Arkansas vs. Ole Miss: No motivation required

Published: Friday, October 23, 2009
Arkansas sophomore quarterback Ryan Mallett, right, speaks to coach Bobby Petrino during the Hogs' 52-41 loss to Georgia Sept. 19 in Razorback Stadium.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas sophomore quarterback Ryan Mallett, right, speaks to coach Bobby Petrino during the Hogs' 52-41 loss to Georgia Sept. 19 in Razorback Stadium.

— The Florida Gators accomplished what even time could not.

They got Arkansas fans thinking about the Razorbacks opposing Ole Miss instead of merely opposing Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt.

Second-year Ole Miss coach Nutt, the Little Rock born University of Arkansas coach from 1998-2007, and his Rebels (4-2, 1-2 SEC) host Arkansas (3-3, 1-3) in an 11:21 a.m. SEC-Network televised game at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. today.

Before last year’s clash in Fayetteville between Nutt’s Rebels and the Razorbacks of now second-year Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, game-week frothed in frenzy. It bristled about Nutt coming back to Arkansas as fans debated perceived pros and cons of his Arkansas era.

However in the wake of Arkansas not only taking the then top-ranked, reigning national/SEC champion Gators to the wire in a 23-20 loss last Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., but having cause to believe the Razorbacks should have won but for several dubious calls by an officiating crew announced last Wednesday as SEC suspended, Arkansas fans now seem way more into playing Ole Miss than against their old coach.

Media attempts to goad Hogs into making a big deal about playing against Nutt payback on last year’s 23-21 Ole Miss victory at Reynolds Razorback Stadium have lamely fallen flat.

Take last Monday’s press conference question to Arkansas born quarterback Ryan Mallett. Did Mallett choose to attend the University of Michigan out of Texarkana’s Texas High in 2007 before transferring to Arkansas in 2008 because Nutt had recruited him as a tight end?

Mallett wryly rebutted a pop to that controversy trial balloon.

“That’s not true at all,” Mallett said, recalling his attendance of Nutt’s Razorback summer camps. “One time in summer camp I asked to play the [tight end] position just to mess around because I had been to the camp so many times. And people kind of took that the wrong way. That had nothing to do with my choice in college.”

Razorbacks who enjoyed lettering under Nutt stand ever ready this week to put their old coach’s era in the past and prep for Ole Miss present.

“We’re not worried about trying to beat them just because it’s Coach Nutt,” Arkansas fifth-year senior offensive guard Mitch Petrus of Carlisle said. “We’re trying to win every game.”

Especially this one. Not only because it’s the next one, but because these next two SEC games, Saturday in Oxford and Nov. 7 against South Carolina in Fayetteville after a nonconference 6 p.m. Halloween homecoming with Eastern Michigan, are vital to Arkansas bowling in the postseason.

Beat Ole Miss and South Carolina coming off the national respect gained from outplaying the Gators at their Swamp, and the Hogs should not only find a bowl spot but maybe a good bowl spot. A spot much brighter than it might currently seem for a 3-3 team whipped 35-7 by reigning SEC West champ Alabama on Sept. 26.

Arkansas’ improvement was nationally noted last week in Gainesville.

Now comes the test to see if the Hogs can come out smoking after their close-but-no-cigar loss and sustain weekly improvement that began with 47-19 and 44-23 victories over Texas A&M and Auburn after Alabama.

“I feel,” Petrino said, “our team will come back from it and get ready for this game.”

He reinforced that notion upon Wednesday’s SEC announcement that the officiating crew working Arkansas vs. Florida was suspended.

“Our focus as a football team has been and remains on this weekend’s game against Ole Miss,” Petrino said.

Ole Miss also took its lumps, 22-3, to Alabama two weeks ago in Oxford and was ambushed 16-10 on Sept. 24 at South Carolina.

Not what the Rebels expected rising to No. 4 nationally before the South Carolina game off Nutt’s stunning 9-4 debut in 2008 including upsetting Florida in Gainesville and trashing Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.

However Ole Miss got well, 48-13, over Alabama-Birmingham last week much like the Hogs did versus A&M the week after they were rolled by the Crimson Tide.

Nutt’s Arkansas history reflects his teams are most dangerous after wounded. And this current team, with a quick defense and pro prospect quarterback Jevan Snead and running backs Brandon Bolden and Dexter McCluster, has material to be dangerous against anybody.

Of course border rivalry Arkansas-Ole Miss has always been a bitterly dangerous game long before Nutt coached either team.

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