The last time Arkansas had a road game against an SEC foe, it gave defending SEC champion Auburn all it wanted on its home turf – for a half.
Razorback head coach Bret Bielema is curious to see how much his team – which has won three straight blowouts – has improved since the Aug. 30th season opener and he'll get his wish Saturday when Arkansas (3-1, 0-1) and No. 7 Texas A&M (4-0, 1-0) meet in the resumption of the Southwest Classic in Arlington, Texas.
It's a game that will be played inside the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium at 2:30 p.m and will be nationally televised by CBS with the Razorbacks coming off 52-14 win over Northern Illinois and the Aggies having pounded SMU 58-6.
“Obviously we’re happy to get a win this past weekend,” Bielema said on Wednesday's SEC Teleconference. “Came out relatively injury free. I think the big thing for us now as we resume SEC play, we had the opener against Auburn and didn’t play well for four quarters, but did some positive things. We need to take it on the road and go to Dallas and play our game for four quarters and see where we can go after that. Very, very talented A&M team that has picked up right where they left off a year ago. They’re very well coached in everything they’re doing and we’re excited about the opportunity to face them.”
Bielema said that linebackers Brooks Ellis and Randy Ramsey and safety Rohan Gaines – all injured in last week's win – will be good to go on Saturday as will senior wide receiver Demetrius Wilson, who missed the contest with an ankle injury.
“Brooks practiced a full day yesterday,” Bielema said. “We limited him a little bit in contact, and he was very frustrated by that. So he's full go today. Not having any problems there. Demetrius practiced as well. He went through a limited part of the individual because we wanted to save him and see how he panned out during practice. He went through the whole team period versus scout. So those two guys are in full effect.
“… Oh, Rohan Gaines, no problem,” Bielema added. “He practiced yesterday, I think he had three picks during practice. So he was moving around. I was pimping him a little bit. His face, when I went out on the field on Saturday and rolled him over, was priceless. He had some of those little black granules form the field all over his face, and he was holding his shoulder. It was kind a mild stinger he rebounded from pretty quickly.
“Randy Ramsey, no problems,” Bielema continued. “He tweaked, it was actually the other ankle. We've modified his shoes and his tape job. He should be in full effect. He really practiced well yesterday. We'll involve him, because he's back being healthy now, we're actually going to involve him on some special teams as well. Excited to see that play out.”
Arkansas has won three straight games, but is still riding a 13-game SEC losing streak that goes back to 2012.
“Well, I think any of the things that you go through in life, others view as a failure we try to view them as an opportunity to learn and we had some opportunities last year to do some things well, but in the long run didn’t have a very productive season in the wins and losses,” Bielema said.
“But I think our guys learned from those experiences,” Bielema added. “One of our edges here in our program that we always talk about is we earn everything. This year we’ve earned a few things by what we did during the course of the week to give us a chance to have success on Saturday. I’m excited to see where it’s going to play out in this game against A&M to see exactly how far we’ve come.”
Bielema pointed to offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert as coaches who have led the improvement.
“I think (Chaney) has done an outstanding job of kind of blending a little bit of his past with my past and some of the coaches on our staff to give us what Arkansas is today,” Bielema said. “And the other guy, Ben Herbert, our strength coach, does a tremendous job once we get kids on campus.
“...As far as where we are in the process, we’re probably still another recruiting class away offensive line wise,” Bielema added. “Maybe depth at fullback and tight end and wide receiver to get to where we need to be an operating as efficiently as I’d like. But we’re definitely stepping in the right direction.”
Texas A&M lost quarterback Johnny Manziel to the NFL, but doesn't seem to have missed a beat with Kenny Hill stepping in at the spot.
“Well there’s a difference, obviously, the big thing is Kenny is a quarterback in his own right,” Bielema said. "He doesn’t have to live in the past of what Johnny was able to do there. He’s a very, very talented quarterback.
“I think he is a different quarterback in the fact that he’s very good at what he has strengths of,” Bielema added. “He sits in the pocket. He does move around, but is an accurate guy. I think he’s got a command on the field that’s exceptional for the number of games that he’s started.
“He’s got some really good players around him as they were a year ago even though they lost some to the draft, their O-Line, their wide receivers, I think everybody involved gives them a chance to have success and they utilize them very, very well.”
Arkansas has 11 Texas players on its roster that are looking to go 2-0 in that state this season, having already won at Texas Tech 49-28.
“As far as our Texas guys, I think it means a lot to anybody to return to their home state to play the game,” Bielema said. “A lot of times during recruiting when you go to an outside state, there's a reason you did it. Either maybe they didn't recruit you or you wanted to return to your home state and have success.
“I think there's no greater example of that than last year. Again, just getting to know my roster, sometimes I didn't even know if a kid was from Texas or Oklahoma or Arkansas or wherever. So to see a number of our kids play well in those games that they feel are close to their heart, I learned a lot about them and I'm expecting our guys from Texas to play well on Saturday.”
Bielema Anxious To Gauge Improvement
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