Nutt up about coming season

Friday, August 25th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- A month ago, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt had kicking and coverage at the top of his worry list.

Two weeks deep into fall practice, he feels better about both.

Nutt said freshman Brennan O'Donohoe pushed Matt Swartz and that Swartz has been the model of consistency during practice. "If we played tonight, he would start," Nutt said.

Swartz redshirted in 1998 after transferring from Lehigh and Tony Dodson did all the kicking last year.

Cornerbacks Harold Harris and Orlando Green have been burned at times, but Nutt says they have "improved a bunch." On top of that, he said, Eddie Jackson, Kevin Baker, Bo Mosley and Lee Hayes have eased his mind about depth at a critical spot.

The schemes and techniques introduced by secondary coach John Thompson and line coach Bill Johnson will make the players even more effective, Nutt said.

"I love our senior inside linebackers (Quinton Caver and J.J.

Jones)," Nutt said.

He expects big things from defensive ends Randy Garner, Raymond House and Jermaine Petty and predicted that multi-talented Carlos Hall would "make a world of difference."

The speed and talent on defense, plus some big-play capabilities at running back and wide receiver, give the Razorbacks a chance to go to their third straight bowl.

"We have got to take advantage of the schedule like we did in '98," he said.

That was Nutt's first year and the Razorbacks started 8-0. Their first four games were in Arkansas and their fifth game was at Memphis, where Arkansas had more fans that the Tigers.

This year, the Razorbacks play Southwest Missouri State next Saturday and Boise State on Sept. 16, both in Little Rock.

Then comes Fayetteville games against Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana-Monroe. Alabama and Georgia are members of the preseason Top 10 and the most popular theory is that the Razorbacks must split their first two league games to get on the right track.

Nutt wouldn't fall for that trap.

"What do you want me to say?" he said, smiling.

He said many people held a similar theory last year and that the Razorbacks began 0-2 in the league. "After Kentucky, were you thinking Cotton Bowl?" he said. "It was, `Come on, let's try to get a winning season."

Instead, Arkansas finished 7-4 and beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

Nutt is certain that two straight Jan. 1 bowl games has Arkansas headed in the right direction. Stacking players at positions will keep the Razorbacks on track, he said.

The Razorbacks' dilemma was clear to him hours after Michigan beat Arkansas in the Citrus Bowl following the 1998 season. That night, in a hotel room, he made it clear that the Razorbacks must recruit and stockpile offensive linemen.

He said the Wolverines had almost 20 offensive lineman on scholarship and were able to scrimmage three deep. "We were trying to just get by to the game with seven offensive linemen hoping nobody tweaks an ankle," he said.

Now, the Razorbacks have more than a dozen offensive linemen on scholarship.

"Stacking players, it's a constant puzzle, but you can just see it coming," he said.

He and recruiting coordinator Fitz Hill have a master plan for the next few years. The most immediate need is linebackers, "but somebody always needs something somewhere."

Tailback Cedric Cobbs, who set a school record for a freshman with 668 yards rushing, is expected to perform miracles, but Nutt has some reservations about how many times Cobbs can carry the ball against punishing opposition.

"I don't know how he's going to handle that many hits," he said.

He may get a better feel after Alabama and Georgia. Cobbs was below par against LSU after carrying 22 times against Mississippi State the previous week.

Last year, Cobbs, Chrys Chukwuma and John Jenkins made a nice mix at tailback. Cobbs, Fred Talley at 191 pounds, and Alvin Ray make up the 2000 combination. Rod Stinson, who added 21 pounds after being asked to move from tailback to fullback, could get the ball some, too.

Production by the tailbacks, plus Boo Williams, Sam Breeden and others at wide receiver, should reduce the burden on new quarterback Robby Hampton.

"Our receivers are going to draw some attention and we're going to force that attention, too," Nutt said. "They had better cover these guys."

Arkansas has won 17 games in two years under Nutt. To win eight or nine this year, he said, the Razorbacks must maintain their edge in turnover margin and make the punting game a positive.

"We won eight or nine without a kicking game," he said.

"Punting and punt returns are two of the biggest plays in the game."


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