As a studio analyst for CBS on Saturday, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema had a good look at the atmosphere at Ole Miss during its 23-17 upset of Alabama.
It included an estimated 120,000 in The Grove tailgating area, the ESPN Game Day crew and a very spirited super fan in singer Katy Perry and a sellout crowd of over 60,000 that helped lift the Rebels to a win that vaulted them to third-place tie nationally – along with arch rival Mississippi State – in this week's Associated Press poll.
Bielema is hoping that he sees some of the same fervor this week as the SEC Game Day crew comes to Fayetteville and the school honors its lone football national title team when the Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2) host No. 8 Alabama (4-1, 1-1) at 5 p.m. before a sell-out crowd of over 70,000.
“In all phases, any time we take the field, we encourage loud sound and any way to make this place as loud as it can possibly be – I think with a 5 o'clock kickoff everybody should have the proper motivation to get in that stadium, be loud and have a lot of fun with the environment,” Bielema said.
“It's obviously a sellout, the first one I believe since I have been here and should be very exciting to be a part of,” Bielema added. “I think our kids will be pumped.”
It certainly could be a monumental win for a rebuilding Arkansas program just as it was for Ole Miss, who had lost 10 straight to the Crimson Tide.
“We are a 3-2 football team looking to get a little respect and this is a great week to do it,” Bielema added later. “Alabama is a very good football team that played in a very hard-fought game on Saturday. I thought that was really fun to watch and see two teams play the way they did down the stretch.
“It is a tremendous opportunity now for our guys to make a comment or a little bit of a statement in the SEC West, too,” Bielema added. “It has been well-documented now that it is one of the most ranked and highly-thought of divisions in all of the conferences in college football, probably in the history of college football.
“To be a part of it is another opportunity to showcase what we've got,” Bielema continued.
Arkansas will also be honoring that 1964 national championship team against a school that also claims the 1964 national title even though it lost in its bowl game.
“It is an exciting week,” Bielema said. “When I first got here I heard about the 1964 national championship team and they were going to honor them in this game. That was brought to my attention quite awhile ago and every since arriving here I have got to know quite a few of those players – some that I knew before that I didn't even know that were connected to Arkansas. To have that connection with them now is going to be awesome.”
That includes former Arkansas head coach and athletic director Frank Broyles, former Arkansas player and current Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and two former Arkansas assistants and Super Bowl winning head coaches of the Dallas Cowboys in Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer.
“To get to know Coach Broyles coming in and then I had no idea all of the external -- you know I've met Coach Switzer a couple of times, and all that goes into that,” Bielema said. “Jimmy and I had lunch. I reached out to him. It was cool to get a phone call from him last weekend, after the A&M thing. I was out on the practice field in New Orleans and he made reference that him and Bradshaw were watching it. I'm just picturing them watching the game on Saturday in California when he's out there with his work and he's talking about how close we were. Just a lot of positive encouraging things there.
“Then obviously Jerry Jones last week to talk to the team and know that he's coming back to be a part of this whole thing,” Bielema added. “ Then several other guys just in the community, but to have some guys of stature that our guys can relate to to be coming to watch this weekend I think is pretty awesome.”
Arkansas – which is coming off a bye week after a heartbreaking 35-28 overtime loss to Texas A&M - has lost its last two games to Alabama by identical 52-0 scores, but that is not something Bielema says he or his team is focused on.
“I think people with the ability to reflect on what happened a year ago other than to just look at a score and see where it is aren't people who aren't moving forward,” Bielema said. “People that think to past history a lot – especially negative ones and not use it other than the learning experience that it was - kind of live in the past. That is obviously not where we want to live.
“There are a lot of guys in our room that are playing that had nothing to do with that score a year ago,” Bielema said. “Definitely me, I wasn't involved in the year ahead of that. There hasn't been any of that. I would say I would be more worried the issue of the A&M game and how it ended for us to move forward. That would be my biggest concern.”
Alabama is 4-3 in its last seven games, certainly not up to the standard of a team that has been the standard bearer in college football under head coach Nick Saban.
“You know I think Alabama is a tough football team coming off a win or a loss,” Bielema said. “ I did the research as well and realized they had not lost two conference games back to back since his first year. Only time it happened is obviously is 2008 and then last year they did it in a bowl game after the last conference game.
“Whatever it is however it is the one thing you see about Alabama is they stand the test of time and especially under Nick they are very, very good every game,” Bielema added. “There is not a game where they bring really good players who are prepared in a very good way and play extremely well.”
Arkansas has lost 14 straight SEC games – dating back to 2012 – but has earned respect with its play in its last four SEC contests.
“I think that the one thing that I know going into this game is that we’re a much improved football team,” Bielema said. “We definitely are a lot better at a variety of different things. I think running the football is one of them. But if you truly look at some of the stuff that Ole Miss capitalized on, I think the kicking game and they threw the ball effectively towards the end of the game especially, that gave them a chance to win it. I think the part that Alabama after a loss and after that, you know that they’re going to take a moment to look back at the games and I’m sure we’ll see not only a few changes, but a different mentality or demeanor from the guys that show up.”
Arkansas will go into the game healthy with wideouts Demetrius Wilson and Drew Morgan and freshman cornerback Henre' Toliver all set to play after being injured.
Bielema also mentioned that Arkansas offensive lineman Dan Skipper, who had penalties that wiped out two Razorback touchdowns against Texas A&M, has switched from number 76 to 63.
“ I’m not trying to hide a 6-foot-10, 325-pound guy. I mean, everybody knows it’s Dan Skipper,” Bielema said. “But I think after having conversations with him and some people involved in the decisions that happen on game day, we just felt that this was kind of going to be a rebirth for him just to, hey, I played a certain way and a certain style in my career here. Now let’s take the good of 76, let’s move him forward. Let’s leave some of the things in the past that’s brought negativity towards it and let’s move forward with a new number and that’s kind of what we’re doing there.”
Monday Grid Update, 10/6
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