Rejuvenated Razorbacks 1 win away from bowl berth
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bret Bielema waited nearly two full years to enjoy his first Southeastern Conference win, so this was one special victory for the Arkansas coach.
The Razorbacks blanked LSU 17-0 on Saturday night, prompting thousands of fans to storm the field inside Razorback Stadium. While the win represented the end of a burdensome 17-game SEC losing streak, Bielema was hopeful it also marked the beginning of a long-awaited turnaround in Fayetteville.
''It's just a fun thing to really share it with such a fan base that absolutely has enjoyed every trial and tribulation the way that they did,'' Bielema said. ''To get them a win, and also let them know there are some really good things coming.''
Arkansas (5-5, 1-5) did more than just end its two-year conference losing streak on Saturday night.
After a season full of heartbreak, the Razorbacks now find themselves one win away from earning a bowl berth for the first time since a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State to end the 2011 season.
The task is no easy one, with games left against Mississippi and Missouri, but the very possibility of a bowl game - following last season's 0-8 SEC record in Bielema's first season - seemed just as important to Arkansas' players as the win over the Tigers.
''(A bowl) would be great for the program, just knowing we're taking a step in the right direction,'' Arkansas linebacker Martrell Spaight said. ''It's a great feeling knowing that we went out there and got a win against LSU. And (if) we get a bowl game, I feel like things are going to turn around.''
Spaight, who is third in the SEC with 97 tackles, has been at the center of Arkansas' turnaround this season. The senior outside linebacker had another big game against LSU, making a team-high 10 tackles, sacking Tigers quarterback Anthony Jennings and forcing a fumble.
The Razorbacks held LSU to 123 yards, including 36 yards rushing on 32 attempts, on the way to their first shutout since 2006 against Utah State. It was Arkansas' first shutout in SEC play since a win over South Carolina in 2002.
''Just happiness is the best way to describe it,'' Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith said.
''You guys know the work that goes into this thing, and to kind of see it all culminate together the way it did last night was a lot of fun for everybody.''
The Razorbacks had more fun following the win against LSU, celebrating alongside the fans who joined them on the field.
Bielema had lost his first 13 SEC games since leaving Wisconsin. Afterward, he left little doubt that he thought the win was the start of the road to the SEC championship he promised when he was hired by the Razorbacks.
''We can play with anybody in the country,'' Bielema said. ''I know that sounds silly to say, but it's 100 percent true. Our guys are able to do that.''