Bowl-eligible Arkansas primed for Missouri
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Trey Flowers remembers what Arkansas was before the Bobby Petrino turmoil better than most, having been a freshman on the Razorbacks team that capped a two-year 21-5 stretch with a Cotton Bowl win to end the 2011 season.
The Arkansas senior defensive end also suffered through the losing that followed Petrino's fateful motorcycle accident - a two-year stretch of heartbreak the Razorbacks (6-5, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) appear to have finally put behind them once and for all.
Arkansas (6-5, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) earned its second straight shutout against a ranked opponent with its 30-0 win over No. 18 Mississippi on Saturday, a dominating back-to-back stretch Flowers reflected on in the locker room afterward.
''I was just remembering the times where my freshman year we were doing that a lot,'' Flowers said. ''And then for us to go through some rough times and be back on the uprising, it was very humbling for me.''
The one-overlooked Razorbacks did more than just establish themselves as a rising factor in the vaunted SEC West with their wins over LSU and the Rebels.
More importantly, they earned bowl eligibility for the first since that Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State in Flowers' freshman season - nearly finding their way into The Associated Press College Football Poll in the process.
''I know this, we're playing as good as anybody,'' Arkansas second-year coach Bret Bielema said. ''I'm sure there's a team or two that would be a matchup issue for us, but we're playing really good ... If you just put us in a room right now with anybody, I think we could hold our own very, very well.''
With the memory of a 17-game SEC losing streak now firmly behind them, the Razorbacks now turn their attention to capping their sudden turnaround when they visit No. 17 Missouri on Friday.
The Tigers (9-2, 6-1) can win the SEC East with a victory in the regular season-ending matchup between the budding rivals.
Arkansas, meanwhile, hopes to improve its bowl position and send its 19 seniors out in the same winning style many of them began their careers with.
''It's a wonderful feeling,'' Razorbacks junior safety Rohan Gaines said. ''They deserve it. They've been through the coaching changes, the losing seasons. They deserve it all.''
Gaines had a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown to put Arkansas up 27-0 on Ole Miss in the third quarter on Saturday, one of six forced turnovers by the Razorbacks.
The back-to-back shutouts in conference play were the first for Arkansas since 1965, when the school was a member of the Southwest Conference.
They also served as a welcomed bit of affirmation for Flowers, who bypassed the NFL Draft following last season. After a sack of Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace on Saturday, the senior now has 12 1/2 tackles for losses for the season - though he was more focused on the Razorbacks turnaround overall.
''Oh yeah, I knew it was the right decision since day one,'' Flowers said. ''... I knew it was a good decision for me personally and then to help the team out. For us to go through what we've been through and then to come back around and get bowl eligible is big time.''
Arkansas played the second half of Saturday's win without starting quarterback Brandon Allen, who injured his right hip in the first half. Bielema said after the game he thought Allen would ''be back probably sooner than later,'' and backup Austin Allen would be ready to start if needed.