Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said on Monday at his noon media briefing that the team has gotten healthy. The Hogs will be full go when LSU comes to town Saturday night.
All of the walking wounded practiced Sunday night except backup offensive tackle Cameron Jefferson, recovering from minor knee surgery. He could be cleared to practice Tuesday, the Arkansas head coach said Monday.
Martrell Spaight, Henre' Toliver, Dan Skipper and Jonathan Williams had been hobbled last week, but are set to go this week.
"From an injury standpoint we got guys back which was huge," Bielema said. "Henre' Toliver has been full go since last Tuesday on and has looked really, really good.
"A couple of guys that got banged up in that Mississippi State game, Martrell Spaight, Dan Skipper, all those guys came back strong. J-Will had a really good practice on Sunday. There were four or five guys we really didn't know what they would do on Sunday and they all jumped in and went 100 percent. So we really should be pretty close to full strength.
"Cameron Jefferson is not back with us yet but there is a chance of him practicing Tuesday with us and see what he can do going into the game on Saturday. But really feel good about that and excited about this week and the opportunity to play a rivalry game for the Boot and everything that involves."
Bielema was familiar with trophy games as a player at Iowa and as a coach at Wisconsin. There were trophies involved almost every week in many Big 10 games.
“If you have a trophy, it's a very nice thing to display,” Bielema said. “In our case, we do not have The Boot. We'll talk about The Boot. We'll show them the (empty) display case and make them aware of what they don't have. It's a big part of college football. It's been a big part of my coaching history.
“Again, it represents more than a victory. It represents something for the state to get behind. It represents a victory for an entire year. It's not just a mark in the win-loss column, it's a victory and a trophy that stays with you until you have a chance to defend it again.”
Bielema thought back to last year's loss at LSU when the Hogs had a chance to win The Boot. And he looked ahead to this weekend when the weather forecast is for cold and a chance of wintry mix.
"I think a lot of times blessings truly do come in the disguise of failure," Bielema said. "And although we lost that game a year ago I think we learned what we have to do to move forward. I think we made a lot of progress this year. I think it's kind of fun.
"We told our guys last night, at least I did, that, 'Listen, we are getting a little chilly around here. The weather is getting a little closer to maybe what it will be like next Saturday or this Saturday on game time.'
"So we will embrace (the weather). We are going to embrace it. We went out last night and we will go out Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Get out in the elements and embrace the chill. I looked at LSU and they don't have that same weather which could hopefully benefit us. But I also tell our fans we want a live crowd on Saturday night, 7 o'clock. So if you need to go out and walk around this week in some of the cold weather this week to get used to it and acclimated to show up and be rowdy, I would love it."
Trey Flowers was invited to Senior Bowl. Bielema gave him his letter on Monday morning. Bielema was choked up as he talked about Flowers with the media. They had a good visit on where the team sits ahead of the LSU game after the bye week.
"I asked Trey how are the guys?" Bielema said. "He told me, 'Coach, the bye week couldn't have come at a better time. They are all good.' The Senior Bowl is a cool honor, it's the best of the best."
Bielema said Skipper handled all of the work load Sunday night after sitting out some drills last week with a nagging ankle injury.
"We have some individual things that we thought he might not participate in last night, but he didn't bat an eye and did it all," Bielema said. "He did well. He did everything last night."
Bielema said Skipper has progressed mentally, too, from a low point in the two weeks after the loss to Texas A&M when he had two key penalties.
"That was a real tough time for him," Bielema said. "We had some meetings. As a head coach, you want to talk to a guy you see hurting. Sam Pittman had meetings with him, too. The change to (number 63) has been good. He responded to that. It cleared the air.
"I think it's been hard on him in some ways, because he's never played in reserve. For example, when he was a pitcher, he could just throw at the guy if he wanted. We can't do that. You still want to play with an edge. That's how he lives and we want him to keep playing that way. But he's eliminated the penalties.
Bielema said he is lobbying for other seniors to receive invitations to all-star games, including linebacker Martrell Spaight and safety Alan Turner. He also mentioned punter Sam Irwin-Hill, tight end AJ Derby and snapper Alan D'Appollonio.
Spaight was in the film room Saturday night when Bielema returned from a recruiting trip.
"How many guys are up there doing that on Saturday night?" Bielema said. "That's Martrell."
That was about the time Bielema tuned into the LSU-Alabama game. The Crimson Tide won in overtime.
"You know obviously everybody was looking forward to it but I didn't land in Fayetteville until 9:30 Saturday night," he said. "I was on the road from Wednesday night, we took off after practice, and I didn't get back until 9:30 Saturday night.
"So I literally just watched the fourth quarter live. A great college football game as that game has always been. I thought it was interesting when there was that fumble there at the end they showed the stats. I am well aware of our games when we play these teams but you don't know some of the things that are shared between other teams.
"Obviously Alabama vs. LSU is a long storied game with a lot of history and to see that thing unfold and pan out, hopefully our players learned some lessons from it. We talked about it last night. Going back and watching the film yesterday, obviously a game that was very, very physical, a very well hard-fought game.
"One that was earned in the end by great execution on both sides but I think Alabama to put themselves in that position in the end to win was typical Alabama fashion. And LSU has done a lot of really good things and unfortunately somebody had to lose that game."
Bielema said the weather forecast is interesting. It reminds him of a bowl game against Miami when he was at Wisconsin in Orlando. It was 32, a cold day for that area of Florida. Randy Shannon was coaching for the Hurricane.
“Well, again, I think if you haven’t been in it ... I give Randy a little bit of heat all the time," Bielema said. "I remember when we played Miami in the Orange Bowl, or the Florida Bowl. It was in Orlando.
"An article was out two days before that said this was going to be the coldest game that like 90 percent of his roster had ever played in. And, you know, those guys came out in long sleeves and hoodies and stocking caps, and our guys are running around like it’s spring break, you know? This can kind of be turned this week. I jokingly told the team, ‘Listen, one of the reasons I came to Arkansas was for warm weather. It’s not working out too well.’
"But you’ve got to embrace it for what it is. I think that has certain value as far as in the game. We’ll have heaters available, we’ll make things available for them, whether it be hot packs in their things around their waist, the little ... Where they put their hands. In their socks, whatever it is. But you can’t just sit there and concentrate on the weather. Concentrate on the game and understand you can only control the control-ables.”
It's a big game for the several Louisiana products on the Arkansas team, including Toliver, now back from missing two weeks because of an injured back.
“It means a lot," Bielema said. "I think Henre’ Toliver, I was talking to him last week about when he was coming back, and I was talking to his dad, and Henry Toliver said to me, he goes, ‘Coach, you that boy ain’t going to miss that LSU game. I said, ‘I figured that.’
"It’s just like when our guys, the Alabama guys play Alabama, it’s just like when Texas goes Texas. It’s an ability to go home, hold your head up. There’s so many guys in our program, we recruit traditionally rich programs in Louisiana. Rummel guys are going against some Rummel guys. Some Evangel guys are going against Evangel guys. It’s fun to see those things match up, and the more good players ... Michael Smith has done a nice job for us in Louisiana, and we’re going to hopefully hit that gold mine as much as possible.”
Bielema started a heavy recruiting week with a trip back to Louisiana, much as he did last year during a late season bye week.
"A lot of great things afford to us because of the university and what they believe in supporting us," Bielema said. "Sunday night, we got down grading the (MSU) film, having a team meeting, watching practice. I hopped on the plane with four other coaches, dropped a couple of coaches in Shreveport, headed over to Houston.
"Was in Houston until early Monday morning, then went to Port Arthur. It was kind of fun for me. I was driving on Jimmy Johnson Bloulevard (spelling?), so I took a picture of that and sent him a text. And it was kind of funny to get his response back. And then that day I flew to Provo, Utah, late Monday night, and I had a great recruiting experience out there. Flew back as early as I could early Tuesday morning. The pilots can only fly a certain amount of hours.
"Then we had a great practice Tuesday, great game prep on LSU Wednesday, and then Wednesday night after practice I flew — again, dropped off a couple guys in Little Rock, and then we flew on to Altlanta. I recruited Atlanta, then flew to southern Georgia, then I flew to the West Coast of Florida on Thursday afternoon, then I flew over Thursday night and watched three high school games in the Miami area.
"Friday morning recruited the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. Friday afternoon flew over to the central part of the state of Florida and talked to a high school program there. Then flew into Bradenton, Florida, and watched a high school football game there that night. Flew back Saturday mooring into Hutchison, Kansas, and was able to recruit Hutchinson, Kansas, in the middle of the afternoon Flew to another game Saturday night, and then got home 9:30 Saturday night.
"That part it enables you to do, during our bye week last year, during this exact same bye week last year, I saw Frank Ragnow, Henre Toliver, Dwayne Eugene, Jared Cornelius, Santos Ramirez, Sebastian Tretola … There were seven or eight guys I saw during that exact same bye week that are playing great football for us right now. So the power of that bye week can be … It's hard to explain to your wife, but when she knows we might win a game or two because it, then she's very forgiving."
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