FAYETTEVILLE -- Two years ago this week, the Arkansas Razorbacks were preparing to rebound from a road loss at a highly regarded Alabama team and were sitting at the midway point of the season with a 2-4 record heading into a home game against Auburn.
The same scenario applies to the current Razorbacks, and Coach Bret Bielema wouldn't mind following the same script for the second half of the season as the 2015 team wrote.
Those Razorbacks outlasted Auburn 54-46 in four overtimes, one of the highlights of Bielema's tenure at Arkansas, and carried that momentum to a 6-1 finish to produce an 8-5 record. That's the high water mark for Bielema at Arkansas, which included a 5-3 SEC finish and a tie for third place.
"Personally, we've been here," Bielema said at his weekly news conference Monday. "We were 2-4, kind of almost the exact same situation a couple of years back and responded very well down the stretch, winning ... six of seven.
"We battled back, kind of starting with this game against Auburn, so I'm excited."
Though the records are the same, there are marked differences between the two seasons for both Arkansas and Auburn.
The 2015 Razorbacks had a 1-2 conference record with Bielema's first SEC road victory under their belt from a 24-20 victory at Tennessee. The current club is 0-3 in league games.
The 2015 Auburn team was 4-2, the same record as the current Tigers, but that team started at No. 6 before losing back-to-back games to No. 8 LSU and unranked Mississippi State on its way to a 7-6 record. This Auburn team battled Clemson in a 14-6 loss on the road and rallied back to a 4-1 record and a No. 10 ranking before blowing a 20-0 lead in a 27-23 loss at LSU last weekend.
The 2015 team had a well-positioned open date in the middle of the schedule and had two weeks to prepare for Coach Gus Malzahn's Tigers. This team has only one week to lick its wounds from a hard-hitting loss to Alabama.
The current Razorbacks also are having to overcome key injuries to some of their best players, notably tailback Rawleigh Williams, cornerback Ryan Pulley, receiver Jared Cornelius and quarterback Austin Allen.
But Bielema believes in the ability of the current team to reverse its course, no matter the obstacles.
"I'm excited about the week, just from the standpoint of our guys have been here, done that, and have responded very well," Bielema said. "No one questions their fight or their attitude."
Seniors Frank Ragnow and Bijhon Jackson were adamant after Saturday's 41-9 loss at No. 1 Alabama that the team was in the right place mentally and had a better "vibe" than it did in the second half of a loss the previous week at South Carolina.
"Our kids haven't stutter-stepped, they haven't hiccuped, they haven't flinched," Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. "Our preparation has been exceptional."
Rhoads said the grading factors he uses on defense -- including playing fast, a "strain to finish" and the number of "loafs" during the heavy Tuesday and Wednesday practices -- have been at their best the past two weeks.
"Our kids have been paying attention," he said. "They're very intent on the plan going in and the opponent, and going out there and achieving success. I don't have any doubt that it's going to be the same way as we vary our week's preparation by getting a chance to meet with them and walk through today."
Offensive coordinator Dan Enos, asked about Bielema's reference to the 2015 team's turnaround, referred back to one of Bielema's themes at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
"I think it all starts first with going 1-0," Enos said. "You can't win six of seven until you win the next one. Our program and mindset of our players is we've got to win a football game and beat a very good team.
"I think our preparation has got to take care of that, and it's gonna be one day at a time. It has to be a great Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. You've got to have a great frame of mind and be ready to go."
Arkansas will enter the week and the game with great incentive after last year's 56-3 loss at Auburn in which the Tigers piled up 543 rushing yards, the most ever by an Arkansas opponent. It was also Auburn's largest margin of victory against a ranked opponent in school history.
"It would be fair to say that from the time they walked off the field last year to where we are they've made themselves aware of it," Bielema said.
Auburn leads 14-11-1 in a series that has included lots of crossover from the standpoint of players and coaches. Current Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn is a native of Fort Smith and former Arkansas offensive coordinator, and Tigers running backs coach Tim Horton is a former Razorbacks player and assistant.
"There's a lot of personal stories that are there, too," Bielema said. "I think there's a lot in this game that's invested more than just the game itself."
Sports on 10/17/2017
Print Headline: Hogs lean on 2015 for some optimism