Arkansas players and coaches didn't like the way 5-6 felt, missing out on the advantages of playing in a bowl game. So offseason conditioning began in December, continued all spring and kicked into high gear during a long and grueling summer.
The work hasn't kept the Razorbacks from inching dangerously close to the same fate after their 23-20 loss at No. 4 Georgia on Saturday. Arkansas (2-5, 0-4 in Southeastern Conference) must win its final four games against South Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU if it wants to become bowl-eligible.
The preseason goal sounds far-fetched after Arkansas' poor start, but the Razorbacks believe anything is possible after their encouraging performance at Georgia.
"I hate it," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "I never dreamed that we'd be 0-4 or 2-5. It's awful. But the thing about Auburn and Georgia, the one thing I really love about this team is the tremendous heart in their play.
"There was a lot of fight (at Georgia). And really, right up until the end, they really thought they were going to win the ball game. That's what you keep hoping, keep preaching for is, 'Hey, don't give up. You keep fighting. You keep getting better. Good things are around the corner. You've just got to keep believing.'"
Arkansas, which has historically turned in strong finishes during Nutt's tenure, hasn't been 0-4 in the SEC since the Danny Ford-led Hogs also got off to a 2-5 start in 1996. The Razorbacks finally won their first conference game on homecoming against Ole Miss (13-7), but finished 4-7 and 2-6 in the SEC.
The Razorbacks have two weeks to prepare for their 2005 homecoming game against the Gamecocks in Fayetteville on Nov. 5. Left guard Stephen Parker said Arkansas lost at Georgia, but left Athens with confidence after its performance.
"We've been coming to play," Parker said. "We've been showing up. If we correct our mistakes and get the right mental attitude, we can do this.
"We can win four in a row. They're winnable games. Anything is possible."
At the very least, Arkansas' last four games look manageable after a treacherous seven-game slate. Four of the Hogs' five losses were to ranked opponents. Three of those teams -- Southern California (No. 1), Georgia (No. 4) and Alabama (No. 5) -- currently sit in The Associated Press Top 10.
LSU (No. 7) is the only ranked team left on Arkansas' schedule.
But Nutt said the Razorbacks can't lighten up down the stretch.
"We've never been in this situation where we've been 2-5 since we've been here," Nutt said. "So that's what you've got to be careful about that (on) paper stuff because you've got to play. You can't make mistakes. You can't turn the ball over.
"We've got to play with that passion and heart that we did at Athens without the mistakes. If we can do that, I think we'll be all right. We'll finish out right."
Nutt said he'd rather not take a one-week break after Arkansas turned in its best performance of the season. But the Razorbacks will make the most of the open date, correcting mistakes and improving weaknesses.
The top priority remains Arkansas' passing attack, which has lost sight of receivers Marcus Monk, Cedric Washington and Cedric Logan the past few weeks. Robert Johnson completed 11 of 19 passes for 116 yards, but Nutt said the quarterbacks know "each day is critical" in the race for the starting job against South Carolina.
In addition, Arkansas will try to eliminate the costly turnovers and penalties that stalled drives and killed scoring chances at Georgia. The Razorbacks committed 10 penalties for 59 yards and their two turnovers led to 10 Bulldogs points. Arkansas collected two turnovers in Georgia territory, but could only manage three points.
The missed chances overshadowed an afternoon in which tailback Darren McFadden rushed for 190 yards, Arkansas outgained the Bulldogs (332-217) and the defense limited Georgia to 52 rushing yards and three first downs in the second half.
"I'm sitting on the bus and I'm reading the (statistics)," Nutt said. "How did we lose the ball game? You tell me we're going to keep the ball 36 minutes and we're going to get two turnovers. We're going to have a back (Darren McFadden) rush for 190 yards and another one (Felix Jones) for 62. We're going to be 11 out of 19 (passing). We should win that ball game.
"There's been another couple games like that. But again, that's why you can't look at the paper too much. It's about the team that makes the fewest mistakes."
The Razorbacks didn't hold their usual Sunday practice and players also will have Monday off. Arkansas will return to the practice field Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then take a two-day break. The Hogs will practice next Sunday.
Arkansas is staring at a tall task if it hopes to get to a bowl game, but defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said the Hogs don't mind the challenge.
After all, the first-year Arkansas coach said nobody gave the Razorbacks a chance to beat Georgia and they nearly pulled off an upset.
"This was a team that fought their guts out, had a chance to win at the end of the game, didn't get it done," Herring said. "But we had a chance. That's more than anybody out there gave us. We got on the bus. Nobody gave us a chance except these kids in this locker room. And that's why we're so damn proud of them.
"That's why we've got a chance these next four games to go in and finish strong."
Hogs Still Believe There's a Chance
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