Arkansas heads on the road to stop two-game slide

Updated: October 21, 2003, 1:09 AM ET

LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas fell in the polls as fast as it rose, after home losses to Auburn and Florida -- teams that were unranked until now.

The Razorbacks (4-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) were 7th in the nation two weeks ago and 11th last week, but they dropped to 21st in the latest Associated Press poll and have started league play 1-2 or worse for the fifth straight year under coach Houston Nutt.

"It's frustrating," said Nutt, whose only fast SEC start came in his first season, 1998, at 5-0. "You want to win the games, obviously, and the last two weeks we had every opportunity to win both games, and we could easily be sitting 6-0."

Arkansas has opened the past five seasons with a combined 4-11 record in the first three SEC games. Five opponents were ranked and four more moved into the poll by beating the Razorbacks, including Auburn and Florida this season.

A loss this Saturday at Ole Miss would leave Arkansas 1-3 for the fourth straight season.

Penalties played a large role in the Auburn and Florida defeats. And offensive deficiencies were glaring against Auburn and in the first three quarters against Florida.

Two holding penalties by senior receiver George Wilson, including one that negated a 78-yard touchdown run by quarterback Matt Jones, hurt in the 10-3 loss to Auburn.

Last week, Arkansas had a season-high 12 penalties for 118 yards. Three were for roughing the passer, two on incompletions and one that negated an interception by Sam Olajabutu with less than 2 minutes remaining and the Razorbacks down by 5. The penalty gave Florida a first down and let the Gators run out the clock.

"One of the things we have to correct from last week is penalties at the most inopportune time," Nutt said. "We can't have that to stop ourselves and give the other team an advantage. You can't give away anything in this league."

The other two roughing penalties came at the start of drives that resulted in 10 points for Florida. Instead of facing second-and-10, the Gators were moving toward the end zone.

"(We're) trying too hard, extremely hard and trying to be aggressive, especially when the quarterback is clearly throwing the ball away," Nutt said. "You've got to pull off."

Arkansas is now 3-7 in the last 10 games at Fayetteville, so the road should be comforting. The Razorbacks start a two-week road swing this Saturday against Ole Miss and next week at Kentucky.

Nutt's teams have won five straight road games in the regular season and six of eight. The losses were both 41-38 decisions -- against Tennessee in six overtimes last year and to LSU in 2001.

The Razorbacks are returning to the site of the longest game in NCAA history, when they beat Ole Miss 58-56 in seven overtimes in 2001. The game was tied at 17-17 after four quarters.

Last year, Arkansas beat the Rebels 48-28 despite a career-best 414 yards passing by Eli Manning, who has already thrown for 2,127 yards and 17 touchdowns this year. The Razorbacks scored twice on kickoffs thanks to Ole Miss fumbles.

In those victories over Ole Miss, Arkansas scored more points than in any other game the past two years.

The Razorbacks may need that kind of point-production again because the Rebels are running the football better than they have in Manning's tenure, averaging 176.6 yards per game. Tremaine Turner has 359 yards and a 4.8-yard rushing average and Ron McClendon has 304 yards and a 6.8-yard average.

"Eli has always gotten better every year and he has much more confidence," Nutt said. "The offensive line has done a great job of staying on their blocks and that's how you develop that balance."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index