quarterback (to prevent contact) in preseason, that's what you worry about," Lee said of Dick. "That's what I feared. That's what happened.

"Casey was nervous in the first half and he settled down in the second half."

Lee said his quarterback practiced awesome on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. But he knew game speed would prevent a different look, especially after the no-contact rules throughout August.

"On Wednesday, he was really good," Lee said. "He hit his first 17 throws and was something like 25 of 29 for the day. He was just like that Thursday, too. He reminded me of the way Vinny Testaverde would light it up in practice.

"That's the level we want him at. But you get your first start of the season, things change. You don't hit them in practice and it takes a little bit."

The quarterback admitted he wasn't himself for most of the first half against Troy.

"I think everybody was a little shaky," Dick said. "The second half, we were better. Things started clicking. We just have to keep building. We needed to play -- bad. The good news is we won and there are some teams which would trade places with us right now."

McFadden didn't like the way he played, either. "My execution has been smooth in practice, but you get in a game and things start going faster and you aren't used to it," he said. "I was a little nervous tonight. We got things we can tighten up and we'll be all right, all of us."

Luigs said, "I got excited, and there was some anxiety out there. It had been a long time since we played, about seven months. I got anxious when we came out through the ‘A' and it took awhile to get things settled down. The crowd noise got to us and we did some good things and some bad things. We'll throw out the bad and keep the good."

Herring had about the same view of the defense. He saw the good and the bad.

The bad was some matador-style play in the Hogs' attempt at zone coverage in the second quarter.

"We looked like we were in a panic in the second quarter," he said. "The good news is that we threw out the zone in the second half and whupped ‘em except for that garbage at the end.

"In the second half, basically, we gave up a field goal after a turnover and nothing else until the very end. That was something we can build on.

"They were playing four and five wideouts on every play. That's something not many teams we play the rest of the way are going to do. Alabama won't do that. I think we got to play our base four or five times tonight. We were playing nickel, dime and penny.

"I told everyone we are inexperienced (at corner). We'd worked on zone a lot. Everyone wants us to play zone. You saw it. We aren't very good at it just yet. We'll have to improve on it because we can't play zone all year."

It wasn't just that the Hogs can't play zone. They may not be able to get to the quarterback with their four-man rush.

"We let the quarterback sit back there all day in the second quarter," Herring said. "So in the second half, we decided to bring five and put some heat on him and make him do things quicker. That helped."

That helped the mindset of the corners, nickel back Shedrick Johnson said.

"I think what we do best is get in your face and get after you," Johnson said. "Once we decided to do that at halftime, we were better. Press coverage is what we like.

"We worked every day on the zone, but it didn't go very well tonight. I just think what we really like to do is get right up in your face and you could tell that tonight."

Safety Mike Grant was shaking his head afterwards. He played deep centerfield in the zone, and tried his best to sprint to the sideline on all of those soft throws down the sideline.

"Our execution just wasn't there tonight," he said. "There are no excuses. We've had good days in the zone, but we didn't have it in zone tonight. I will say that we adjusted to what they were doing and got better. That's the good news. We will get better."

Next time out, in two weeks, the Hogs will be in front of 92,000 in Bryant-Denny Stadium against Alabama. Hopefully, they will be over their stage fright.

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