FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ performance in home games the past two seasons played a significant role in its success under former coach Bobby Petrino.
The formula was pretty simple: opponents who came to Fayetteville or Little Rock usually left with losses. The Razorbacks were 19-2 in home games during that stretch and 9-0 against nonconference foes, showing some dominance in Arkansas.
That hasn’t been the case in 2012. Louisiana-Monroe, Rutgers, Alabama and Ole Miss have all celebrated road wins in Arkansas. The Razorbacks are 2-4 on their home fields this season entering today’s homecoming game against Tulsa.
So Arkansas coach John L. Smith said it needs to change.
“We talk a lot about our turf and we talk about defending this territory, our stadium, our house, our home. All of the above,” Arkansas coach John L. Smith said. “You don’t let somebody come into your house and … you know what I mean?”
“I think we just have to keep preaching it, go to the field and play good.”
So much has gone wrong for Arkansas during the 2012 season it’s hard to remember the optimism in August. But the Razorbacks believed they had a legitimate shot at the SEC Championship largely because its two toughest tests — Alabama and LSU — were home games in Razorback Stadium this season.
Very little has gone right at home this season, where Arkansas is 2-4. The only wins came against Jacksonville State and Kentucky.
Arkansas understands its home struggles have helped pump Tulsa with plenty of optimism as well. The Razorbacks have won 17 straight against the Golden Hurricane dating back to a 1976 loss in Fayetteville, but Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship and his program are eager to end the streak.
“It would mean a lot more to people who have been around Tulsa for a long time,” Blankenship told the Tulsa World this week.
“It would be a significant win over a significant program.”
Arkansas linebacker Terrell Williams said it’s nothing new.
Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers had similar goals against Arkansas and followed through with upset wins. The losses were big disappointments, but Williams believes Arkansas will be prepared for the Golden Hurricane today.
“Any time a team from outside the SEC can come into our conference, I’m pretty sure this is one of the games they circle on their schedule,” said Williams, a Tulsa native. “We all know that. They’re going to come in with their best, so we also have to come out with our best effort.”
Arkansas’ two-game win streak ended with last week’s 30-27 loss to Ole Miss in Little Rock. It concluded the Razorbacks’ first winless season in War Memorial Stadium since 1993, when the Razorbacks went 0-2-1.
Arkansas safety Ross Rasner described recent experiences in Little Rock as “miserable” after last Saturday’s loss. The latest left Arkansas in a tight spot, needing to a 3-1 finish over the final four games to simply reach the six-win mark.
But Rasner remained optimistic this week the Razorbacks will be resilient.
“It’s a lot easier to come back if you don’t play bad, you know?” Rasner said. “I don’t think we played bad at all against Ole Miss. There were a few plays we didn’t make and if we make one more or two more plays we win the game. It’s all about our attitude from here on out. We have games to play, so there’s no reason to get down.”
It’s good advice for a team trying to stave off another low moment today.
Arkansas has not finished under .500 in its home games since 1996, when former coach Danny Ford’s team went 3-4 en route to 4-7 finish. There’s no room for error for the Razorbacks now, either, after opening the year at 2-4 in Arkansas.
So the Razorbacks must beat Tulsa for homecoming today and LSU on Nov. 23 to finish .500 on their home fields this season. So Arkansas’ goal is clear.
“We just need to go out and win,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s homecoming or not. We need to win. If you win, then it feels good. If you don’t, it feels like crap. We need to go out there and win.”