When Arkansas hosts Nicholls this Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, it will be a match-up of two teams that have lost a combined 17 straight games.
But head coach Bret Bielema – whose team has lost 10 straight since he won his first three at the helm of the Razorbacks – sure doesn't sound like a defeated guy on the SEC Teleconference on Wednesday as his program look for its first win since last Sept. 14 against Southern Miss.
“It's an opportunity to play a team that has done some good things in the past, but obviously is in a bit of a streak like we are,” Bielema said. “We are not going to run away or shy away from a 10-game losing streak dating back to last year, but at the same account we tried to really structure our guys into a philosophy and a belief that they have got to take pride in what you are doing, how they are working, their daily craft and we will get them to where they want to be in the end.
“I am excited every day as a head coach and I think our players and our staff know that we are getting close to where we want to be and until we get there, we are not going to be satisfied and once we are there, we are going to push it to a higher level. Excited about this weekend.”
Nicholls (0-1) – formerly known as Nicholls State but which has asked for the media to drop the State reference to its school – comes in off a 44-16 loss to Air Force in which it gave up over 530 yards rushing.
Arkansas (0-1) was tied at No. 6 Auburn 21-21 at halftime last Saturday before the Tigers scored the game's final 24 points – 17 coming after there were two minutes left in the third quarter.
“Obviously disappointed in the loss at Auburn, but I thought our guys – in certain phases of the game – played very, very well,” Bielema said. “We didn't do some things that we needed to do, especially in the second half in all phases – offense, defense, special teams.”
Bielema did want to give credit to Auburn, the defending SEC Champion.
“First of all, they are very well coached and their guys understood what they were doing,” Bielema said. “The part that we were unable to do in the second half that we were able to do in the first half was obviously run the football. I think after the rain delay we knew we were going two minutes (offense) and it became a different ball game. We kind of did some things to ourselves, too. We made some mistakes in the second half, a couple of plays where we had 10 guys doing the right thing and one guy broke down... it was just an inability to execute.
“That is what we had to take a closer look at and I think the biggest thing is that winning teams do – teams who know how to win football games -is they play with consistency,” Bielema said. “I think the biggest turning point by far was the hit on the quarterback that sent the ball into the air that turned into a interception, which turned into seven points going the other way. It really wasn't the same ball game after that.”
Hunter Henry missed a block that allowed Robenson Therezie to rack up quarterback Brandon Allen, who had spotted Demetrius Wilson wide open behind the Auburn defense for what likely would have been a touchdown that would have tied it 28-28.
“That one came right under the chin and he was able to bounce back from that and come out and be competitive and hopefully our team can continue to grow,” Bielema said. “Nobody felt worse than Hunter Henry, who gave up the pressure on that one. What we have to do is respond better. He in particular got really down after that play. He knew he missed the block that got the quarterback hit and it hurt him.”
Bielema had mentioned earlier in the week that he wanted to have a pitch count (number of snaps) for each position and elaborated more on that Wednesday.
“It really is down to a case-by-case basis,” Bielema said. “I think there are some guys – to be quite honest that could handle the reps that we gave them or a little bit more. I think you look at a guy like (tight end) Jeremy Sprinkle. Jeremy played eight snaps from the line of scrimmage and was involved in two phases of the kicking game and excelled in everything he did. So we want to increase both his special teams role and his plays from the line of scrimmage.
“On the flip side of it, we may have had some interior offensive and defensive linemen that may have took 50 or 60-plus snaps and we have tried to explain that the people who are going to be coming in for them helps us get to where we want to go,” Bielema added. “It's not a slap in the face. What we are trying to tell our guys is to look at it as a way that we are trying to maximize you. We want you to be the best you every play and sometimes that means you have to play less snaps. There is a lot of good that can come out of it, but the proof is in the pudding on Saturday and obviously each kid handles it a little bit different.”
Arkansas senior cornerback Tevin Mitchel, who did not play last week due to a hamstring issue, will not suit up for the game and for the first time Bielema broached the subject of a possible redshirt season.
“Tevin is in week two of what I said of (being out) a couple to three weeks,” Bielema said. “He is getting better and I think he is excited about the progress, but obviously he has a redshirt year available to him if that ends up being the case. But we are not ready to cross that bridge yet. I think that overall our health was very, very well. A couple of guys that didn't get a lot of reps going into the game didn't have any problems coming out of it. A guy like Deatrich Wise and a couple of guys that were limited the week before.
“That was a physical game and it was a long game and to come out of it the way we did shows the resilience of our group. Especially after a loss guys tend to get a little bit worn down, but these guys persevered.”
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