FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas thought its signature turnaround moment last season came with back-to-back shutout wins over LSU and Mississippi, dominating victories that followed a school-worst 17-game Southeastern Conference losing skid.
That didn’t prove to be the case for the Razorbacks, who lost Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M over a three-game span.
Arkansas (3-4, 2-2 SEC) has responded from its early season woes with two SEC wins in its last three games, none more dramatic than its four-overtime thriller over Auburn a week ago.
The game had the feel of a referendum on third-year coach Bret Bielema’s future, one the Razorbacks answered with a wild back-and-forth 54-46 win.
It was the type of game when seemingly everything worked for Arkansas when it most desperately needed it to, an approach it hopes to carry forward for the rest of this season – beginning when it steps out of conference to host Tennessee-Martin on Saturday.
It was also exactly the kind of balanced offensive performance – with the Razorbacks passing for 244 yards and rushing for 213 – Bielema has preached since his arrival in Fayetteville.
”The definition of what I want to be on offense took place in the fourth quarter and overtime,” Bielema said. ”You literally saw our guys moving forward every play … It really shows up that the physical presence of what we want to be can be felt in the fourth quarter.”
Overtime isn’t expected to be needed this week when Arkansas hosts the Ohio Valley Conference-member Skyhawks (5-2), though neither is a blowout like UT-Martin went through in a 76-3 loss Ole Miss to open the season.
The Skyhawks have won four straight games, and they are well aware of what it takes to face SEC competition – with this being their fourth game against the conference in the last two seasons. UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson said the team has yet to recover from numerous injuries it suffered in the loss to the Rebels, though the Skyhawks have found a way to post a 4-1 record in Ohio Valley play.
”It’s not like the World Series where you’re trying to win four out of seven (games),” Simpson said. ”They’ve only got to beat you one time, and things can go your way. That’s our belief, anyway.”
Some things to watch as Arkansas tried to build momentum before beginnings its four-game stretch against SEC competition to end the season:
CORNELIUS’ RETURN: Arkansas wide receiver Jared Cornelius is expected to play on Saturday after suffering a double fracture of his left arm in a loss against Texas Tech on Sept. 19. The sophomore had seven catches for 150 yards before his injury, and he adds to a wide receiving group that has been hampered by injuries for much of the season.
BALANCED ATTACK: The Razorbacks have three games with 200 yards passing and rushing this season, including last week’s overtime win against the Tigers. Arkansas only reached that mark twice last season.
SENIOR STRENGTH: The Skyhawks’ senior class earned its 26th win with last week’s 52-45 victory over Murray State, and its one win away from becoming the all-time winningest class over a four-year span at UT-Martin.
CONSISTENT SIMPSON: Simpson is in his 10th season as the coach of the Skyhawks, during which time the former Mississippi State player has compiled a 63-47 overall record – including 49-29 in the Ohio Valley. Prior to Simpson’s arrival, UT-Martin had won 20 Ohio Valley games in 14 years in the league.
ALWAYS ALLEN: Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen will make his 29th straight start on Saturday, the most consecutive starts under center for the Razorbacks since they joined the SEC in 1992. Allen was 10-of-14 passing for 102 yards during the fourth quarter and overtime of last week’s win, and he’s thrown for 33 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions in his last 20 games.