FAYETTEVILLE — The losses don’t sit well with Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
They don’t feel good to his coaches and players, either.
But Bielema — whose longest losing streak as a head coach was four games at Wisconsin in 2008 — wouldn’t let Arkansas’ current slide ruin his optimism.
“I know this: If I’m down today, the players are going to be down,” Bielema said. “If I’m negative Nellie tomorrow, they’ll be negative Nellie as well. So, the lead that we take as coaches hopefully will drive our players, and to be quite honest, when you get older in life, it’s good to be around the youth. They tend to bring you back a little bit quicker, a little bit stronger, so that’s what we’ll rely on.”
Arkansas reached the halfway point of the 2013 season after the 30-10 loss to Florida. It was another disappointing result for a program certain to face some challenges as it made the transition to a new staff and new philosophy.
The tests won’t get any easier in the coming weeks, either, with two more ranked opponents — No. 14 South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama — lined up next on the schedule. But as the Razorbacks (3-3, 0-2 in Southeastern Conference) prepare to kick off the second half of the season against 14th-ranked South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 in SEC) on Saturday, Bielema remains confident his program is making progress.
“I’m going to say it a thousand times — winning is a process and the process needs to be learned,” Bielema said. “And they understand it, they’re getting it a little bit more each and every day. But again, there wasn’t anything we could fault as coaches or find on tape that you don’t get excited about the direction they’re going.”
Defensive coordinator Chris Ash noticed it in his group’s performance at Florida.
One week earlier, Arkansas was gashed for 262 rushing yards by Texas A&M because of errors. The Razorbacks responded with a much better effort against the Gators, holding Florida nearly 100 yards below its season rushing average.
“I think we’re light years ahead of where we were when we started,” Ash said. “But we’re nowhere near where we need to be. We’ve got a long way to go in a lot of areas. We’re so close on some things. But so far away on some others.”
Improvement may have been more difficult to detect on offense after being held to a season-low for points and yards by the Gators. But offensive coordinator Jim Chaney believes there was growth with Arkansas facing one of the nation’s top defenses.
“We played hard,” Chaney said. “We’ve just got to continue to play smarter. It seems like on about every play in the second half, 9 or 10 guys would be executing the play the way we wanted and one guy would break down or get beat. It’s just kind of who we were in that second half. It was disappointing. But you can’t hide from the video.”
Quarterback Brandon Allen said the recent disappointments, which began with a fourth-quarter collapse at Rutgers on Sept. 21, hasn’t dampened Arkansas’ demeanor after six games. Instead, he said the Razorbacks remain hungry to end the losing skid and pick up their first conference win under Bielema.
“We know it’s a tough road,” Allen said. “Obviously, after the game we’re not excited about losing. That’s something that we’re not taking lightly. We’re doing everything we can to get better every week. We’re on the right track. We’re doing a lot of good things. We’ve just got to bring it on Saturday.”