Hogs Hope To Regroup With SEC Opener Looming
Bret Bielema lost one game during his first season as the coach at Wisconsin, a number he has now matched in his first year at Arkansas.
It's a number that could grow quickly over the next month for the Razorbacks (3-1), who open Southeastern Conference play on Saturday by hosting No. 10 Texas A&M (3-1, 0-1).
After a 28-24 loss to Rutgers last week, Arkansas once again enters this week with a heavy dose of uncertainty surrounding the availability of starting quarterback Brandon Allen. The sophomore missed the loss to the Scarlet Knights with a shoulder injury suffered a week earlier in a win over Southern Mississippi.
He was replaced by junior-college transfer AJ Derby, who was 14-of-26 passing for 137 yards in the game -- which the Razorbacks led 24-7 late in the third quarter before being outscored 21-0 the rest of the way.
Bielema said Monday that he hopes to have Allen take part in a limited portion of practice when Arkansas returns to the field on Tuesday. The quarterback hasn't thrown in practice since injuring his shoulder in the first quarter against the Golden Eagles, and Bielema said he won't set a recovery deadline for Allen before Saturday's game.
"If (Allen) at any point, even if it's not until Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, says that he can go and the doctors give him 100 percent, we'll go that direction," Bielema said.
Bielema never had a losing season in his seven years as the coach at Wisconsin, where he left last December to come to Arkansas. The closest he came was a 7-6 record in 2008 in his third season with the Badgers. Last week's loss to Rutgers made a difficult path to a bowl game even more so this season for Bielema and the Razorbacks, who close out their season with eight straight SEC games.
It's a brutal stretch that begins with the Aggies this week, followed by a trip to No. 20 Florida, a home game against No. 12 South Carolina and then a visit to No. 1 Alabama.
Bielema, for one, is doing his best this week to focus on just the Aggies and Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel, not the big picture.
"You know what, and I mean that with all due respect, I'm not worried about anything but what's in front of us," Bielema said.
What's in front of the Razorbacks after Texas A&M is a schedule that would be daunting for even the best of teams, much less an Arkansas team whose confidence is shaky at best following last year's 4-8 record. That included a 58-10 loss to the Aggies, a game in which Manziel accounted for 557 yards of total offense.
Arkansas played that game with record-setting quarterback Tyler Wilson under center, not the relatively inexperienced Allen or Derby -- who completed just 46.4 percent of his passes last season at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.
Allen had looked sharp at times this season for the Razorbacks before his injury, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes for 388 yards and five touchdowns.
However, with Derby under center, Rutgers was able to focus its defensive effort on stopping an Arkansas team that entered the game leading the SEC in rushing offense. The Razorbacks, who were averaging 294.3 yards on the ground per game, had just 101 yards rushing on 34 carries against the Scarlet Knights.
Bielema said Derby performed as well as could be expected, well enough that he didn't consider replacing him with freshman Austin Allen -- Brandon Allen's younger brother and the team's No. 2 quarterback while the elder Allen is hurt.
Whoever takes the field at quarterback against Texas A&M, Bielema isn't even close to ready to concede the game, or the season. He called the ride home from Rutgers "very quiet," and said the team's Sunday meeting was "very somber."
Now he's just hoping the Razorbacks learned from the defeat.
"I think sometimes in my head coaching career some of the biggest, disappointing losses, heart aches, propel you to something better in the future," Bielema said. "That's hopefully what we're going to be able to build upon."