After all, Stoerner, who holds Arkansas school records for career passing yards (2,629) and touchdowns (57), ran the Razorbacks’ offense during the coach’s first two seasons in Fayetteville. He said Nutt motivated a team that struggled under former coach Danny Ford in 1997, led them to enormous wins and helped them get past discouraging losses.
So Stoerner, who attended last Tuesday’s practice, has a pretty good idea how Nutt is handling the growing rumblings regarding his job security after a 1-3 start.
“I feel for him,” Stoerner said. “But knowing coach Nutt, he knows his position and he knows that when it’s good it’s good and when it’s bad it’s bad. There’s no happy medium here at Arkansas and in the game of football period. You either win and everybody loves you or you lose and they want you out of town.
“You’ve got to whether those rough waters and move on. He’ll be all right. He’s done it before. He’s a pro at it.”
Stoerner backed his former coach, believing Arkansas is capable of turning its season around despite a rough month. In fact, Stoerner said if anybody can led the Hogs to a bowl game after a disastrous start, it’s Nutt.
“He’s done it time and time again,” Stoerner said. “I don’t know how many times he has to prove he can win and he can turn a program around before we believe it.”
But Nutt’s job security has been a hot topic during the three-game losing streak against Vanderbilt (28-24), Southern California (70-17) and Alabama (24-13).
A Dallas Morning News column wondered, “Could the end be nigh for Nutt,” before the Alabama game. This week, a CNNSI.com story called the Vanderbilt and USC losses “humiliating” and said Nutt was in danger of losing his job. And ESPN.com put Arkansas on the “waiting list” for its “Bottom 10,” a weekly ranking of the 10 worst or most disappointing teams in college football.
Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles supported Nutt shortly after the USC loss, calling the coach “the best man for the job” despite the disappointing start.
“I don’t feel it,” Nutt said about the hot seat talk. “I talk to coach Broyles every day. He knows that no one hates it more than I do. But I don’t feel like I’m on some death march or something. I don’t feel it.
“You never know what really can happen. But I know this: I feel as good as I can possibly feel about keeping this thing going and coaching here. I don’t think about (the hot seat). The only thing I’ve got going is, how can I help an 18-, 19-year old get better on the field and off the field. That’s all I think about.”
That’s more than enough. The Razorbacks must win at least five of their final seven games to become bowl-eligible and face Louisiana-Monroe, Auburn (Oct. 15) and Georgia (Oct. 22) in their next three.
Three losses would close the door on bowl hopes. Two losses would force Arkansas into must-win situations during their final four games against South Carolina (Nov. 5), Ole Miss (Nov. 12), Mississippi State (Nov. 19) and LSU (Nov. 25).
It’s a challenging road. But Stoerner believes it’s possible under Nutt.
“He’s the best motivator I’ve been around no matter what the situation is,” Stoerner said. “Whether you’re 8-0 and having a great season or you need to be turned around. He’s a great coach, great motivator and I think that’s what’s got him here. He’ll have these guys motivated, ready to play.
“We’ve got some home games coming up. The have a lot to look forward to. Got a Little Rock game coming up and should get back on the right track.”
Johnson Bouncing Back
Quarterback Robert Johnson had a rough outing against the Crimson Tide, completing 11 of 26 passes for 81 yards. But Nutt said the poor performance didn’t open the competition for the starting job during the open date.
Johnson continued to get first-team repetitions, followed by Alex Mortensen, Cole Barthel and Casey Dick. The open date gave young players more time in practice and Nutt said Dick participated in “all the scrimmage plays” last week. But Johnson will get the first-team work in preparation for Louisiana-Monroe.
“(Johnson) knows he’s going to play better,” Nutt said. “We all do. It takes 11. Everybody be at their best. Keep working. Make good decisions, especially with the ball. You know you can’t be late (throwing) over the middle with it.”
Johnson has completed 48 of 92 passes for 464 yards with 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in four starts. The Razorbacks are last in the SEC in passing offense (130.5 yards a game) and in passing efficiency (95.7 rating), but quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke said Johnson is determined to bounce back.
“His attitude and focus has been good,” Wittke said. “He’s certainly not happy about his performance (at Alabama), but he has never been a guy that has let things linger. He hasn’t dwelled on the mistakes. He hasn’t dwelled on the things he has done wrong. He hasn’t dwelled on the things he’s done right.
“He’s really made a good, solid effort trying to keep a next play is the only play type of focus.”
Interior Bright Spots
Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said he was impressed with starting defensive tackles Keith Jackson and Marcus Harrison at Alabama.
The tandem, which started the past three games together, plugged holes, occupied blockers and help the Hogs limit Alabama to 301 yards one week after USC rolled to 736. Jackson and Harrison combined for nine tackles and a sack, but also helped linebackers Sam Olajubutu and Clarke Moore turn in big days.
Jackson is fifth on the team in tackles (21) this season. Harrison has 12 stops.
“They really played well inside,” Herring said. “They showed us some stuff I didn’t know if they were capable of doing. They looked like players in there.
“Now we’ve got to build on it.”
Open Week Quiet
Arkansas hasn’t had much to be excited about during its 1-3 start. But the Razorbacks, at least, haven’t had to work through a tumultuous off week.
That happened last September, when Arkansas was 3-1 and took a break after its 45-30 loss at Florida. Receiver Carlos Ousley quit the team after true freshman Marcus Monk replaced him in the starting lineup. And right tackle Zac Tubbs and reserve defensive end Derek Moore sustained broken ankles on the same day.
Nutt said Monk, no doubt, was the bright spot of the week. The Hogs inserted him into the starting lineup in place of Ousley and he became their top receiver.
“When he showed us what he was doing, how consistent he was, we knew,” Nutt said. “He was so valuable that we had to get him involved quick. So we just took those two weeks and ran with it.”