Nutt: 'Arkansas is much improved'

The following is Coach Houston Nutt's Monday press conference prior to the Rebels' game with Arkansas.

Nutt: We had a good workout Sunday. Today is a good study day. Our guys get to be students. We look forward to getting back on the practice field tomorrow. Arkansas is much improved from last year. They're very good on film both offensively and defensively. We've got to do a good job of preparation this week.

Q: What areas have you seen improvement from Arkansas?

Nutt: Everything. Offense of course with Ryan Mallett. We know a lot about him, a big 6-foot-7 guy that can throw it. They have receivers like D.J. Williams, the tight end. Receivers like Greg Childs. They've got a lot of weapons. They can get the ball downfield. Running back of course when Michael Smith is healthy we all know he can do. Looks like Dennis Johnson is coming on. Defensively they are playing much faster than they did a year ago. They understand what they want to now, especially the defensive front. Michael Shephard is a guy we knew about. He's relentess. He never takes a lazy step. Jake Beckett is another guy with great character and great attitude. Adrian Davis. So they've got a front that has been there. And then the linebackers are a year older. Freddie Burton's a good player. He's been on special teams a long time. Jerry Franklin. Wendell Davis has played for a long time. They've got some experience there, they're playing hard, and they've got confidence.

Q: How do you get Dexter McCluster more involved?

Nutt: Every week we always try to get him the ball. He's a guy that's always in the plan, we'll always try to get the ball to him. That's the one guy you don't have to worry about. He's such a team player. Naturally we want to get him the ball because he's a playmaker.

Q: You've had him at quarterback, receiver and running back. Are you running out of ways to be creative to get Dexter the football?

Nutt: I don't know any other way to get him the ball than those three. Tight end maybe and give it to him. He's going to be all right. His time's coming.

Q: Is it easier going through the Arkansas game the second time around since you went through it over there last year?

Nutt: It's the biggest game of year because it's the next game. It's an SEC game. It's the time of year where it's big for everybody in this conference. Big for them. Big for us. Look down everybody's schedule in the SEC, this is a big week period. Everybody knows this time of year in SEC play, it's very big time of year.

Q: With the high expectations and being ranked No. 4 nationally last month, is it a disappointment to be 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the SEC in late October?

Nutt: Naturally the first time to be rated that high in 40 years, naturally there is disappoointment. We went to South Carolina to win that ball game. Alabama here we had an unbelievable crowd. Our defense played lights out. Yes, we're disappointed because we didn't win the game. But I'm not disappointed in our team. They're working hard. We're getting better. We played two good teams. I don't really worry about anything else but the next game and getting better. Yes, we're disappointed because you wanted to win, but you can't do anything about that. I think our guys did that last week and we got bter.

Q: Do you have to re-evaluate your preseason goals now with your record like it is and Alabama playing and winning like it is?

Nutt: We don't stop and do that during a season. If you recall, we went to Atlanta twice, and one of those times there were three losses involved. This league is so crazy, and any given Saturday you can't say it's locked up or it's done. You stick to it and working hard and see what happens.

Q: As each year passes, does this game become less emotional and more just about football?

Nutt: I think so. The second year is much less than what it was last year. It was very big last year going back for the first time. This time it is more about football and the players, and that's the way it should be.

Q: Was it truly that emotional for you last year over there even though you tried to make it not that way?

Nutt: Absolutely. When you've been at a place that long and you go back and you're on the visiting sideline, you can't help that it's a little bit different.

Q: Do you keep in touch with former players at Arkansas that much?

Nutt: Not as close as it once was. There are a few that call, mostly during the summer. But not so close right now.

Q: When was first time you saw their quarterback, Ryan Mallett?

Nutt: Camp about the sixth or seventh grade. He came to our camp for six or seven years. Unbelievably talented. He's a winner and he loves to compete. I always remember him winning all the 7 on 7 games. Strong arm. He found a way to win. He was always fun to watch. No matter what team he was on, that team always found a way to win. We always had a good relationship with him for five or six years there as he was growing up.

Q: Has it been surprising that Jevan Snead has struggled and thrown so many interceptions this season?

Nutt: Yes it has been a surprise (the interceptions). He doesn't deserve all of them, even though they go under his name. Some balls pop up out of a receivers chest or were taken away from a receiver. Some are not his fault. But it's a team game and he accepts it. He knows he can play better. He stared last week playing much better and making good decisions. That's all we want from him to do. We want him to be Jevan, a guy that makes good decisions, has a good arm, and is a good quarterback.

Q: Arkansas sacked Tim Tebow six times. What do you think about Arkansas' pass rush, and how big of a concern is pass protection for Snead?

Nutt: It is because Malcolm Shephard No. 1. When we recruited him and signed him, we knew he had a full-speed motor. He never takes a lazy step. He's much bigger and stronger now. Adrian Davis, a very athletic guy who was actually a safety in high school He's gotten much better and we knew about him. Jake Beckett. Great character. Good technique. Very quick. Never a lazy step. They've got good athletes in the front. Add the linebackers. They do a good job mixing up blitzes. We've got to do a good job. It is a concern. That's been one of out weakest areas. We've got to do a good job of protection.

Q: Why has there been less Wild Rebel this fall?

Nutt: It's been the flow of the games. A couple of games we feel we needed something to happen, and they've stopped us and overpopulated the line of scrimmage. So we've gotten a way from it. Those two games at South Carolina and Alabama come to my mind where we planned on using it more. But it's kinda the flow of the game and the results we're getting out of it.

Q: On Dexter again, what can he do better to be more involved in the offensive production?

Nutt: He works hard every day in practice. He works hard on running good routes. He works as part-time receiver and punt returner. He has a lot of things he has to do for us. I don't see him doing less. He still has a good attitude and is working hard. His time is going to come, there's no doubt in my mind. We're going to call on him, and we'll need him. Dexter's always been that playmaker for us. It's just been a little harder this year because the last six games last year, he did so much for us. Everybody's very away of where No. 22 is located.

Q: You've had several freshmen involved so far this season. Was that by design or need?

Nutt: We knew we signed a very talented group. You never know which ones are mature enough, which ones can handle terminology, being away from momma, how they adjust to college. What we do is those first two weeks of two a days, we go through the book, see who can handle it, throw a lot at them, put a little pressure on them and let them go against the big guys, the ones who have been here a while. Usually you know. We knew early on Jesse Grandy had excellent quickness and excellent hands, and that he would be an excellent kick returner and punt returner. We knew we had to have him. Same thing with D.T. Shackelford and Joel Kight. We knew they were going to put their face in there, and that we'd need them on special teams. We're thin at linebacker. Boom. The redshirt's off. That's just how it goes. Patrick Patterson same thing. He did it against good competition, against the varsity. You find out what your needs are and go from there.

Q: And additional thoughts on the play of Rodney Scott?

Nutt: He's fast and he's tough. We always knew he was a good running back. What's hard in two a days and that short period of time is you have so many guys coming back that had good summers and workouts, it's hard to get them much scrimmage time to know. Earlyon Rodney had put the ball on the ground, so we were a little bit hesitant to put him out there. But he kept working and this past weekend we gained a lot of confidence in him. He'll keep working where he is right now, that basically means with Cordera Eason Brandon Bolden and Rodney Scott – those three guys.

Q: Did how Arkansas played Florida Saturday surprise you, and are there any Razorbacks from when you were there that have come along that you might not have anticipated such improvement from?

Nutt: I know this about Arkansas, they're going to always play hard. There is good talent there. Good players. You know how hard they'll play and how physical they are. They're good players. Their offensive line is a group of guys that have been through it. They're tough. All those guys are good players. Add Ryan Mallett to the recipe and it gets a whole lot better. There's not one throw he can't throw. Intermediate, long, or dump it off. He can do it all. They've got a really good football team and we knew that. We know a lot about those players.

Q: Your defensive front has been strong this season, hasn't it?

Nutt: I've been really proud of them. They've played hard. They're athletic. The defensive line has been our strength. They're relentless to the ball. Hard-nosed. They've done a good job all season long. The secondary has been our thinnest part, but those guys have really held up well and played the ball well. Our defense has played well enough for us to win every game.

Q: Arkansas' turnover margin has been excellent this year, and the Hogs are leading the league.

Nutt: That's always big and why we have to take care of the ball. Whenever you get four fumbles the previous Saturday, that really helps that turnover margin, especially when you don't turn it over. That's to me the biggest stat every Saturday, who wins the turnover margin.

Q: Have you been surprised with your defensive front and how they have handled so many difficult situations?

Nutt: I've never been more proud of our defense. We've put them in a lot of bad situations from the first game to now, how many times they've had to stop people in the red zone. How many minutes they've on field. We've put them in too many bad situations. I'm very proud of defense and how hard they play.

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