Houston Nutt, after beating Arkansas 23-21 in a down-to-the-wire cliffhanger, finally admitted he had had an emotional week leading up to this electrically-charged matchup.
But not before congratulating his current team and his former team for putting everthing on the line in this SEC battle royal.
"I'm really happy for our team. This is a hard-fought victory. Anytime you're in the SEC, it's tough, especially coming on the road. I told our players how hard these guys were going to play. There are a lot of good players on that other sideline and I love them. I love my team right now, but it's hard not to love them when you recruited them and you have relationships," an elated Nutt said. "We had about 20 commitments before we left and I tell you what, they played their hearts out and I want to give them a lot of credit. But I want to give our guys a lot of credit too."
Houston knew what his team was in for – a slugfest that would be a war of attrition.
"What I was concerned about is that bunch on the other sideline had won 18 games the last two years. They've been to Atlanta. They've been to bowl games. Our guys haven't. That was our second SEC win in a long, long time. It's not easy. It's a mindset and I thought we really grew up tonight. After they scored and put pressure, to be able to go the length of the field and get points as a super job," he added. "I just can't say enough about our kicker, Joshua Shene, our snapper, Preston Power and our holder, Rob Park, who's also our punter. Those guys were awesome. Our special teams were good.
"Fon Ingram intercepts the ball right before half and I thought that was key. It actually won the game. You never know which play it will be, but there was a lot of effort out there. I thought both teams played so hard. What a game to watch. I wanted to relax the last minute, but you couldn't. What a game to watch. I'm really proud of my team."
Nutt said the final minutes were excruciating with Arkansas making a last-ditch comeback and the Rebel defense – after three and a half excellent quarters – seemed to lose their edge.
"We misjudged the ball, I know, twice. We jumped too soon. Keep running, play to the last second and go play jump ball like we do in practice. I'm not mad at them right now. I'm real happy," he smiled.
When the final seconds ticked off, Houston had mixed emotions.
"There are relationships. You're close to them. You've been in their living rooms. That's why it's so hard on the coaches that have been here so long. It was a really hard week, harder than I thought. Those players coming over, it just shows you the relationship that we had," he stated.
"It was tough. I tried not to let on. I tried to hide it, but it was tough. I think Diana can tell you. She'd say, 'What's wrong with you?' at 3 o'clock in the morning or 4 o'clock in the morning. I don't know, because I've always slept like a baby. But this was different. This was really hard."
The late start also had Houston in a fluster.
"They probably did a smart thing by keeping the game at night. I was hoping it was going to be at 11:30 or a 1 o'clock game, but to wait around all day long - we tried to keep it really loose for our players - for me and Coach Markuson and Danny Nutt and Kim Dameron and Shibest, I know it was awfully, awfully hard, very tough,"
he continued. "I understand the reaction from the Razorback fans. They were fighting for the home team. I've been booed when I was on the other side. I knew I was going to be booed. I don't understand the big deal on that. That's all right. What about our fans though? I'm so proud of our fans, the amount of people that traveled. Man, it seemed like a bunch of them. They were really loud and I'm very appreciative of our travel group."
Late in the game, Arkansas went for an onside kick. A Hog recovered it but it was called out of bounds. On further review, the call on the field was reversed.
"I thought the referee made a good call. I was hoping he did. Half his body was out of bounds. Half of his body was inbounds, so it could've gone either way. That was good pressure by our defense at the end. Our defense had to go back out there and play," he stated. "I was glad we got an offensive pass interference on that last drive of theirs.
"I saw London push off. I thought it was pretty clear. I was hoping it would be on them."
While the defense faltered at the end, he was still very complimentary of DT Peria Jerry, who didn't seem to get blocked the whole game.
"Peria has taken full ownership of our team. He is a man. He is a real captain. He is a real football player. He goes every snap. He's just a phenomenal leader for us who is really playing his best football," Nutt stated.
The Rebels did not use much Wild Rebel, opting instead to use Dexter McCluster in a straight tailback position more.
"I planned to use it 10 or 11 times again. We were going to, but as the game unfolded there at the end, I wanted to milk the clock and run the ball. We were getting six or seven yards a carry at times there on the last few series running a conventional offense. I felt good about that," Houston said.
Even though the Rebel defense did a good overall job, Arky TB Michael Smith gained 129 yards on just 19 carries.
"Like I told him tonight, it's the pride of just growing into a man and one of the finest backs in the SEC. I told him to keep going and to keep working. A guy that small who has that big of a heart? He's an awesome player, boy," Houston assessed.
While Smith was a warrior for Arkansas, the Rebels gained 160 yards on the ground – 56 more than Arkansas totaled.
"Our offensive linemen were warriors. Michael Oher, Maurice Miller, Daverin Geralds, they were warriors tonight. They had good pad level. We moved Brad Sowell in there at tight end opposite Gerald Harris," he explained.
Nutt closed his postgame session with the media stating he did not expect any letdown in next week's game against Auburn.
"We're taking off now. We're taking off. We have some goals in sight now. This is going to be a happy plane ride, y'all, and a happy practice tomorrow," he ended.
Houston Nutt came back to Arkansas with the weight of the world, in his mind, on his shoulders. He left as light as a feather.
Houston Nutt -
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