After winning his debut game in Fayetteville against Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas coach Brett Bielema admitted that his team was not ready to beat teams in the SEC. A week later, almost everyone in the college football universe agrees.
We are the only team in the SEC that plays eight straight games without a bye week, Bielema said after his inaugural victory with the Razorbacks. Our last game of an eight-game stretch is at Alabama, two-time defending national champs. For us to be where we want in eight weeks, we have to get better.
The Razorbacks need to improve well before the Oct. 19 trip to Tuscaloosa. They are 2-0, which is better than Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida and Mississippi State, but the Razorback victories have been anything but emphatic.
After beating the Ragin Cajuns 34-14, Bielemas team trailed Samford, the Birmingham-based team from the Football Championship Subdivision, 21-17 in the fourth quarter. The Hogs came back to win with two touchdowns in the final minutes, and Bielema has done his best to paint that victory in a positive light, but there are understandable concerns.
The way (the players) finished showed me that they could snap back in and show how dominant they can be when theyre playing well, Bielema said after the Samford game. I never was really concerned.I thought our fourth-quarter mentality would kick in. It was just a matter of time.
The Hogs have one more week to iron out the wrinkles. They host Southern Mississippi on Saturday, a team that averages an anemic 42.5 rushing yards per game, 1.7 yards per carry. That places the Golden Eagles dead last among 123 FBS teams.
If ever a team needed a blow-out win, it is Arkansas. And if ever there was a week to have it, its this one.
Warm-ups end on Sunday morning.
The Razorbacks' difficult four-game stretch begins Sept. 21 at Rutgers, followed by Texas A&M at home, Florida in the Swamp and South Carolina in Fayetteville, all leading up to the game Bielema mentioned after his first win the trip to Alabama.
On the bright side, Bielema could have the best freshman in the conference in Alex Collins, a big runner who reminds observers of Georgias Todd Gurley as season ago and South Carolinas Marcus Lattimore in his freshman year.
Collins carried his teammates to victory over Samford in the fourth quarter with six runs on the go-ahead drive, including a 21-yard run to set up a touchdown, and then running over Bulldog defenders late, including a 51-yard run for a touchdown to extend the lead to 10. For his efforts Collins was named SEC Freshman on the Week.
Granted, Collins has yet to face anything resembling an SEC-caliber defense, but in two games he has racked up 303 total yards, the most in the conference, and he leads the nation in rushing among freshmen.
He and his teammate Jonathan Williamscombined for 298 yards against Samford, and Collins is the first Arkansas freshman to have back-to-back 100-yard efforts in the first two games of his career. They are the reason the Razorbacks lead the SEC in rushing yards per game with a 312.5 average and six yards per carry.
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Ever since Ive been in the business, to have a one-two punch the way those guys are in there tapping out when theyre tired, the chemistry that weve got going there withKiero Smalland up front on the offensive line is very, very special, Bielema said after the Samford game.
Thats the bright side.
In the negative column, quarterback Brandon Allen only completed nine passes against Samford for 125 yards. But Bielema said early in the week that he is happy with the struggles and how they fortify his team.
I think it builds (character), he said. Now, if we hadnt won the game, it would have rattled their confidence, big time. But I told our coaches on Sunday morning, after watching the film, in my opinion you couldnt have scripted anything better. I know its not laid out the way everybody wanted it, but for meit was as good as you could ask for. And our guys responded with a win.