September 18, 2006

Alabama game huge for Razorbacks

Coming off a narrow 21-19 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Arkansas Razorbacks are optimistic about their chances heading into this weekend's game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. But all the optimism in the world doesn't make you look forward to facing a Joe Kines defense.

"Joe Kines is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country," said head coach Houston Nutt. "We know he'll come at us with things we haven't seen in the first three weeks and we have to be prepared."

Nutt said he believes that his true freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain will be a likely target for the Tide defense and he expects Kines to send plenty of pressure to try and rattle his young signal caller.

"I think Joe will pick and choose his spots to blitz and he'll do one or two things differently that he hasn't done before. He's very smart and he could give us a lot of problems."

"I'm expecting them to come after me quite a bit," Mustain said. "Vanderbilt did it almost every down and I don't expect Alabama to be any different. They've got a tough defense and I expect them to do whatever they can to stop us. I wouldn't imagine they're going to do anything much different than what we've already seen."

Mustain, who threw for 224 yards with one interception against Vandy, feels he is settling well into the college game and improving with each snap.

"The biggest thing I've done is learn to adjust to the speed of the game, or at least learn to improvise to make up for that," Mustain said. "I struggled a little against Utah State but I feel like I'm improving every week."

"He did a good job, he's very mature and very cool under pressure," said Nutt. "He's gotten better each game and that was an excellent start for him on the road. He's no nonsense and very focused and he's got a great attitude."

One of Nutt's other offensive weapons, running back Darren McFadden, appears to be returning to form after injuring his foot in the offseason. McFadden rushed for 71 yards on 19 carries against Vanderbilt.

"I think we all know that he's not 100 percent, but I think each time he goes out on the field he's getting better," Nutt said. "He looked better yesterday than he has the last two weeks."

Overall, Nutt says he is looking forward to another exciting installment of the Alabama-Arkansas rivalry and believes it will be a tightly contested match.

"It would be great to get the win here. It would be a huge boost for our season," Nutt said. "It's always been a tough series. This game usually always decides a lot about your year. We're always very competitive with each other and it's usually a very close, very good game."

Hawg defense looks to improve tackling

The talking points out of the Razorback defense sound just like those coming from the Alabama defense this week. In order to stop the run, the Hawgs believe they'll have to do a better job of wrapping up and finishing on tackles.

"It was a big win and a much needed win for our team," said senior defensive tackle Keith Jackson. "Defensively, we should have tackled better but I'm glad we came out with a win."

"I think we had a couple missed assignments that allowed a lot of big runs for Vanderbilt. As far as our tackling, that's just want-to. You've got to wrap up especially facing a running back like Kenneth Darby."

Jackson and the rest of the Razorback defense have been impressed with Darby from his film despite his uncharacteristically low numbers.

"He runs hard, he's fast and he sees the cutback holes real well," Jackson said. "We've got wrap him up because he runs hard and he's a good back. I think he's very different from Darren [McFadden]. Darby is more of a cutback guy where Darren uses his speed and likes to go outside more."

Nutt said he is also concerned with the Tide's explosive duo of wide outs in Keith Brown and DJ Hall.

"They're very big, very athletic," Nutt said. "I remember last year they always made plays when they had to. They're very consistent and in the film I'm watching this year they're guys that Alabama relies on to make plays."

Due to injuries on the team, especially in the linebacking corps, the Razorbacks will not practice with full contact this week but Jackson believes full tackling isn't necessary for his team to improve in practice.

"We can't tackle to the ground but we'll be wrapping up and running our feet," Jackson said. "We'll try our best to thud the running back and I believe it will help."

The Razorbacks are approaching this weekend's game as a crucial turning point for their team in its quest to return to the top half of the Western Division.

"It's going to be big," Jackson said. "We're going to win this game. I believe we're going to win it if we play hard and tackle and stop the run game. Our offense is coming around real well and if we come out and play how we know how to play, it's going to be a great fight."

Mustain was close to rolling with Tide

Mustain, who was named the National Freshman of the Week, recalls when late in his recruitment he was still considering becoming a part of the Crimson Tide.

"When I was looking at Alabama, I talked a lot to Mike Shula," Mustain said. "When they had Brodie Croyle, the offense they ran was something I enjoyed watching. They threw the ball well, they ran it well and they just had a good team so it was something I was definitely interested in."

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