Monday Grid Update, 9/23

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said at his Monday press gathering that he was pushing his team to flush away the bitter loss at Rutgers last weekend and focus only on this Saturday's game with visiting Texas A&M and defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

While Arkansas football fans may still be fuming over Saturday's bitter 28-24 loss after a fourth-quarter collapse at Rutgers, Razorback head coach Bret Bielema and his players are trying to "flush" it away.

Bielema, whose 3-1 team hosts Texas A&M this Saturday at 6 p.m. in Fayetteville, said as much as his weekly media gathering on Monday.

"I think sometimes in my head coaching career some of the biggest, disappointing losses, heart aches, propel you to something better in the future," Bielema said. "That's hopefully what we're going to be able to build upon. Talked about it with our kids on Sunday and put it to bed. Walked out on the field, went through corrections, brought them back in, flipped the page, turned the page into A&M from our standpoint as coaches. We want to make it a big game.

"Obviously A&M has a loss, we've got a loss," Bielema added. "They're a top 10 team. They return the Heisman trophy candidate, all of that with a sold out crowd. I've never seen Don Reynolds completely packed. So it's going to be exciting. Hopefully a very,very loud atmosphere. Something that our kids are very excited about and have been talking about for a long time. So, tremendous opportunity in front of us."

Bielema was quick to give an updated injury report on starting quarterback Brandon Allen, who was hurt in the first quarter of the Razorbacks' third game and was unable to plat last week at Rutgers.

Allen, who was not on this week's two-deep depth chart that Arkansas released on Monday, was replaced by junior walk on quarterback A.J. Derby.

"As far as injury-wise, obviously I didn't put BA on the depth chart just because he didn't play last week," Bielema said. "Going into last Saturday I was fully prepared if he came in on Friday or Saturday, (but) we didn't practice him Thursday yet. If he said Saturday I'm ready to go and the doctors gave him permission we would've went with him. Same thing this week. Although I do think we'll have him in a limited practice tomorrow.

"If he isn't ready to go, AJ will be our guy," Bielema added. "But if he at any point, even if it's not until Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, says that he can go and the doctors give him 100 percent we'll go that direction. If not, it will be obviously AJ again and (true freshman) Austin (Allen) as his backup."

Derby was 14-of-26 for 137 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers in his first college start on Saturday.

"You can't ask for a more tenuous task than to start on the road in an environment like we walked into on Saturday," Bielema said. But I don't think he did anything that caused you great alarm. I know he could have maybe done a few things here or there and there's some huddle things he's got to get straight. But for the most part I thought he did very, very well.

"I have no hesitation of putting Austin Allen in the game," Bielema added. "He had a great week of preparation. If AJ didn't play at a level that we thought he could be at, we would have made a switch. But there's no reason for us to change right now and excited to see his growth this week."

The Razorbacks are expected to get sophomore wide receiver D'Arthur Cowan back this week in what could be the healthiest their team has been since preseason.

"We're getting healthier," Bielema said. "We'll get D'Arthur Cowan back this week. He's been pretty active the last week. We'll throw him into tomorrow's practice and as long as he keeps moving forward. If he obviously has a regression or gets sore in any way we'll back him out of it."

He was happy with the way sophomore middle linebacker Otha Peters and senior tight end Austin Tate played against Rutgers as both returned to full-time duty after being injured in preseason camp.

"I thought Otha Peters jumped into the scene," Bielema said. "Austin Tate jumped into the scene, was awesome. I think Austin Tate really gives us some leadership there at the tight end position. (Freshman tight end) Hunter Henry is doing a lot of really good things. (Tight ends Alex) Voelzke and Mitchell Loewen have both done some good things, but Austin brings a calmness to that group. He was unbelievable. Even in the role on punt team and stuff. Just really made a big statement to me."

Sophomore wide receiver Keon Hatcher also returned after missing a pair of games due to a hamstring injury. He led the Razorbacks with four catches for 45 yards and also ran two sweeps for 19 yards.

"I thought Keon Hatcher was awesome," Bielema said. "I wish we had got him involved more in the game plan, but he really wasn't full-go until Thursday afternoon. So to get him full-go will be full effect this week. We're definitely going to need it and tremendous task on our hands.

Bielema also mentioned that safety Rohan Gaines played seven snaps against Rutgers and is due for many more this week against Texas A&M as he continues to heal up.

He also was quick to point out that the things that cost the Razorbacks to lose the game in the fourth quarter were certainly correctable.

"The great thing about Saturday's loss is there's things that can be easily corrected," Bielema said. "There wasn't anything out there that is a daunting task that can't be overcome. On the flip side of it, we still lost the game and they need to learn from that. They needed to feel the pain. It was a very quiet ride home Saturday night. It was a very somber meeting and locker room on Sunday afternoon. That's why I kinda wanted to take them outside, go through the corrections, and then flush it. that's behind us.

"Take the memory (and) learn it," Bielema added. " But then we went in and watched two games – basically three quarters – of two different games of A&M before we let them go into dinner to let them know, 'hey, this is what's on the horizon. This is where we're going next.'"

Bielema then referenced his hashtag #1-0.

"It's a 1-0 mentality," Bielema said. " A lot of people think that's just for winning. It's more in the purpose of, if you have a setback you didn't want to go through to put your mind on the task at hand which is all about A&M."

The Arkansas game with Texas A&M opens SEC play for the Razorbacks, who will play at Florida the following week in a game that will either be on CBS at 2:30 p.m. or on ESPN at 6 p.m.

Arkansas is playing eight straight Saturdays before having an open date

"You know what, and I mean that with all due respect, I'm not worried about anything but what's in front of us," Bielema said. "Now, we did some stuff in fall camp, during the summer. We have an eight-week summer cycle of conditioning and we talked about how we had eight weeks of uninterrupted college football play - four nonconference, four conference.

"The way the schedule laid out to put four teams that came out preseason ranked in the top 15 or 10, however it laid out, whatever poll you want to use," Bielema added." We brought that to our attention. We needed to be playing just as strong in week 4, week 5, as we are in 7 and 8. So that's a little bit of how they're living their lives. How they're taking care of themselves.

"We backed off a little bit this week as far as what we're asking them to do in the weight room and some concessions were made there to just get their feet back underneath them and let them get ready for SEC play," Bielema continued.

Bielema had began each of his previous three Monday post-game press conferences with a list of team MVP awards, but that was not the case this week.

"You know, one of the things we don't do after a loss, we don't give out MVPs or recognized anybody from a team standpoint," Bielema said. "... I thought the main thing is going into that game with a backup quarterback and a team that we thought was a very good football team, won nine games the year before, to be in a position we put ourselves in, to play the way we did and get to a point where you can win the football game and then the tide turns after the punt return and a couple of breaks in the fourth quarter.

"Probably about 5, 6, 7 plays where that if just one of them goes our way you think it probably would be able to swing the other way," Bielema said. "Something that unfortunately we had to go through."

Arkansas is facing a monumental challenge in trying to slow down Manziel, who has already passed for 1,228 yards and rushed for 255 this season while accounting for 15 touchdowns despite not playing a half or a few plays after half in three of those four games.

Bielema knows the challenge his team faces this week in Manziel and the Aggies offense, which is averaging 50.3 point per game and put up 628 yards in a 49-42 loss to No. 1 Alabama.

Manziel, a redshirt sophomore who will be eligible for the NFL draft after this season, passed for 464 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 98 yards against the Crimson Tide with his total offensive output of 562 yards just shy of his SEC-record 576 yards against Louisiana Tech in 2012.

"I've watched several games just as a college football fan, you know, going back to last year before I had any idea or indication I'd be in the SEC," Bielema said. "Then I would say going back to last spring, this summer, I dedicated a two-day study to him - to their offense, defense and special teams.

"But, he's a guy with just an uncanny way to deliver the ball, no matter where he's at on the field," Bielema added. " Some of those plays that he stays alive on are anywhere from a slow count of six seconds to maybe 10, 12 seconds. You can just see the receivers do an outstanding job of finding a way to get open.

"You see people that try everything from 6-man pressures to 3-man pressures and everything in between," Bielema added. "I think it's going to be fair to say that you need to constantly have someone staying in his face or trying to get him disrupted out of the throwing game.

"I think Johnny does a nice job at the line of scrimmage of putting them in the right place," Bielema continued. "I would say if there's one thing that defines him it's his release. He can get rid of the ball in the most unusual situations - falling backwards, falling forwards, running sideways, he's a very, very special FB player."

Bielema admits he is a fan of the whole Johnny Football craze.

"I think anything that promotes CFB is good. I don't want him to be great on Saturday, but it's a neat story," Bielema said. "I think it's brought to light a lot of issues, even things that he's gone through after the season, you know.

" I consider Kevin Sumlin a good friend, a guy that I'm very close with," Bielema added. "I like the way he runs his program and kind of admired how he handled and persevered through all that as a head coach. I think you pay attention to that stuff as well.

"I like confident people and Johnny Manziel is a very confident person," Bielema continued. " I think that's fun to observe and watch and hopefully a little bit of that swagger has an effect on our guys as well."

Bielema knows the best way to keep Texas A&M's offense from scoring is to keep it off the field.

"One things that I think an offense such as ours can bring to the table when it's functioning well is, it takes an offense that wants to be on the field sitting on the sideline and watching, that can get frustrating," Bielema said. " It's happened in the past.

"...The good news is we're a team that's 3-1 and on the road to success on a daily," Bielema stressed. "... I mean, I can literally see things happening within our program every day of the week that's a positive note. We're nowhere we need to be.

" I could go offense, defense special teams and point to a couple of areas in all three phases that we need to improve for us to get to where we want to be," Bielema continued. "The good news is there isn't anything in our way that's not totally capable of being overcome.

Johnny Manziel

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