FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - The name Houston Nutt was on the lips of red-clad fans Saturday night at Razorback Stadium but it was being chanted by Mississippi fans after the Rebels kicked a late field goal to build a two-score lead. After the down-to-the-wire 23-21 victory, Nutt acknowledged the depth of emotion that preceded the game, the Mississippi coach's first return to Arkansas after a decade leading the Razorbacks.
"This game was different. It was emotional and it was very hard," Nutt said. Any animosity from fans didn't extend to Arkansas players. After the game, Nutt was greeted by a stream of Razorbacks. He hugged them and gave them encouragement. "You recruited them, you've been in their living rooms," Nutt said. "I thought both teams played so hard. What a game to watch. I wanted to relax in the last minute, but you couldn't," he said.
After Nutt visited with Arkansas players, he turned to the Ole Miss fans and made a No. 1 signal with his left hand, then raised his fist, drawing cheers. Then he headed for the locker room. Some fans booed as Nutt ran into the tunnel, one throwing an empty water bottle. A fan was removed as the game was winding down when he threw a cup of ice at Nutt. A spray of water went into the air as Nutt ran into a jubilant Ole Miss locker room, cheers ringing out before the doors closed. Before kickoff, Nutt led his team onto the field just as the Razorbacks made their entrance, causing the cheers to shift to boos. When it looked like Ole Miss iced the game with a field goal for a 23-14 lead with 1:48 to play, Ole Miss fans chanted, "Houston Nutt," drawing some boos from Razorback fans. But the loudest boos of the night came after the officials ruled an onside kick by Arkansas with 1:03 to play was recovered out of bounds by the Razorbacks. The boos were louder still after a replay on the big screen. The call was overturned on review, drawing a thunderous cheer.
That was the last buoyant moment for Razorback fans, as Casey Dick couldn't connect on his passes and the Razorbacks turned it over on downs. Afterward, Nutt said he didn't hear the fans chanting his name. "Oh? Thank you. That's almost too quick," he said, noting the game was still in the balance. Arkansas fans largely kept their focus on the field, with exhortations directed to the play of the home team. Arkansas fan J.R. Binam, 25, of Springdale said he was on hand to watch the action, not cheer against the former Razorback coach. "I think we need to let him go the way he let us go," Binam said. Hundreds of students wore black T-shirts that said, "Houston, we had a problem." The style harkened back to a year ago when black-clad students called for Nutt's ouster.
In 10 years at Arkansas, Nutt put together a 75-48 record. His tenure included a 27-6 victory over Texas in the 2000 Cotton Bowl and, in his last game as a Razorback, a 50-48 triple overtime win over No. 1 LSU. But Nutt's inability to sustain consistent support within his own organization contributed to his undoing. Arkansas famously hired Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator before the 2006, and the new assistant was expected to install a hurry-up offense. Nutt's partnership with Malzahn lasted all of the one season, and the Razorbacks hardly used the hurry-up at all. After Malzahn left to join the staff at Tulsa, quarterback Mitch Mustain, who was 8-0 as a Razorback starter, transferred to Southern California. Tulsa is Arkansas' next opponent. "I'm glad (Nutt) is at Ole Miss," fan James Jech, 30, of Little Rock, said. "He wasn't a good fit here - too much turmoil. His ego got in the way." The matchup of two 3-4 teams took place before 74,168, the fifth-largest crowd in stadium history.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)