Arkansas looks to finally put end to losing streak
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Brandon Allen hasn't shied away from talking openly about the mounting frustration as Arkansas' losing streak - the longest in school history - has grown.
The Razorbacks and their quarterback hope to end their frustrations once and for all Saturday when they host Football Championship Subdivision opponent Nicholls State - itself a loser of seven straight games.
For nearly a year, Allen and his teammates have worked through the growing pains of the start of the Bret Bielema era without the satisfaction of a win. Last week's 45-21 loss at No. 5 Auburn was Arkansas' 10th straight. The Razorbacks haven't seen a string of losses like this since a seven-game skid in 1990.
Despite the losses, Bielema has remained steadfast in his belief that the talent level and overall performance have improved in his second season as coach since leaving Wisconsin.
Now his players are ready to show just how far they've come against the Colonels, as well as start to move forward from the burdensome losing streak that's hovered over the program since it began with a loss at Rutgers on Sept. 14 of last year.
''This weekend, I think we're really needing a win,'' Allen said. ''And not just a win, but a win in a big way ... kind of a statement win, really just showing what we're all about.''
Led by an emerging offensive line, as well as the established running back trio of Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Korliss Marshall, the Razorbacks stayed with the defending Southeastern Conference champion Tigers for a half last week.
The two teams were tied 21-21 at halftime, but Arkansas wore down in the second as their SEC losing streak extended to 13 games. The Razorbacks, who were 21-5 from 2010-11, are now 7-18 in their last 25 games - leading to plenty of motivation for a win Saturday.
''It sure would be nice to walk in there and see some smiling faces instead of not seeing them,'' Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman said. ''Because these kids have earned it, and they deserve it. They really do.''
Other points to watch as Arkansas tries to snap the longest losing streak in school history:
YOUTH MOVEMENT: Bielema said this week he wanted more of the Razorbacks younger players to see action in the loss to Auburn, though 12 freshmen did play the first week. Those underclassmen will have their chance Saturday, with cornerback Henre' Toliver, linebacker Josh Williams and safety Josh Liddell among the freshmen Bielema plans to play extended snaps.
SEC READY: Saturday will mark the first time in school history that Nicholls State has faced an SEC opponent, though coach Charlie Stubbs is a former Alabama assistant and knows the league well. The Colonels lost 44-16 at Air Force last week, but Stubbs knows the competition level will increase this week. ''It's a major challenge. I can kind of prepare them, but none of them have had this experience.''
DROPPED CHANCES: The Razorbacks were last in the SEC in passing last season, averaging a paltry 148.5 yards per game through the air. The team's wide receivers didn't help Allen last week with five dropped passes, including one by junior Keon Hatcher on a perfectly thrown deep pass in the first half. Bielema, though, insisted he's not worried about their overall confidence level. ''I am not worried about them,'' he said. ''I'm more worried about their overall response.''
DELAYED DEBUT: Arkansas' Jojo Robinson showed more quickness than many of the team's wide receivers during the preseason, and Bielema had hoped to play the freshman this week. However, Bielema said Thursday the 6-foot, 185-pound Robinson was ''stepped on'' during a practice this week and will miss Saturday's game.
DERBY'S EMERGENCE: Senior AJ Derby was the Razorbacks backup quarterback last season, but he showed why Bielema wanted him to move to tight end in the opening game against the Tigers. The former Iowa transfer had four catches for 40 yards in his first game at the position, including a 17-yard touchdown catch. Arkansas already has an All-SEC tight end in sophomore Hunter Henry, but Derby's emergence could be critical for a team in desperate need of offensive threats.