Bielema: Seniors Have Earned Respect

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema talked about the respect that his 20 seniors have earned from him this season, the level they are playing at this season and how he would like to send them out on a winning note in their home finale when the Razorbacks (5-5, 1-5) host No. 8 Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2) Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

When Arkansas (5-5, 1-5) takes the field against visiting No. Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2) on Saturday for a CBS nationally televised game at 2:30 p.m., there will be 20 Razorback seniors running through the A and playing their last game in Fayetteville.

It is a bunch that has gone from being part of a program that went to BCS bowl to winning just seven games the following two seasons to a 5-5 mark this season and the opportunity to go to a bowl in their final year on campus with just one more win.

It is clear that group has earned the respect of Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, who brought that up on Wednesday's SEC Teleconference as his team hopes to build off last week's 17-0 home win over LSU that snapped a 17-game league losing skid.

“It is another opportunity in the SEC West to make a statement on where we have grown and how we have developed,” Bielema said. “I am really excited to give a group of seniors who – right, wrong or indifferent – have been through a lot and done some things that weren't mentioned on their recruiting trip.

“To see these guys be able to close out a senior year in the right way before a great crowd would mean a lot,” Bielema added.

Bielema noted that his seniors – who will also honor the memory of late tight end and classmate Garrett Uekman before the game - are giving him their best right now and it shows on the field.

“Whether it has been a team that has won a championship or a team that is 5-5 now going into looking for win number six, it is strictly is a great reflection when your seniors are playing the best football of their career,” Bielema said.

Bielema reeled off the names of defenders Trey Flowers, Alan Turner, Tevin Mitchel, Martrell Spaight, and Braylon Mitchell and offensive guys Brey Cook, A.J. Derby and Demetrius Wilson.

“Those five guys are without a doubt on defense are playing the best football of their careers,” Bielema said. “...Anybody that we have on the field for us right now that is a senior is playing the best football of their career and that is the way it is supposed to be. You are not suppose to slide off.

“That doesn't happen by chance,” Bielema added. “It is by the way we develop their mentality, it is by the way develop their physicality and it is the way they approach the game itself.”

Spaight, currently third in the SEC with 97 tackles this season, was at the football complex on the Saturday night off the bye week watching film.

“Martrell, I can't say enough,” Bielema said. “He has got an invite to the East-West Shrine game and I think we are going to get a Senior Bowl invite sooner or later...He reminds me of one other player I had in the past that completely changed the value of his name in just one year.

“Here is a guy that really didn't even play a significant role last year, started maybe a couple of games,” Bielema added. “But he took great coaching from the defensive coaches and probably gained as much mentally as he has physically and has truly reaped the rewards because of it and will in the NFL as well.”

Bielema and Spaight will be featured on the SEC Network show “Film Room” with former Georgia quarterback David Greene at 11 p.m. on Wednesday night going over the LSU win.

“I think it is a really good interview and airs tonight at 11 and should be a really good watch,” Bielema said

All of those guys played a part in last Saturday's big win over LSU, which resulted in fans storming the field and some well-deserved adulation and confidence coming the Razorbacks' way.

Bielema said the win was about staying together during the adversity and believing in what the program was doing was right.

“That game wasn't won on Saturday, it was won in the preparation to get there,” Bielema said. “That goes all the way back, not just to Monday, but goes back to last January...A year ago, it probably was a concern of mine. There was a time when I didn't know how they would react. I didn't know the players frame of mine – not just adversity, but when they had individual adversity versus group adversity.

“So just to know our guys now and their make-up this year has helped out so much,” Bielema said. “I have never really felt anything but that they were going to give me everything they have got, which they have done time and time again.

“I have used the phrase – and learned it a previous spot – 'don't flinch'” Bielema continued. “When you are doing things right and you aren't getting the results that you want to get, just continue to press on because those things will happen. I think it is the people who flinch in life and change what they are doing because they aren't getting the results instead of looking at what they are doing, those are when problems begin to happen.”

Bielema did note that Arkansas had to and did turn the page quickly.

“It has been positive, no doubt, but I think our guys have a quick flush button,” Bielema said. “Sunday we were able to celebrate a victorious film, but by the same account as soon as it was done, we flushed that right out and moved into Ole Miss preparation and concentrate on the task at hand.

“Ole Miss is an entirely different preparation than LSU was and that's the fun part,” Bielema added. “That's what allows you to keep changing gears and kind of rejuvenate your energy level because it is a whole new way of doing things.

“You want the same result and you would love to have the same things happen in front of you, but to get there it is a completely different recipe and you have got to put on a different chef's hat and go to work,” Bielema continued.

Bielema has not addressed a bowl berth specifically with his team this week, but just improving daily and trying to knock off the Rebels, who beat the Razorbacks 34-24 in Oxford last season.

“I think honestly that is a great by-product of winning,” Bielema said. “But I don't think that is the goal that we are focused on. It is again going to be a by-product of what we do on the field in the right way. I think a bowl would probably give the outside world recognition of what we have accomplished, but here on the inside what we try to do daily is just gain respect.

“We are looking to get Ole Miss' respect,” Bielema added. “It is a team that has beat us a year ago and we have been able to level the playing field a lot this year against some teams we played a year ago. We'll play Ole Miss again next year so we hope to put a new memory in their mind that hopefully they'll go back to.”

He talked about how his guys have gotten through some tough losses to get in a better place now.

“I just try to speak honestly – it is not how our guys are wired,” Bielema said. “I think you have a team that has had (some) gut-wrenching defeats, had has some things right in front of them vanish into thin air and a lot of that was due to things we did. These guys just love to play the game.

“If I put an emphasis on a bowl game and it didn't materialize then I would be sitting them up for failure,” Bielema said, “but if I put them on an emphasis of prepare yourself daily and have an opportunity in front of you this week to maximize, then it becomes a by-product of doing things right. That is kind of how we operate.”

Ole Miss has knocked off Alabama this season with its only losses being close ones to Auburn and at LSU.

“We are very excited to play another ranked opponent,” Bielema said. “Last week we got a chance to end on a winning note – which did a lot of good for our players, our coaches and our fans. But now you quickly switch gears and face an Ole Miss team that is knocking on the door of being in the top four.

“They are a very, very talented football team on both sides of the ball and special teams,” Bielema added. “Their quarterback Bo Wallace is an exceptional player and they have got receivers. They obviously lost a key player, but they have more than enough guys to fill in.

“They are very good up front defensively and a very opportunistic group,” Bielema continued. “They like to be able to take the football away from you so we have to be able to maintain possession of the football in all phases. They have some very disruptive players up front and take advantage of the kicking game.”

Martrell Spaight

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