Arkansas wraps up division title with hard-fought win

Sunday, November 19th 2006, 9:22 pm

By: News On 6

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) Houston Nutt describes the feeling as one of relief.

After a tough first half against a heavy underdog, 5th ranked Arkansas pulled away for a 28-14 win at Mississippi State on Saturday to clinch a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

``That was a trap game all the way. You have the championship sitting in your lap. You have to take care of it. But once they got it, it was like 'Okay, we got it,''' Nutt said Sunday, describing his players' reaction. ``We accomplished it and now let's move on to the next one.''

The Razorbacks host #9 LSU on Friday in Little Rock, a critical game for an Arkansas team that still has an outside shot at playing for a national title.

The Razorbacks moved up one spot in the BCS standings Sunday to #6. Ohio State is a clear #1, and Arkansas also trails Michigan, Southern California, Florida and Notre Dame. The Razorbacks play Florida for the SEC title December 2nd in Atlanta, so they'll have a chance to impress over these next two weeks.

But one goal, the division title, is out of the way. Nutt said that takes some of the pressure off this week's game.

``If you didn't win Saturday, then there is a lot of difference. Now, let's go have fun,'' the Arkansas coach said. ``Obviously, we want to win the game. There will be enough butterflies to go around in Little Rock. We know we are playing a good team.''

Arkansas (10-1, 7-0 SEC) has won 10 straight, equaling its longest streak since an 11-game run spanning the 1977 and 1978 seasons. The Razorbacks also secured their first 10-win season since 1989 and their first 7-win SEC season ever. Arkansas began playing in the league in 1992.

The Razorbacks were without an offensive touchdown for most of the 1st half against Mississippi State (3-8, 1-6), but Chris Houston returned an interception 87 yards for a touchdown, and Heisman Trophy candidate Darren McFadden scored on a 92-yard kickoff return. Casey Dick then found Damian Williams for a 29-yard touchdown near the end of the 2nd quarter for a 21-14 lead.

``It seemed like we were a little slow in warmup, a little sluggish and tired. It is to be expected,'' Nutt said. ``I really called on them. I called on our seniors all week long and all throughout the game. I just thought they showed a lot of heart. I thought our defense played extremely well.''

McFadden was held to 84 yards rushing. He averages an SEC best 118.5.

``That is a hard, hard ballgame. We knew it would be,'' Nutt said. ``It was so good to get out of there with a win. There is nothing like it. It took everyone on that sideline.''

LSU is coming off an even bigger struggle. The Tigers (9-2, 5-2) beat Ole Miss 23-20 Saturday night, but needed overtime to get the win.

LSU's defense is allowing under 228 yards per game, the best mark in the nation.

``They are the best-looking guys in uniform we have seen all year,'' Nutt said of the Tigers' defensive linemen. ``They are just very, very good.''

Nutt said Arkansas missed the blocking and pass-catching ability of fullback Peyton Hillis, who didn't make the trip to Starkville, Miss., after injuring his thigh in the previous weekend's win over Tennessee.

``He can get around the traffic and get on the linebacker and clear the way for (running back) Felix (Jones) or Darren,'' Nutt said. ``We really missed him catching the ball. Hopefully we can get him back this week.''

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