Avoiding Another Tennessee-Chattanooga

FAYETTEVILLE -- Prior to last week's game at Ole Miss, Arkansas' coaches kept repeating the same phrase: "It's a new season."

It was only a matter of time before players started saying it, as well.

But the Razorbacks have adopted a new motto for today's 1 p.m. game against Florida International (0-7), owners of the nation's longest losing streak at 19 games.

The message isn't catchy, and it might not look good printed on a T-shirt. But it's to the point: "Let's avoid a repeat of Tennessee-Chattanooga."

"I don't want us to jump back into a Tennessee-Chattanooga game, where there is a big lack of focus," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said.

Today will mark the second time in less than a month that the Razorbacks (4-3, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) will be heavy favorites to beat a smaller program happy to simply be playing on a large stage.

But things didn't go so smoothly the last time, and that's exactly what Arkansas' coaches and players are hoping to avoid. After all, there is no reason to ruin Homecoming.

"Ever since the Tennessee-Chattanooga game, I feel like we stepped it up in practice a lot because we got chewed out real bad after that game," Arkansas cornerback Michael Grant said.

"I feel like that was the game that showed us we can't just go out there and expect to play ball. We have to actually try to execute."

Nutt had a feeling while watching his players stumble through practice in the days leading up to the Oct. 6 game against UTC that things could get ugly. His suspicions were right.

Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs snapped the football on the first play from scrimmage over the head of quarterback Casey Dick, who wasn't expecting it. The ball bounced into the end zone for a safety.

The Razorbacks didn't look much better during what Nutt later referred to as simply a "bad, bad night."

Arkansas led only 17-9 at halftime, running back Darren McFadden had two critical fumbles and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns were needed to secure a 34-15 win over UTC, a Football Championship Subdivision team.

But the Razorbacks can't afford to have another sloppy performance if they hope to turn their season around and build off last Saturday's 44-8 win over Ole Miss.

"We talked to our guys about a new season. Last Sunday night before the Ole Miss game, we were 0-0 and we wanted to flush what was behind us. Just like you flush a commode, it was gone," Arkansas offensive coordinator David Lee said.

"We're off to a good start against Ole Miss and it's just this game (against FIU). You don't win this thing, the whole thing is screwed up."

FIU, which was paid $625,000 for today's game, is the last of the four teams on Arkansas' easy nonconference schedule. The road gets tougher once November begins.

Arkansas ends the regular season with four consecutive SEC games against No. 15 South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi State and No. 3 LSU.

And considering that the Razorbacks enter today needing two more wins to be bowl eligible, they must keep the momentum going.

Arkansas' focus for this afternoon includes continuing to show improvement in the passing game and perhaps getting McFadden enough yards to keep his fading Heisman Trophy chances alive.

Said Lee: "I told our guys this week, 'One, I want to play up to our level and keep improving. Two, I don't want any missed assignments. And three, let's take care of the football and let's keep it off the ground and make good decisions at quarterback.'"

In other words, they want to avoid doing everything they did wrong against Tennesee-Chattanooga.

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