Even before the 2015 football season started, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema looked upon his team’s lone bye week as one that could be coming at a great time.
As it has turned out, Bielema was very omnipotent in his feeling as the Razorbacks (6-4, 4-2) have won four straight games since their open date after going in with a 2-4 mark.
“Just to be blunt, we have a bunch of dogs in here, a bunch of dudes whose back was against the wall,” Arkansas junior tight end Hunter Henry said. “We knew that, we were 1-3 and 2-4 and we all recognized that and we can all hear what is going on around us.
“But I think we all blocked it out and came to work every single day and that hasn’t changed. Our attitudes, the guys around here, it has just been cool to be around.
“The adversity that we have faced in games and in the season has really shaped us into who we are.”
The Razorbacks and No. 25 Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3) will meet in a 6 p.m. game that will be televised by ESPN.
“We have got to keep that hunger and remember where we came from and remember where we were five or six weeks ago and continue to fight,” Henry said. “We know these games are crucial and these games are big.”
Arkansas comes into this game off of two road wins at Ole Miss and LSU in which it had an “us against the world” road mentality.
Razorback quarterback Brandon Allen says Arkansas has to keep that same edge.
“I think we will still have that edge although we will be at home and I think our crowd will contribute an even bigger edge for us,” Allen said.
He remembers the feeling of being 2-4 at the midway point.
“I think after that bye week we had a lot of guys getting healthier and kind of just had a mindset that we have a six-game season,” Allen said. “We kind of just forgot the first half of the season and really kind of recommitted ourselves and said this is a six-game season for us and we are taking it one day at a time and we have got to win games.
“I think we have been able to do that so far and we are going to keep that mindset.
“We are definitely playing a lot cleaner on offense, penalties were killing us at the beginning of the year and it was something that we really, really tried to work on in practice.”
Part of the turnaround has been the offensive line now playing as many thought it would the entire season although they struggled out of the gate.
“I think they work so well together right now and they continue to get better and work with each other,” Allen said. “I think at the beginning there was a little bit of confusion up there, a little (mis)communication.
“Right now it is a smooth, well-oiled machine up front…They continue to get better and they are going to get even better.”
Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman agrees with that.
“After we got beat by Toledo, we came back in and everything that we were doing was sideways,” Pittman said. “Actually we didn’t have a great way to get the ball outside and everybody was jamming us on the inside.
“Two things - we went to try and get the ball outside, which we have done a good job of doing that and get vertical on our second step. We were stepping sideways and catching everything instead of knocking a hole in the defense.
“We went to work immediately on that and it seemed to help us out.”
Pittman talked about Arkansas’ third touchdown against LSU coming on a play when center Mitch Smothers and guard Sebastian Tretola pancaked their defenders, tackle Denver Kirkland destroyed his and Alex Collins walked into the end zone untouched from six yards out.
“What happened was we felt like that were going to blitz to the left so we had the mike (middle linebacker) on the right and Mitch re-miked it on that particular play,” Pittman said. “They knocked down the two tackles, Kirkland knocked down the defensive end and they went right up on the Sam and he virtually went untouched into the end zone.
“It was kind of neat. They got a little bit of a feeling about them now. They are a real close-knit group and I don’t think they want to let each other down.
“They are playing with some confidence now and I don’t think you can be good at anything unless you are doing it with confidence.”
That is the same case with Arkansas wide receivers Dominique Reed, Drew Morgan and Jared Cornelius.
“It is night and day from the beginning of the year to now,” Allen said. “Night and day. Especially a lot of the guys that weren’t playing at the beginning of the year.
“Dominique Reed is a completely different receiver from when he first got here. By getting in the playbook, by knowing what route you have, it creates a lot more confidence in them when they are running their routes and getting open and me knowing they are going to be in the right spot.”
It warms the heart of Arkansas wide receivers coach Michael Smith.
“It has been refreshing,” Smith said. “I am really proud of the way the guys have been playing. We have been given the opportunity to make some plays and the guys are stepping up.
“…I am happy for these guys. But again we have two regular season games left and we have earned a chance to play in the postseason so we still have a lot of football left to play.”