FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is focused on beating Nicholls State. There is nothing else he can do at this point about the Razorbacks’ school-record losing streak.
Arkansas faded down the stretch of a 45-21 loss to No. 6 Auburn on Saturday, running its slide to 10 games. The Razorbacks host the Colonels (0-1) this weekend.
In order for Arkansas to win for the first time since Bielema’s third game as coach – against Southern Mississippi last year – the Razorbacks must find a way to avoid a second-half collapse like they had against the Tigers.
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Arkansas (0-1) was tied with the defending Southeastern Conference champions at halftime before being outscored 24-0 in the second half.
”I think one of the things that happen when you are in a situation like this is, just as when you are winning, it is very hard to stop that streak,” Bielema said Monday. ”It is important for our guys to realize they can’t accept defeat. They can’t accept a losing attitude.”
Making that attitude change has proven to be a difficult task during Bielema’s short time with the Razorbacks, who have lost 13 straight SEC games. That is the longest since the school joined the SEC in 1992, as well as the longest conference skid since a 20-game slide from 1940-43 – when Arkansas was in the Southwest Conference.
Luckily for Bielema and the Razorbacks, all signs point to an end to the losing this week against the Colonels, who extended their own overall skid to seven games with a season-opening loss at Air Force.
”You’d like to get rewarded and feel good about something when you’re coming off the field,” Bielema said.
Many of the same problem areas that hampered Arkansas last year reappeared against Auburn, particularly related to lackluster secondary coverage and drops by receivers.
Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall combined to throw for 293 yards on 16-of-22 passing, often finding receivers with plenty of room around them.
Bielema said physical exhaustion and Auburn’s momentum in the second half played a role in the Razorbacks’ collapse. He hopes to negate the stamina concerns by playing a number of underclassmen against Nicholls State, including freshmen Henre’ Toliver and Josh Liddell in the secondary.
As for the receivers, Arkansas had five key dropped passes against the Tigers – including a deep first-half pass from Brandon Allen to Keon Hatcher.
Hatcher had sped past Auburn’s secondary on the play, only to have the perfectly thrown ball bounce off his hands. The junior wasn’t alone, with tight end Hunter Henry and receivers Demetrius Wilson and Drew Morgan also failing to corral passes from Allen.
The Razorbacks were last in the SEC in passing last season, averaging 148.5 yards per game through the air. Despite the first-game drops, Allen was 18-of-31 for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Tigers.
Bielema said he was more concerned about how the receivers responded during the game to the drops, praising Hatcher and the collective group for their run blocking and competitive natures. He also had no doubt they will bounce back this week against the Colonels.