Bielema: Razorbacks need to avoid stumbles
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP)
With its victory over Samford, Arkansas accomplished two things it wasn't able to achieve last season: start the season 2-0 and win in Little Rock.
Though Arkansas prevailed 31-21 on Saturday, coach Bret Bielema said the team has a long way to go. Two fumbles and a lapse into a defensive ''funk'' enabled Samford (1-1) of the FCS Southern Conference to take a 21-17 lead in the third quarter.
In the end, Arkansas' tailback tandem of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, with help from fullback Kiero Small, put the game away. Quarterback Brandon Allen, who finished 9 of 17 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions, didn't throw a pass in the fourth quarter.
''We took two steps forward,'' Bielema said. ''We took a step forward last week when we won a game. We took a step forward (by beating Samford). We just can't afford to go back anymore.''
The Razorbacks' next opponent is Southern Mississippi (0-2), which is riding a 14-game losing streak after being drubbed 56-13 by Nebraska on Saturday. After that, Arkansas plays its first road game at Rutgers before opening its Southeastern Conference season at home against Texas A&M on Sept. 28.
The game with the Aggies opens a brutal stretch for the Razorbacks, who go on the road for an Oct. 5 game with Florida. They return home to face South Carolina on Oct. 12 and travel to No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 19.
Bielema said the team finished the game without significant injuries.
Allen said the 2-0 start felt good but that the team still has a lot of rough edges.
"We have a lot of strides to be made. We had a lot of mental mistakes, penalties, things that we can correct. That's something we're really going to work on,'' Allen said.
Bielema was emphatic about avoiding penalties. The Razorbacks were flagged six times for 65 yards, including two personal fouls.
''Obviously too many penalties,'' Bielema said. ''Two of them were inexcusable. Alex Collins will not do that again. If he does, he will not be here and playing with us. Tevin Mitchel has got to learn to control his emotions.''
Collins drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag when he ran to the north end zone stands after A 2-yard touchdown run that put the game away with 2:28 to play.
When Samford took the lead in the third quarter, Mitchel helped the Bulldogs' 50-yard drive with a 15-yard penalty for a personal foul.
''I'm not calling anybody out,'' Bielema said. ''I've pointed it out to both of them, they'll grow from it and we'll see better things ahead.''
So far, one difference between the 2013 Razorbacks and last year's edition is that they've been able to win despite the mistakes.
A last-play loss in overtime to Louisiana-Monroe last September started a slide for the Razorbacks that resulted in a 4-8 record. Starting quarterback Tyler Wilson was hurt in the first half and Allen found himself suddenly leading the team.
''Last year, if you look back at the ULM game, we threw the ball a lot more. That really killed us on incompletions, killing the clock. So being able to keep that clock rolling and getting first downs only by the run is huge. Any time you can keep that clock rolling, it's pretty good,'' Allen said.
Collins rushed for 172 yards and Williams gained 126, with each averaging more than 7 yards per carry.
The Razorbacks also got a first-half boost from kicker Zach Hocker, who made a 53-yard field goal, a personal best.
''He's got the leg to go out there and execute - obviously (the kick) was a big point in the game,'' Bielema said.
The Razorbacks went into the locker room with a 17-7 advantage. But they gave up two touchdowns while not scoring a point in the third quarter.
''We kind of hit a funk,'' Bielema said.
The sluggishness disappeared as Collins, Williams and Small, who gained 25 yards on five rushes, became the Razorbacks offense for the rest of the game.
''Our guys took over in the fourth quarter,'' Bielema said.
And they did so without Samford losing its intensity. Bielema credited the Bulldogs with playing a four-quarter game, as did Samford associate head coach Bill D'Ottavio.
''They (the Bulldogs) just kept fighting and kept playing,'' D'Ottavio said.
D'Ottavio led Samford on Saturday while head coach Pat Sullivan stayed in Alabama, where he is recovering from back surgery.