Bielema expects struggles to lead to confidence
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)
The passing attack struggled, and Arkansas trailed in the fourth quarter against Samford of the Southern Conference.
It was quite the learning experience for the Razorbacks, and coach Bret Bielema thinks the 31-21 victory over the Football Championship Subdivision school will pay off down the line.
''I think it builds (confidence),'' Bielema said Monday. ''Now if we hadn't won that game, without a doubt, I think it would have rattled their confidence, big time.''
Luckily for Bielema, Arkansas (2-0) did rally against the Bulldogs to avoid another disastrous trip to Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium - where the Razorbacks lost twice last season, including a shocking overtime defeat against Louisiana-Monroe.
Arkansas, which hosts winless Southern Mississippi on Saturday, managed to come back against Samford despite what appeared to be a regression in the passing game from a season-opening win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Brandon Allen, who was 15-of-22 passing for 230 yards in the opening victory, was just 9 of 17 for 125 yards in last weekend's win.
The sophomore misfired on several throws early against Samford, but he regrouped after the Razorbacks fell behind 21-17 late in the third quarter - connecting with receiver Julian Horton on third-and-11 to prolong the go-ahead drive.
''(Allen) continues to impress us with how he handles the game,'' Bielema said. ''I think there's probably some guys in his situation that may have not been able to rebound the way he did. But he made a couple of critical throws when we needed to.''
While Allen struggled at times, the Razorbacks' running game appeared stronger than ever.
Arkansas finished with 333 yards rushing on 53 attempts, led by standout freshman Alex Collins - who leads the Southeastern Conference with 303 yards rushing through two games. The Razorbacks didn't attempt a single pass in the fourth quarter, finishing with 163 yards on 20 carries - not including a late kneel by Allen - while they put the Bulldogs away.
Bielema bristles at the perception he's a run-heavy offensive coach, but Saturday's effort was hardly the balance he's been looking for since coming to Arkansas from Wisconsin.
Still it worked, with Arkansas running out the final 7:35 of the game with a 13-play, 63-yard drive.
And Bielema praised Allen for his ability to read defenses, despite the fact 14 of his 24 completions have gone to wide receiver Javontee Herndon and tight end Hunter Henry.
''I'm excited, but he got knocked around a little bit on Saturday,'' Bielema said. ''He got sacked once and obviously those guys were in his face. The more he can see that the better off we'll be.''
Gaines and Flowers were battling injuries and are likely to return this week against the Golden Eagles, who lost 56-13 to Nebraska. Lake missed the game due to disciplinary reasons.
Bielema is hopeful the return of all three will help clear up any defensive miscommunication
He said Monday there is a possibility that linebacker Otha Peters and tight end Austin Tate - both who have been out since the preseason with injuries - could return this week if cleared by doctors.
Regardless of who takes the field, Bielema expects last week's fourth-quarter scare to serve Arkansas well this week as it prepares for its first road game next week at Rutgers.
''I told our coaches on Sunday morning, you know, after watching the film, in my opinion, you couldn't have scripted anything better,'' Bielema said.
''I know it's not laid out the way that everybody wanted it, but for me ... It was as good as we could ask for, and our guys responded with a win.''