FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas turned in its worst performance of the season last Saturday, suffering through a lackluster 52-7 home loss to South Carolina.
The next task doesn’t exactly stir much confidence the Razorbacks’ struggles will end Saturday, either. But Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said wiping out the notion there’s no hope against No. 1 Alabama has been emphasized to his fragile team.
“I say don’t be a Debbie Downer, you know?” Bielema said. “Just because history’s happened in the past doesn’t mean it needs to repeat itself.
“That’s an easy way to go. It’s an easy, simple way of thinking.”
Arkansas (3-4, 0-3 in Southeastern Conference) certainly doesn’t catch a break as it tries to put South Carolina in the past. The Razorbacks — who are off to their worst start in conference play since 2007 — will play their fourth straight game against a ranked opponent at No. 1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0 in SEC) on Saturday night.
The Crimson Tide has won the national championship in three of the past four seasons and is in the driver’s seat once again. Alabama survived its biggest test to date in the shootout at Texas A&M on Sept. 14 and hasn’t been threatened since.
In fact, Alabama has outscored its four opponents — Colorado State, Ole Miss, Georgia State and Kentucky — by a combined score of 149-16. It has allowed one touchdown, a 30-yard pass in last week’s 48-7 win at Kentucky, in that stretch.
Bielema knows his team faces a daunting test. But he wants the reeling Razorbacks to take pride in what happened against last week and “get out of this doldrums.”
“Last week our No. 1 emphasis was adversity,” Bielema said. “When adversity strikes, you don’t try and fight it alone. You fight it together and I think that’s the part that we’ve got to rally around. Everybody’s got to step up a little bit better, starting with me as a head coach and all our assistants.
“That’s the No. 1 thing plaguing our program right now.”
Bielema pointed to quarterback Brandon Allen’s interception in the first quarter as an example. The interception, which nearly was returned for a touchdown, allowed South Carolina to score the go-ahead touchdown on the next play.
Arkansas didn’t fight back on its next possession, though. In fact, the Razorbacks showed little fight from there en route to one of its worst home losses and the inability to shrug off mistakes has been baffling to Bielema.
“It’s kind of blown me away that there’s such a focal point or a blow-up of a bad situation,” Bielema said. “I mean, it’s the same team that’s done some pretty positive things. The going’s getting a little bit tough, and our guys revert back to that, and it’s just something you have to get out of your system. And unfortunately, it’s nothing you can do during practice, that ‘Woe’s me,’ that feeling sorry for yourself when things go bad. It’s nowhere in a championship-level team.”
It’s also been a clear indicator Arkansas is nowhere near a championship level.
The Razorbacks have been outscored 82-17 in its past two games, suffering lopsided losses at Florida and against South Carolina. The defense has tackled poorly, given up big plays and struggled to get off the field. The offense hasn’t had any success moving the chains, particularly through the air, because of a mountain of mistakes.
Allen — who has five turnovers in the past three games — said the struggles are frustrating. But he insisted Arkansas isn’t rolling over with five games left.
“We’ve got our heads up,” Allen said. “It’s obviously tough after a loss like that, but we’ve moving on to Alabama. We’ve got a big test in front of us, and we’ve got to work every day this week to get ready for them.”
Running back Alex Collins was confident Arkansas would recover as well.
“I’m not concerned at all,” Collins said. “We just are going to bounce back from this and play hard like we play other teams. Just put this behind us and play them hard.”
Alabama has dominated Arkansas in the recent series between the SEC West teams, winning six straight games dating back to 2007.
It included last year’s 52-0 in Razorback Stadium, when then-quarterback Tyler Wilson was sidelined with a concussion. Wilson wasn’t silent after the game, though, calling out teammates for quitting during the lopsided loss.
Arkansas opened that season — which was loaded with expectations — at 1-4 and finished 4-8. The Razorbacks have not won a conference game in more than a year since beating Kentucky 49-7 on Oct. 13, 2012. So Bielema was asked if he could sense a “here we go again” feeling from players after its seventh straight SEC loss.
“I have retained a certain number of people that were on the staff last year and were support staff roles last year,” Bielema said. “They all kind of made reference to that was something that we witnessed quite a bit last year.
“And I said, well, not on my guard. Not on my watch.”
But Bielema admitted he’s been fighting that battle since his arrival.
He indicated Monday the negativity wasn’t simply coming from players.
“I went around to different events and everybody’s very positive and all that stuff, but then there’d be four or five guys it seemed like at every event, women, men that said ‘Coach, we know what you’re getting into. We feel sorry for you,’” Bielema said. “I’m like pissed because, you know, I’m like that’s nothing I’ve seen. …
“That’s what I got upset with and kind of shared with the guys on Sunday. That was something I’ve never seen before. I don’t know how or why it came about, but it did. It can’t be repeated, and you have to take it as a personal mission to do that.”
There won’t be many who believe Arkansas will enjoy a sudden reversal with its recent history against Alabama on Saturday. The Razorbacks haven’t won in Bryant-Denny Stadium since 2003 and have especially struggled during their last two trips.
But Allen said Arkansas is looking forward to the next opportunity to end its frustrating slide — and beat a top-ranked team — Saturday.
“We can beat anybody on our schedule,” Allen said. “That’s something we know is a fact in football. On a given day, anybody can beat anybody.
“We’re ready for it and we’re going to work towards it this week.”