Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema has made it very clear to his players and the Razorback fans that he goes into each game expecting to win no matter who the opponent is – which in six of the next seven games will be somebody currently ranked in the top 25.
The second-year Arkansas coach now believes that he's got his team thinking the same way despite a heartbreaking 35-28 overtime loss to No. 6 Texas A&M Saturday in Arlington, Texas, that extended the Razorbacks' SEC losing streak to 14 games.
“We are a 3-2 football team that has lost to two teams that are arguably in the top five that if the playoff were tomorrow, I think those two teams would be in contention to be in the top four teams in the country,” Bielema said. “We have lost two very tough games to them.
“We have to continue to forge forward, but I think a lot of it is going to be determined – to be quite honest – for me now because I don't know if a year ago, even though we would get them back and they would play hard, I don't know if they expected to win those things,” Bielema added. “Now there is that expectation. I know how our guys are thinking. I am hoping and praying they are going to keep that faith because we will obviously need everything for Alabama next week.”
Indeed Arkansas – who got back to practice on Tuesday and has this Saturday off – will host No. 3 Alabama on Oct. 11 at a time that will be announced next Sunday.
The bye might be coming at an excellent time after the heartbreaking loss.
“It was a very disappointed sideline, it was a disappointed locker room,” Bielema said. “ A very quiet flight home. I obviously wasn't around them Saturday night, but I think sometimes people probably worry about what their kids are going to do on a Saturday night, but I wasn't worried about what our kids were going to do. I knew they were hurting.
“Sunday we have basically a soft tissue recovery for the guys that play and I asked (strength and conditioning coach) Ben Herbert, I said, when I saw him after that session, or those two sessions on Sunday, I said 'how were they,'” Bielema added. “He said, 'kind of what you think. Some of them were really ready to move on. Some of them you could tell it was still lingering, and some of them just didn't know what to do.' So we didn't do much with them at all on Monday. We can't by NCAA rule, that was our day off.
“Today I think is an important day,” Bielema continued. “We've got to go back and watch that film and take it as a learning experience. But I'm really excited to see how they hit the practice field today.”
The Razorbacks led 28-14 early in the fourth quarter against the Aggies and had the ball with a chance to go up three touchdowns and in essence put the game away, but had several errors that snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
"We obviously let an opportunity get away from us on Saturday night but one that I think was still a positive step in the right direction," Bielema said. "I thought a lot of our guys went over and did some things I hadn't seem them do. The bottom line is there were some very controllable things for us to be able to control this week and get corrected this week that happened during the course of the game."
Bielema, who noted the field goal competition was now open again between former incumbent John Henson (who is 0-of-2 and missed from 44 yards on Saturday), Cole Hedlund, Lane Saling and Adam McFain, noted that he had not lost in that fashion before according to a stat he heard on CBS.
“When I got home on Saturday night I was listening to the TV and heard that I was 34 or 38-0 or whatever it was in the fourth quarter with a 14-point lead and that really caused me to take a look at me,” Bielema said. “What did I do that was different in my approach? And it just reaffirmed to me that I need to continue to stress the things that I know win. I know we have been in that situation 38 previous times and had success and we will do it again. We just need to get everybody buying into what we are doing, not that they weren't, we just need to execute it better.
“There is a reason I left Sunday night and was gone last night and I am going to leave Thursday and be gone on Friday and be gone Saturday and that's because recruiting makes a difference in our program every day,” Bielema added. “Player development makes a difference in our program every day and that's what we will continue to do and hopefully get our guys going in the right direction.”
Bielema, who has been and will be out recruiting this week as well as being an analyst in CBS' studio on Saturday, knows exactly why his team faltered down the stretch.
“I think the area that tends to get us into trouble overall without a doubt is our offensive and defensive line depth," Bielema said. "This week in recruiting – I am only going to be home two nights this week and it is a huge emphasis for us in recruiting.”
Bielema noted that his second team will get first-team reps this week as the Razorbacks attempt to develop depth with their younger players.
"We'll go through a pretty intense practice today," Bielema said. " Tomorrow will be like a full throttle, full padded get after it practice and Thursday we'll back off it a little bit and concentrate a lot on Alabama prep. Friday we will condition them and we will give them Saturday off. So am excited about that, we have just got to keep doing what we are doing."
"Player development makes a difference in our program every day and that's what we will continue to do and hopefully get our guys going in the right direction," Bielema added.
They'll also be some reps given late in practice to guys redshirting or deep on the depth chart.
"At the end of practice, both Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, what we’ve scheduled is anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes of development work where we’re actually practicing and repping and teaching the guys that don’t play for us," Bielema said. "Anybody that really has either not been part of the 70-man travel roster or has been part of the travel roster and plays less than 20 plays a game.”
Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins - Arkansas' top two tailbacks - will be in non-contact jerseys this week with Korliss Marshall getting tons of reps.
They only thing they’re going to hit is the bed," Bielema said. "I mean, they’re going to rep, they’re going to run, they’re going to work individual, but they’re in green jerseys and we won’t touch them. I’ve always done that once our running backs reach a certain level or certain status in my eyes of the way they’re playing, and they’re playing both so efficient.
"Korliss, on the flip side of that, is going to get every rep," Bielema added. "I grabbed him on Sunday and hit him on it, and I think he’s excited because he knows he needs the reps and the practice. So, I’m very excited to see him at the end ... Because he can definitely help us continue to ... Especially when we’re starting to tackle that fourth quarter and what we need to do. He needs to be a change-of-pace guy for us.”
On the injury front, Arkansas freshman cornerback Henre' Toliver will not practice this week after being hit in the eye by an errant Brandon Allen pass early in the first quarter that caused him to miss the rest of the game.
"Henre Toliver got hit by a football we threw during the first quarter that came out of bounds and hit Henre straight in the eye," Bielema said. "Unbelievably lucky to not have further damage. But they came up to me in the middle of the first quarter and told me he had been struck in the eye with a football. I said, 'Well why didn't he have his helmet on?' And they explained to me it was while he was on the sidelines.
"So we lost him by friendly fire which hurt our corner rotation," Bielema added. "Obviously he started the game and had been playing really well for us. Everything has been updated and is really, really positive. I don't know if we will get him for practice this week but they were very concerned. He was actually in the hospital in Dallas to get cleared to fly on the plane ride home."
Bielema revealed on Tuesday that senior Demetrius Wilson was deemed not ready last week and that sophomore Drew Morgan had suffered a dislocated knee cap late in the week.
"Last week on Thursday on kind of a routine goal-line play, Drew Morgan was catching a slant route, fell down and dislocated his kneecap which obviously had a significant impact on our wide receiver depth. But the guys who filled in did a nice job for him. So those guys who didn't play in the game should be back with us.
"Everybody else who went over there came back with us healthy. We'll use this week to kind of gather ourselves and some guys who have been a little bit banged up get them back healthy."
They will also use the week to determined who will kick field goals against Alabama.
"We're definitely opening up the competition," Bielema said. " Lane Sailing had actually hit some kicks too... We're definitely today, tomorrow and Thursday, as well as next Tuesday and Wednesday going to take a look at a variety of our kickers."
Hedlund was the USA Today first-team high school kicker last season and is the nation's career-record holder for number of kicks, but was edged by Henson during fall camp.
"If it was even close, normally you tend to go with the younger player," Bielema said. "But John was stroking the ball just extremely well. I want to say in the first three weeks he had one miss. We do, every day at the beginning of practice we kick four field goals with our ones and twos. We machine-gun fire them and we do them up front to try to create a little bit of a stressor. I'm yelling at them, everybody's yelling at them. He had been fairly solid. But obviously last week and then this week causes us to make a further evaluation of what the situation is."
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