Monday Grid Update, 9/22

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is working to both build up the confidence of his Razorbacks (3-1, 0-0) and keep it humble as they take a three-game winning streak into Saturday's CBS nationally-televised SEC contest with No. 4 Texas A&M (4-0, 1-0) at the Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Arkansas may very well be one of the top 25 football teams in the country – something that is a reasonable thought since it is ranked 22nd nationally by Saturday Down South and 25th in the CBS power poll.

But in reality there are only two big polls that matter and the Razorbacks are the only member of the seven-team SEC West not currently in the Associated Press or ESPN Top 25 rankings.

That certainly could change – and all seven would no doubt be in the rankings - if the Razorbacks (3-1) could upset No. 6 Texas A&M (4-0, 1-0) in a CBS nationally-televised contest this Saturday at 2:30 p.m in the Southwest Classic inside the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium.

“I'm very well aware that we're the only team in the SEC West that's not ranked,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. “ I get that, and deservedly so. We haven't done anything to deserve that. But you're beginning to establish some value to your name that has nothing to do with dollars. It has to do with what people are saying and what people talk about you. We will earn what we get this Saturday by what we do this week.”

Bielema noted that he sent a congratulatory text to Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn on his win at Kansas State – which he knows is a hard place to play because he once coached there – and let it be known that he is fully cognizant of what the SEC is all about now.

“There is a respect in this league that you don't really understand until you are involved in it and I truly understand it a lot more this year than I did last year,” Bielema added.

Bielema's team has gained its share of respect the past two weeks with a 49-28 win at Texas Tech and then a 52-14 humbling of a visiting Northern Illinois team that had won 26 straight regular season games, a nation's best 17 road games and was only a 14-point road underdog.

“I think Saturday after the game I gave credit where credit was due,” Bielema said. “But when you take a look at the film, there’s some things we definitely needed to correct and move forward. I truly do appreciate and hope that someday beating Northern Illinois isn’t really a big deal. It was a big deal because we haven’t won at home. But it’s a team that we should expect to have success on. When you get to a point as a coach that you feel like that can happen, you can really start to treat your players a little bit differently.”

That includes an improving Razorback defense that he still wants to keep coming forward and not feel too good about itself.

“Well, I think first and foremost they've built that confidence because of what they've done and you don't want to take that away from them,” Bielema said. “ But I do think -- kind of what was referenced earlier, you have to kind of remind them, what have you done?”

Arkansas is 3-1 at this point, same as last season before the Razorbacks would go on and lose their last nine straight games and have lost 13 straight league games.

“...We’ve made progress, we’ve done certain things better,” Bielema continued. “I think, without a doubt, our guys have a lot more confidence than they maybe had a year ago. But until you’ve done it on a big stage and against a quality opponent like we’re going to see Saturday, it’s really just talk.”

Texas A&M was expected to take a step back this season with the loss of quarterback Johnny Manziel, wideout Mike Evans and offensive lineman Jake Matthews – all first-round draft choices – but that has not been the case.

The visiting Aggies whipped South Carolina 52-28 on college football's opening night this season have since blitzed a trio of overmatched foes in Lamar (73-3), Rice (38-10) and SMU (58-6).

“It's going to be big this week obviously a tremendous challenge going to AT&T Stadium playing A&M, a team that's obviously a Top Ten team for a reason,” Bielema said. “ They are very, very talented. They really haven't left off much from where they were a year ago.They lost some key players but have been able to sustain their success.

“It's a trophy game for us,” Bielema added. “ To be able to have that in the mix, I think is fun. I love trophy games and to being involved with that  to be able to play in the environment we are going to play in in a pro stadium when all of our guys are very aware of the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones and the history that he has here. So a chance to honor that and you know this is our fifth guaranteed opportunity.”

“I talk all the tine to our guys about taking advantage of opportunities when they come whether it's the guys I talked about that took advantage of a playing opportunity or also a team taking advantage of the opportunity we had last Saturday,” Bielema added. “This is our fifth one, we are guaranteed 12 every year and what we do with those opportunities can get us more but for us to stay focused it's a 1-0 mentality and a great chance this weekend.”

Arkansas' defense should benefit from playing three hurry-up offenses this season.

"Now their execution and their detail and their personnel is better,” Bielema said. “But the rapidness we see at the extent of what calls we're going to make, it's just kind of how do you line up and make sure you're ready to play when the ball's snapped. And I think that was really good. And I think our guys are, we're getting our hands on a lot of balls. We're making a lot of pass breakups, we're making a lot of nice collisions, we're making a lot of nice negative-yard plays with both our defensive line and secondary and linebackers, so those are all positive things.”

Interestingly enough, Arkansas (25 touchdowns in 262 plays this season and Texas A&M (29 TDs in every 304 plays) are both scoring a touchdown every 10.48 plays.

Former Wisconsin coach Bielema and former Purdue assistant Sumlin – know each other well from their time in the Big 10.

“He just obviously is a very gifted football coach," Bielema said. "He’s always had success. Obviously, an offensive coach that has been able to continue that as a head coach. I think, just recruiting against him for a long time, he’s got great rapport with his players. A fun guy to be around, and you know, what’s fun for me know in this stage of my career, I’m able to share a lot of stories with the coaches now I’m competing with that I knew as assistant coaches where in the past I never really had that opportunity. So, it’s a fun, competitive environment for us.”

Bielema noted that wide receiver Demetrius Wilson (ankle) would return to practice on Tuesday and that linebacker Brooks Ellis, safety Rohan Gaines and linebacker Randy Ramsey – who were all injured during Saturday's game – should be good to go on Saturday.

The game being CBS is nice, but not as big a deal as playing in Cowboys Stadium, which was dreamed up by former Razorback player and current Dallas owner Jerry Jones.

“No disrespect to CBS and anybody affiliated with CBS, I don’t think our guys know what channel the game is on,” Bielema said. “They just know that they’re on TV. That’s today’s kids, though. They just flip through until they find what they want.

“But I think the fact to play in Jerry Jones’, in Dallas Cowboys Stadium, we’ve have certain former players come through here and talk a lot about, when Jim Lindsey came up and talked last spring, he talked about being a Razorback and what that means,” Bielema added.

“I don’t know if this is true or not, but you could pull into Dallas Cowboys Stadium and tell them that you’re a Razorback and Jerry will come and see you,” Bielema added. “I don’t know if that will happen or not. But he said that. And I think it means a lot to our guys. I mean that with a due respect. I think that there’s a certain fondness among Razorbacks and among Hogs that once a Hog, always a Hog and that carries a lot of weight and we’re excited to go there.”

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