Hogs Can Start, But Can't Finish

FAYETTEVILLE — If only college football games were eight minutes shorter, Arkansas could very well be undefeated after three games.

Instead, coach Houston Nutt has watched over the past two weeks as his team has struggled to make key defensive stops and critical first downs when they're needed.

The Razorbacks (1-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) have paid for their inability to close out games. They've suffered back-to-back losses despite holding a late 38-31 lead at Alabama and a 29-21 advantage over then-No. 21 Kentucky on Saturday night.

"It just seems like the last two weeks we had, boy, a lot of opportunities to win both ballgames. We could be sitting here 3-0," Nutt said Monday. "But that's woulda, coulda, shoulda and all that."

A year ago, the close games had a tendency to fall in Nutt's favor.

Vanderbilt kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt missed a last-minute field goal by only a few feet, allowing Arkansas to hold on for a 21-19 win on the road.

Tight end Ben Cleveland made an acrobatic touchdown catch over two defenders to help the Razorbacks beat Alabama 24-23 in double overtime.

And wide receiver Marcus Monk made a big catch that gave Arkansas the first down it needed against South Carolina to run out the clock on a 26-20 victory.

But that was then.

So far, the Razorbacks are 0-2 in close games this season. And Nutt admitted he's frustrated by the numerous missed assignments and missed tackles that contributed to the last-minute collapses against Alabama and Kentucky.

"We've got to finish, the bottom line. The theme this week is going to be finishing," Nutt said. "It's about finishing, just playing four quarters.

"We're pretty good for two and three quarters, and that's not good enough in our league. You have to play four quarters, and you have to finish."

The Razorbacks have shown some resiliency over the past two weeks, but their inability to close out games has made their second-half comebacks worthless.

Arkansas rallied from a 21-0 deficit at Alabama, scoring 28 unanswered points during a nearly 10-minute stretch in the second half to take a 38-31 lead with 8 minutes and 8 seconds remaining.

But the Razorbacks couldn't get a defensive stop when they needed one most.

The Crimson Tide drove 73 yards in the final 2:05 and scored the game-winning touchdown on a four-touchdown pass in the end zone with eight seconds remaining.

Saturday night, Arkansas had a chance to make amends. Defensive tackles Fred Bledsoe and Patrick Jones sacked Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson for a safety, and Felix Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown.

But the 29-21 lead with 11:40 remaining didn't last. Neither did the momentum.

Kentucky rediscovered its running game, Woodson got into a rhythm and Arkansas' defense again couldn't put together a solid effort down the stretch to preserve the victory.

"I wouldn't necessarily say it's a problem with the defense on finishing at the end of games. Sometimes, you've got to have experience in situations like that in games," Arkansas linebacker Freddie Fairchild said Monday.

"We haven't been put in positions like that a lot. So now with the experience, we know how to finish. Now we have experience, we've been there (and) we know what it takes."

Nutt said finishing plays will stressed this week, as the players prepare to host winless North Texas (0-3) at 6 p.m. Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Nutt said he wants to see running backs and wide receivers take the football in practice and run at full speed over the last five yards of a drill. He wants to see defensive ends not only run to the quarterbacks, but go past them. And he wants to see the players go hard from "start to finish."

"It's just all those little bitty things like that," Nutt said. "And we'll really harp on that."

Until hopefully they finish.

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