Taunting Coaches Surprise Tigers

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Tigers and Southeastern Conference football.

You have to give Arkansas' Houston Nutt credit. He would make a great fan. He jumps up and down like a cheerleader. He allows his assistant coaches to taunt opposing players on the field. If his players get in trouble, he forgives them as long as they are big and fast enough to help his team win. And he cries when his team loses. What more would you want in a fan?

Nutt has done a good job at Arkansas, though it is often forgotten that his best season was his first, when he was playing with the team left to him by Danny Ford. But he could use some lessons in class and dignity. I'm still waiting to hear Nutt give Auburn any credit for its 10-3 victory over Arkansas at Razorback Stadium on Saturday. His focus after the game was on a holding call that wiped out a 78-yard touchdown run by quarterback Matt Jones. Replays show it was proper call. Junior Rosegreen's bruised ankle is pretty good evidence, too. But that's really not the worst.

Auburn players say that when Arkansas was driving for its only field goal, Razorback coaches were taunting them on the field. "Their coaches were doing what they do," Auburn defensive end Reggie Torbor said. "They were jumping around on the sideline. They were telling us, ‘It's over now. We've got y'all.' They were saying that to the players."

Torbor said he'd not heard such taunting from coaches at other schools. "No, I don't think so," he said. "That's just the way they are here."

Coaches who will taunt college kids give unspoken permission for their players to act like safety Tony Bua did after the game. He chased the officials as they left the field. On his way back, he had some profanity-laced words for some Auburn players, including linebacker Travis Williams. "That was just anger, I guess, because they lost the game," Williams said. "You have to take a loss like a man." Nutt would do well to heed young Williams' words.

Arkansas fans and, it would seem, players and coaches had convinced themselves they had a national championship caliber team. I didn't believe it before the game and I don't believe it now. The Razorbacks are very good and are certainly still contenders in the SEC West, but to put them in the class of the likes of Oklahoma and Miami would be a mistake.

For Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, Saturday's win was one of the sweeter ones of his career. An Arkansas native, Tuberville had gone 0-for-4 in Fayetteville at Ole Miss and Auburn. Most of the losses had not been close. It was sweet, too, because it signaled to the rest of college football that the Tigers have put that horrendous 0-2 start behind them. Back to back wins over teams ranked No. 7 in the nation make a pretty good statement. Auburn finds itself today on top of the SEC West and back in the national rankings.

But if this college football season has shown anything it is that this week's darling can become next week's goat. There are no guarantees for anybody. Just look at the SEC already. LSU beats Georgia; Ole Miss and Tennessee beats Florida in Gainesville; Florida routs LSU in Baton Rouge; Georgia routs Tennessee in Knoxville.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said Sunday anybody in the SEC can beat anybody else. Other than poor, pitiful Vanderbilt, he's right. If the Tigers don't play well, they could lose to three-touchdown underdog Mississippi State at home Saturday. The Bulldogs, unlike years past, live by the pass, and Auburn has been vulnerable to the pass in the last two games. Even in the euphoria of victory, there were reasons for concern in Auburn's performance against Arkansas. As good as Auburn's defense is--and it is very good--you aren't going to win many games by scoring 10 points. The young safeties are inconsistent on defense. But the talent is there and the will is there. Whether Auburn plays in Atlanta for the SEC championship remains to be seen, but a season that once seemed headed for disappointment is once again filled with promise.


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