Marshall: Nutt Is Best When Chips Are Down

Phillip Marshall talks about this weekend's match-up between the Tigers and Hogs along with the rest of the action in the SEC.

Houston Nutt, head coach at Arkansas since 1998, never would have lasted so long at any of the Southeastern Conference's elite programs.

His propensity to weep when things go against his team would not go down well, but that wouldn't be the big issue. The big issue would be losing streaks.

Nutt's Arkansas teams have had losing streaks of at least three games in five seasons, including this one. Twice, they've had four-game losing streaks. They have had losing streaks of at least two games every season, even his first one when they won their first eight.

By contrast, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, in his seventh season, hasn't had a three-game losing streak since 1999.

Why Nebraska wanted Nutt to replace Frank Solich is a mystery. Despite reports, I'd have to be shown that LSU really was interested last year in even considering Nutt to replace Nick Saban.

Arkansas fans, like those of other schools, would like to have more. They'd like to win championships and play in BCS bowls. But Arkansas isn't like the big boys in the SEC. There is no natural rival to put on the pressure. Hopes are high but expectations aren't so high.

That's not the main reason Nutt has been able to stay on the job, making a rich man's salary. It's what his done after the losing streaks that has kept the confidence of athletic director Frank Broyles. If he's done nothing else, Nutt has made a habit of bringing his team back when it seemed all hope was lost. That would not be enough for the upper crust, but it's been enough for Arkansas.

That's why an Auburn victory Saturday night at Reynolds-Razorback Stadium is far from a given. Those who expect a blowout are going to be disappointed. This game will not be a blowout. It will be decided in the fourth quarter, and it could go either way.

The Razorbacks don't have as much talent, top to bottom, as Auburn does. They don't have as much as any of the SEC's big six. That will catch up with any team over the course of a season, but the Razorbacks do have SEC caliber players, enough to beat any SEC team on a given night on their home field.

There is tendency to believe that a team's performance in a game or two games is proof of strength or weakness. In college football, that's just not true. Comparing scores is pure folly. Every week is different.

If Arkansas plays against Auburn like it did in a 28-24 loss to Vanderbilt, Auburn will win easily. If Arkansas plays defense like it played in a 70-17 humiliation at the hands of Southern California, Auburn will win easily. But there is no reason to expect that to happen.

A week after the USC debacle, the Razorbacks lost 24-13 at Alabama in a game that could have easily gone the other way. Last week, they did what they were supposed to do against Louisiana-Monroe, winning 45-16.

If Arkansas is to have any chance at a successful season, it must win Saturday night. From coaches to players, the Razorbacks view Saturday night's game as the season's biggest.

If quarterback Brandon Cox is efficient in his first road start and the Tigers are at the top of their game, they will win. Anything less than that could result in a long trip home.

How well Brandon Cox performs in a hostile environment will be a big key for the Tigers.

Despite four consecutive dominating wins, Auburn continues to fly under the radar. This Auburn team is far, far better today than when it lost 23-14 to Georgia Tech in the season-opener, but few seem to be paying attention. A 48-7 destruction of South Carolina went all but unnoticed.

The Tigers haven't played the toughest of schedules, but they've won the way an outstanding team should win. My feeling is they turned the corner in the rout of South Carolina.

Look for Brad Lester to have a big game in his first start at tailback and for Cox to get it done when it matters most against the snarling Razorbacks.

Auburn 24, Arkansas 16.

Your fearless forecaster actually had a good day last Saturday, hitting all six SEC games. On to this week:

Florida (5-1 and 3-1) at LSU (3-1 and 2-1): The Gators have an advantage no other team will likely have this season at Tiger Stadium. They get to play in the daylight. It has nothing to do with Tiger Stadium being a frightening place at night. That is largely a myth. LSU's homefield record is nowhere near the top of the SEC. LSU fans are like others. They are loud when their team is doing well, quiet when it is not and quick to hit the exits if things get bad enough. The people of Louisiana, including those in the LSU football program, have been to hell and back since Hurricane Katrina roared ashore. They are deserving of compassion. But opponents deserve consideration, too. Tennessee had to make a one-day trip for its game at LSU. Auburn officials will find out Sunday if they'll have to do the same. How many Auburn fans can make the trip for a night game when there's not a hotel room available between Baton Rouge and Mobile? SEC commissioner Mike Slive should tell LSU that, as long as the hotel situation remains as it is, it must play day games. But, for some reason, the SEC office has for years allowed LSU to make a mockery of TV contracts so that it could play home games at night. Anyway, back to the game at hand. Saturday's winner will remain strongly in the hunt to play in the SEC Championship Game. If Florida loses, forget it. Georgia can make its reservations in Atlanta. If LSU loses, it still will have some hope because it still has games ahead against Auburn and Alabama.

First-year Florida coach Urban Meyer's spread option offense has been mostly helpless against good defenses. With quarterback Chris Leak apparently not 100 percent healthy, it could be ugly.

On the other hand, LSU hasn't exactly blanketed receivers against good teams. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell has been spectacular at times and frightfully inconsistent at times.

Meyer is learning the hard way about life in the SEC. Florida fans are learning why the Gators lost five games each of the past three seasons and might lose five more this season.

LSU 27, Florida 13.

Alabama (5-0 and 3-0) at Ole Miss (2-3 and 0-2): Maybe one day I'll understand why Ole Miss officials thought it would be a good idea to get rid of David Cutcliffe and replace him with Ed Orgeron. It won't be Saturday.

Ed Orgeron has had a tough time in his first season as a head coach.

The Rebels are playing decent defense, but they are woeful on offense. That doesn't add up against an Alabama team on a roll.

Alabama 28, Ole Miss 6.

Georgia (5-0 and 3-0) at Vanderbilt (4-2 and 2-1): The Commodores were a feel-good story for four weeks. Then along came Middle Tennessee State. The winless Blue Raiders won 17-15 at Vanderbilt Stadium. Last Saturday, LSU stumbled and fumbled for three quarters and still won in a blowout, pounding quarterback Jay Cutler into submission.

I'm still not sold on Georgia as a national championship contender, but the Bulldogs have way too much for a Vanderbilt team returning to its roots.

Georgia 42, Vanderbilt 14.

Until next time …


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