All Involved Say Focus Is On Game, Not Nutt

FAYETTEVILLE — He stormed out of the southwest tunnel in Reynolds Razorback Stadium, for the first time in his coaching career. He sported a blue polo, a red Ole Miss emblem stitched onto the shirt. He stood across the field from the sideline he once paced as Arkansas' coach.

And all the while, throughout the evening of Oct. 25, 2008, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt couldn't shake the eerie feeling.

Nutt admitted Monday how strange it was to "go to the visitor's sideline at a place you've been at so long." He recalled the emotions that distracted him during the Rebels' 23-21 victory in Fayetteville last season. Nutt also stated unequivocally that Saturday's rematch in Oxford, Miss., would be far different.

"This being the second year (playing Arkansas), I think it will be much less (emotional) than it was last year going back for the first time," Nutt said. "It'll be much more about football, about the players."

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino and defensive end Jake Bequette echoed Nutt's sentiments Monday afternoon, agreeing with the Little Rock native that Southeastern Conference implications would outweigh any thoughts of revenge.

Many fans will simply ignore those opinions, especially those Razorback followers still steaming over Nutt resigning and taking a $3.5 million parting gift along with him to Oxford only two days later.

But coaches and players from both teams insisted they'd pretty much ignore the storyline involving Nutt, who led Arkansas to a 75-48 record in 10 seasons (42-38 in the SEC).

"That's something that I'm really surprised people would bring up," said Bequette, one of many Nutt recruits playing for the Razorbacks. "It's really no different. It's just another game. I really enjoyed my time here under (Nutt). It's just another game."

Petrino said he didn't doubt his players would be focused on the game rather than Arkansas' former coach.

"We're not going to have a problem with that," Petrino said. "Our focus is on winning the game, and it's about us playing good football. Something we've tried to do this year as a football team is worry about ourselves. ... The issue really is us getting better and playing better football."

Nutt didn't try to minimize the importance of Saturday's contest by taking the attention away from himself. Quite the contrary, actually. Ole Miss, which rose to as high as No. 4 in the Associated Press' top 25 poll, needs a victory to continue its recovery from two losses in its first five games.

He simply said Saturday's contest "is a big game because it's the next game of the year," citing this weekend as pivotal for every SEC team. Nutt also — likely more than any other opposing coach — realizes the danger Arkansas presents to his team.

When asked to detail his concerns, Nutt cited player after player after player by name.

"I know this about Arkansas, they'll always play hard," Nutt said. "They have good talent there. You just know how hard they're going to play. They're hard-nosed and tough. And then you add (UA quarterback) Ryan Mallett to the recipe, and everything gets a whole lot better.

"There isn't one throw the guy can't throw."

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