Robb Smith likened the anticipation for the season opener against defending SEC champ Auburn to "waiting for a wedding. Everyone is excited and ready to go."
That was the mood Wednesday as Arkansas put the finishing touches on fall camp with their last long practice.
It was a confident bunch of Razorbacks who came to the media room on the day, the defensive day of the week. Captain Trey Flowers said he spoke to the team recently about playing like a champion. The generally soft spoken Flowers is a native of Huntsville, Ala., going home to play against Auburn.
"I talked about preparation," Flowers said. "I talked about refusing to lose. It's about doing everything right, from the way you handle academics, the way you walk on the street, even chewing bubble gum. You train your mind to be a champion."
Confidence seems to be the key word throughout camp for a team that has lost nine straight SEC games and won only seven of 24 games over the last two seasons.
"We are not focused on ending a losing streak," Flowers said. "We are focused on just trying to win games. To do that, you focus one play at a time."
But it's hard to do anything without hearing the negativity of the losing streak. Flowers said he has heard enough of the SEC Network analysts predict their season.
"I hear it, but I don't listen," he said. "It may be on in the background, the SEC Network, but I don't listen.
"What I know, they are not inside these walls. They are not with us at practice. They are on the outside. I understand what goes on the outside will be negative and have doubts about us. We have no doubts. I don't pay attention to them."
The confidence of the team has been constructed, the defensive coordinator, with calculated methods. Smith said everyone has taken their cue from head coach Bret Bielema.
"First, Bret knows who we are and how to play to our strengths," Smith said. "Our players know them, too. We do have strengths. Our players believe in what we do."
Secondary coach Clay Jennings said he was careful not to pre-judge any player. He said that was the first step towards gaining confidence of the players and installing a new system.
"I think that helped their confidence," he said. "You have a clean slate, you have a start towards that.
"The one thing we like to tell them, volume reflects confidence. We don't yell at them except when there is a lack of effort. You know what, there hasn't had to be any yelling because the effort has been there. That creates confidence. And they know that when we step on the game field, I'm their biggest cheerleader. Honestly, we have not had to scream at this bunch. I love the effort."
Flowers joins Darius Philon, the starter at tackle just to his inside, as Alabama natives going home. Philon hails from Mobile. Both have gotten help from teammates to leave a vast number of tickets for relatives.
"I honestly don't know how many," Philon said. "A lot. I've had teammates who didn't need them help. But most everyone has someone coming, so it's not easy. Everyone is excited for this one."
Flowers estimated his list "at 60 plus. I hope to show out in front of them."
That would be like his last trip to Auburn, an Arkansas win with Flowers contributing the key plays, three and a half sacks.
"I look forward to going back down there and get the same result, but it isn't about me getting sacks," he said. "It will be about Arkansas getting a win. I am not going down there to replay that game, but it was an amazing game."
Smith said training camp has fallen in place the way it was planned.
“It's been good," he said. "It is exciting to get into a full week of game preparation. Our guys have been locked in and I think they’ve been engaged.
"We put a couple good days in, even on Sunday. We’ll take things out tomorrow, polish them up and be ready to go on Saturday.”
Smith knows what Auburn's offense represents.
“They’re a challenge," he said. "They can threaten you in a lot of ways. I think they’re very good upfront. No matter who is playing quarterback they’re going to be effective. They can run the football and have great speed and athleticism on the perimeter so we’re going to have to defend all areas of the field.”
The first game always presents some new challenges in itself, the adjustments that come from seeing something that wasn't in the tape from last year.
“There’s a little unknown there, but I feel really good about the way our guys have prepared," he said. "I know they’re anxious to get out on the field and play a football game. It’s going to be our first time doing it together but it is what it is. We have to be ready to go and hit the ground running when the ball is kicked off.”
The defense is relatively healthy, with the main exception cornerback Tevin Mitchel being doubtful with a hamstring injury. Defensive end Deatrich Wise is full go.
“Deatrich is a guy that flashed early on in camp," Smith said. "I think he has responded well to treatment and we’re looking forward. I think he is going to have a big game and help us out in a lot of ways on Saturday.”
There are several freshmen in the mix for playing time on defense, including corner Henre' Tolliver and linebackers Randy Ramsey, Dwayne Eugene and Khalia Hackett.
“They’re anxious to go," Smith said. "I’m sure there are some jitters there. I think they’ve had a good week of preparation. I think Coach Bielema has done a great job managing them and having a plan for them. I’m anxious to see some of those guys when the live bullets fly.”
Wednesday Grid Update, 8/27
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