Sputtering Offense Line Play Presents Problem

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said there were plenty of reasons to be disappointed about the 34-13 loss to Tennessee on Saturday.

But the one that bothered him most was the Razorbacks' offensive line play, which he described as the worst of the season.

"We're much, much better than that," Nutt said. "We've got to have much more fight than that."

Arkansas' line struggled to block a defense that had been pushed around by opponents most of the season. The Razorbacks gained 49 yards and one first down in the first half and finished with 289 yards. They didn't even resemble the group that piled up 541 yards in the win against South Carolina a week earlier.

Nutt said the fourth-and-1 play from the Arkansas' 45 in the second quarter summed up the poor performance. Darren McFadden and Felix Jones weren't on the field, but the Hogs handed the ball to fullback Peyton Hillis. He was stuffed.

"We were just hoping to get those six inches, get the first down, like we've normally done," Nutt said. "They all slant to that side. The nose (guard) crosses our face. We miss the backside blocks."

Nutt also regretted playing left tackle Jose Valdez, who missed practice time because of a sprained ankle. Valdez started, but was eventually replaced by redshirt freshman Ray Dominguez and is questionable for the Mississippi State game.

If Valdez doesn't play against the Bulldogs, the Razorbacks will use either Dominguez or right guard Robert Felton at left tackle. If Felton slides outside, redshirt freshman DeMarcus Love would start in his place at right guard.

But no matter who is on the field, Nutt said the line play must improve Saturday.

"The reason why we led the league in rushing the last five out of six years is because we've been physical," Nutt said. "We've been fundamentally sound and we weren't those things Saturday. We were not. I hate to say that to you, but we weren't."


Arkansas benched junior Casey Dick for a few series in the second half, but Nutt said the Razorbacks aren't pondering a permanent move.

Dick completed 12 of 22 passes for 140 yards with two interceptions. He was replaced by Nathan Emert for three possessions in the fourth quarter, but the backup struggled, too. Emert completed 3 of 6 passes for 22 yards and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Tennessee's Jerod Mayo.

"It was just to change things up," Nutt said. "Just to get a spark. When you have that many three-and-outs — Casey missed a few balls that I expect him to connect on — just trying to do anything to try to get something going right there."

Dick returned for Arkansas' final possession, but tossed his second interception.

"Neither one of the quarterbacks were obviously ready to play and that's my responsibility," offensive coordinator David Lee said. "When quarterbacks are missing people all day long you're not going to move the ball."


Arkansas' next opponent, Mississippi State, became the 10th bowl-eligible team in the Southeastern Conference after its 17-12 win against Alabama last Saturday.

The problem is, the SEC only has eight SEC bowl tie-ins available, including the conference's Bowl Championship Series slot. There's no guarantee a six-win team will go bowling this winter, so Nutt said it places added importance to Saturday's game between the Bulldogs (6-4, 3-3 in SEC) and Arkansas (6-3, 2-4).

"That's the truth of the matter," Nutt said. "I don't know if the SEC has ever had this many (teams qualify). So, every game, every win is precious from here on out."


Nutt and Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer have both faced growing questions about their job security this year. So it's only natural the two talked about it before the game, although, Nutt wouldn't reveal what exactly was said.

"We had a real good conversation about it," Nutt said. "I don't really want to talk about what we talked about. But it was good."

Fulmer also offered support for Nutt in his postgame press conference when he said the 10th-year coach has done a "heck of a job" with the program.

There is one difference between the two coaches this season. Fulmer's team remains in the driver's seat for the SEC Eastern Division crown. Nutt and the Razorbacks were officially eliminated from the SEC West championship chase with Saturday's loss.


Nutt said he is hoping two safeties, Kevin Woods and Walner Leandre, will be available for Saturday's game. Neither played against the Volunteers. Woods was sidelined with a shoulder injury and Leandre was in Haiti for his father's funeral.

"I'm hoping they'll be back," Nutt said. "We just don't know for sure. I think walner for sure will be back. I just don't know about Kevin because of his injury."

Sophomore Rashaad Johnson started in Woods' place at free safety against Tennessee and had 13 tackles.


Arkansas will try to bounce back from the Tennessee loss with its last home game of the season. It comes in War Memorial Stadium, where Nutt is 21-2 with the Hogs.

"I'm excited about going to Little Rock," said Nutt, a Little Rock native. "Our guys are going to have their best week of practice this week. We're going to try to play our best game this week. Little Rock has always been a great atmosphere for us and this will be a good way for our seniors to go out that way. We went out the right way (in Fayetteville). We can go out the right way in Little Rock."

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