FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was impressed with the way his team prepared and performed for its season opener last week.
Now, he wants to see if the Razorbacks (1-0) can duplicate the feat when they go on the road for the first time in 2013. At least, that’s the way Bielema views his first trip to Little Rock for Saturday’s game against Samford (1-0).
“I know that it’s a home game on our schedule, but we as coaches and players have to treat it as a road game,” Bielema said. “One of the things that I first discovered when I came here — and I knew we played in Little Rock — these two games in reality become two of the longest trips of the entire season because it is a three- to three-and-a-half whatever bus ride there.”
Arkansas will make its first trip to Little Rock this season and plan to wipe last year’s 0-2 performance in War Memorial Stadium out of their memory.
The Razorbacks enter the week as the heavy favorite against Samford, which is a Football Championship Subdivision team. There’s plenty of confidence, too, after a strong opening-week capped by the 34-14 win against Louisiana-Lafayette.
“We set out goals at the beginning of spring ball, that led into the summer and fall camp,” Arkansas center Travis Swanson said. “I feel like (last Saturday) we really executed what we wanted to get done.”
Bielema and the rest of the Arkansas coaching staff also said the results were impressive considering there was so much uncertainty to start the season.
But Bielema also wants the Razorbacks on guard after several FCS teams knocked off Football Bowl Subdivision opponents in the opening week.
“What I guarded them against is all of the sudden everybody thinks you’re not the bottom of the cellar anymore and all that jazz,” Bielema said. “I think one of the things we have to do as coaches is constantly remind our guys that you’re only as good as your last play. I do think that was a good team that we beat, but on the same account, we’ve got an SEC schedule waiting on us.
“Samford, a team that has beat an FCS team that is going to come in with a lot of confidence into Little Rock. We’ve got to take every play for what it is.”
So Bielema said the Razorbacks spent Sunday going over both the good and bad from the 34-14 win against Louisiana-Lafayette before turning the page to the Bulldogs. Samford beat Georgia State 31-21 in its opener in Atlanta last Saturday, winning the game without head coach Pat Sullivan.
The former Auburn quarterback, who won the 1971 Heisman Trophy, couldn’t make the trip because he’s recovering from back surgery. Sullivan’s availability for Saturday’s game against the Razorbacks in Little Rock is uncertain as well.
But Bielema said Sullivan’s status doesn’t change Arkansas’ preparation.
He said Arkansas’ attention to detail played a big role in last week’s win, crediting players for everything from following the team’s hydration guidelines in preparation for the sweltering heat and the way they handled mistakes.
“The No. 1 thing I loved about Saturday night — sitting back and reflecting on the game — is just to know what we had been preaching and talking about and beating into them definitely came out,” Bielema said.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said it helped everything go smoothly.
“It’s always fun to do that because you really have no idea what the hell’s going to hit you in the face, particularly the first ball game,” Chaney said. “I was very pleased. … There was really no stressful moments.”
In fact, Bielema admitted one of the biggest snafus was in the postgame celebration.
The coach said it was a topic he didn’t cover with the team for superstitious reasons, leaving some confusion on what Arkansas planned to do after wins. It left Bielema kicking himself publicly a few times in his postgame press conference and Monday.
“All my guys were going past me and I knew I had cleared up in the spring we weren’t going to do the little lap thing that takes a long time,” Bielema said of last season’s lap around the stadium to shake hands with fans. “But apparently the tradition of singing the fight song was something they felt strong about. So we had a little joke about it in the locker room after the game. It’s something we’ll get perfected before we get back out there. But I’ve got the fight song in my office hanging to the left of my TV so I can see it every day and get it engrained.”
Bielema is looking forward to the next opportunity to get it right in Little Rock. But he didn’t shy away from talking about the drawbacks of playing two regular season home games off campus presents. The long bus ride is just the start.
Arkansas is hoping to correct some of the time constraints by flying home instead of its usual bus trip. But there is nothing they can do about what Arkansas perceives as a recruiting disadvantage because of NCAA rules regarding high school visitors.
“We can have recruits go there and take part, but there are some restrictions on how that can happen,” Bielema said. “We are able to give out hundreds of tickets for high school home games here, but we can’t do it in Little Rock, which makes no sense to me when you are trying to build relationships with coaches.
“That should be one of the most paramount things that you should be able to do when you are going over to Little Rock.”
Arkansas also has announced tickets remain for Saturday’s game in War Memorial Stadium, which has a capacity of 53,955. Bielema said he’s hoping there will be people filling the stands after last week’s success in front of 69,801 in Fayetteville.
Either way, Bielema said he’ll be ready for his first game in Little Rock this weekend.
“Our kids, from everything they have told me, they love being a part of it,” Bielema said. “I am a big believer in that I am not going to make a judgment until I live it. I am excited because I love to embrace things that I have never done before.”