State of the Hogs: Fighting Back

Auburn doubled Arkansas on the scoreboard, but there were some positives for the Razorbacks on senior night in a 35-17 loss.

It'll go down as the sixth straight loss, fifth in row for Bret Bielema's start in the SEC. But the fog he said that has hung around the program in recent months begin to lift ever so slightly for the new Arkansas coach in a 35-17 loss to Auburn at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

There were hints of an Arkansas passing game from an obviously tough Brandon Allen, the quarterback who returned after needing staples to close up a gash in his shin early in the game.

There were a couple of impressive plays in the kicking game, the highlight an 87-yard kickoff return from true freshman Korliss Marshall.

There was new blood at middle linebacker, although true freshman Brooks Ellis had some misses to go along with six tackles in his first start.

Sophomore running back Jonathan Williams fought and scratched for every inch of real estate in a 104-yard night that included a 21-yard effort in the final minute that displayed the true warrior in his 222-pound body.

There were even some tricks from Bielema, exciting his players and the home crowd with a swinging gate of his own to set up the first fourth quarter points for the Hogs since the season's third week.

"In retrospect, I wish we had made the move (with Ellis) quite a bit sooner," Bielema said. "I think he's a natural at that position and it's going to be fun to watch him move forward and develop.

"We all know Korliss Marshall can run. He's explosive, he brings energy and he's a guy I get a kick out of because he's always saying he wants to go back to safety bad.

"It's something special, I think, that he has that after we had to move him over to running back. He's an explosive player and his potential is off the chart. That's the kind of kid he is and the kind of energy he's got.

"He's very, very raw. He takes a lot of pride in what he's doing. When he came in, the semester started off good for him, but he's taking more pride in what he's doing in the class room the past three or four weeks than anything else. That's terrific."

Bielema liked so much about the ball possession start, but shook his head in disgust over the mistakes in the red zone.

"We did good things, but you just can't make those mistakes in the red zone," Bielema said. "That kills you. The time of possession is great, but the three turnovers, those just can't happen. We are going to get there and when we do, it will be that much more rewarding.

"We didn't get some breaks. We were offside on the onside kick, but it was there. It bounces off the guy and was there for us to get. We didn't get the catch at the start and I don't see replays in our stadium. But we have to make our own breaks. Good teams make their breaks. We've got to create our own luck.

"At some point the ball is going to bounce our way."

Obviously, there was still some muck, as Bielema described it several weeks ago. Two empty possessions in the red zone, three turnovers and another offside penalty on an onside kick would qualify.

The muck was deepest at the end of two clock gobbling possessions in the first half.

The Hogs turned it over at the Auburn 17 after a 13-play drive to open the game when backup AJ Derby was intercepted at the Auburn 17-yard line. Then, with Allen back under center after staples to close a gash in his shin, the Hogs kept it for 17 plays but failed from the 1-yard line on back-to-back plunges by Williams.

So the Tigers made it to the halftime locker room up 14-3 despite losing the time of possession battle, 21:43 to 8:17.

In the end, it was more frustration for senior like Travis Swanson, with tears in his eyes leaving his home stadium for the last time.

"It was emotional, frustrating," Swanson said. "It was a rough senior night.

"I was upset at the end. We just didn't take advantage of our opportunities, capitalize when we had a chance. We were driving, driving, making some good plays. We just couldn't make the most of our chances."

The fight seemed to be there from the start and held steady until the end, unlike some recent losses.

"I think we've fought before tonight, but we made more plays tonight," Swanson said. "Just not enough.

"I hope people don't lose faith in this team or these coaches, not for a second. It's coming, but it's just not all there right now."

Senior fullback Kiero Small talked of the emotion, too.

"It was my last time in this place and it was emotional with my parents making it here for the first time," he said. "But my team fought. They showed the fighters mentality and kept swinging until the end.

"Every loss is tough, but this one is the last one in this stadium and we had it, right there for us. We have to punch the ball in when we get to the red zone. We can't turn the ball over. They are simple things that can be corrected, but the good thing is they can be corrected. We need to see if we can correct them and get some wins."

Defensive end Chris Smith, another senior, pointed to Bielema's tricks with a nod towards the other sideline where Gus Malzahn patrolled.

"I probably shouldn't say this, but I did get a little laugh at that," Smith said. "You've got two good coaches there. Coach Bielema is not going to back down one bit. I'm glad our coach came back with some tricks.

"Our coach is vocal and it's because he believes in us."

There was talk about belief in Allen, who battled through another injury. Bielema called it "a gaping hole" in his shin. Toughness is Allen's middle name, players said.

"He's tough," Small said of his quarterback. "If he can be that tough, it gives us inspiration. He was stapled up. He's a tough guy. We all know that. We have to be tough for him.

"We all know that the quarterback is going to get the criticism. It's always easy for everyone to do that, but I'm in Brandon's camp 100 percent."

Bielema added, "Obviously, he gives us our best chance. For him to come back into the game and play the way he did was impressive."

Williams said there was no quit in the Hogs.

"Coach Bielema tells us not to give up or give in," he said. "Our running backs coach, Joel Thomas, told me before that last drive, not to give up. I thought the blocking from the line, the wide receivers -- they didn't give up, either. You have to run as hard as you can.

"Coach B preaches to fight until the end. It just is frustrating because we didn't get enough breaks, make enough plays. This was a close game if we could have capitalized on our chances."

The frustration was tempered by the young players stepping up. Smith said he noticed Ellis becoming the leader of the defense in practice through the last two weeks.

"It's frustrating for me because it's at the end, but there are so many bright young players that you see coming like Brooks," Smith said. "Last week, as he became comfortable at middle linebacker, he became our leader. I'm telling you, he's very smart, surprising for a true freshman.

"I think he's even surprised the coaches. He's making checks before they tell him. He's learned it and getting better every play. It's going to be very bright for him. The mike linebacker needs to be your leader and he's that. He's been very impressive in the last two weeks.

"Korliss Marshall, he fired me up with that kickoff runback. I went and found him and told him I was going to make a play and that led to my sack. I don't see guys quitting. Now we have to go get some wins."

Perhaps the fog is lifting from the Arkansas program.

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