Embattled Arkansas hoping for first SEC win in season finale at LSU
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bret Bielema has done his best to stay positive throughout a difficult first season at Arkansas.
The Razorbacks' coach continued that approach after a school-record eighth-straight loss.
Standing in front of a team burdened by two seasons of ill fortune since the firing of the scandal-ridden Bobby Petrino, Bielema's message was a simple.
"We got six days together," Bielema told the Razorbacks on Sunday night. "We got six days that this room is going to be the exact same that it is right now. ... So let's embrace these six days, have fun with it, try to make the most of a very difficult situation and be something that you can remember for a lifetime."
Arkansas (3-8, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) will have a final chance at a conference win when it travels to No. 15 LSU on Friday.
The game will bring an end to Bielema's first season. A loss to the Tigers (8-3, 4-3) would give Arkansas nine losses in a season for the first time in school history. Combined with last season's 4-8 record, the Razorbacks are 7-16 since Petrino's firing in the spring of 2012.
The losing has been difficult to accept for a fan base that had grown used to success, such as when Arkansas was a combined 21-5 during the 2010-11 seasons. Only 45,198 attended last weekend's overtime loss to Mississippi State in Little Rock the third-lowest crowd for an SEC game in War Memorial Stadium.
Bielema has struggled as well in the first year of his six-year, $3.2-million annual contract after leaving Wisconsin last December.
The former Badgers coach had never lost more than four games in a row in his seven years as a head coach before this season and had he ever missed out on a bowl game.
Bielema bristled in the spring when approached by Arkansas fans who offered their sympathy for what he had gotten himself into at the school, which was picked to finish last in the SEC West in the preseason.
Now, he's just hopeful to end the season on a high note in Baton Rouge.
"If we spend one more day being negative or thinking about what's been happening in the past, we're not going to capitalize on this opportunity," Bielema said. "With a shortened week, it allowed us to maybe kind of turn the page a little bit quicker."
As has been the case in five of its eight losses this season, Arkansas led early last week against Mississippi State.
However, the Razorbacks allowed a 25-yard score by Bulldogs' quarterback Damian Williams on the opening play of overtime and were unable to match the touchdown when it got the ball.
The defensive futility was nothing new for Arkansas, which is 12th in the SEC in scoring defense this season allowing 30.7 points per game.
Neither was an anemic passing offense that gained just 114 yards. The Razorbacks are last in the SEC with an average of 145.8 yards passing per game, and sophomore quarterback Brandon Allen who is completing 47.6 percent (109 of 229) of his passes this season arrived home after the game to find his SUV had been egged.
"At that position, you've got to have tough skin," Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "You've got to keep working your way through everything and try to find a way to win a football game, and Brandon's doing that.
"I don't think anything's going to deter him from his goal of becoming a very good college football player, and I believe he's continuing down that path."
Bielema had hoped to secure a win against Mississippi State to end talk of the losing streak, and to provide a dose of momentum entering the offseason.
Now the Razorbacks are left with a much more daunting task a trip to Tiger Stadium to end their losing ways.
Still, they aren't ready to call it a season just yet.
"I believe that any winning is beneficial to you, and if you happen to win the final ballgame against a formidable foe, it's even more important to a program," Chaney said. "I want to go down there and play our hind ends off and see what happens."