After starting 4-5 – and 0-5 in the SEC – the last two weeks have gone about as well as possible for Arkansas. The Razorbacks beat then-No. 17 LSU, 17-0, on Nov. 15, and No. 8 Ole Miss, 30-0, on Nov. 22.
That’s right. Back-to-back shutouts. Against ranked SEC teams.
“It’s very rewarding for our kids, who have been through a lot,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema told Damon Amendolara, who was filling in as host of The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Our kids, our players, our fans – everybody associated with Razorback Nation the last couple years – have had some disappointment. But it’s only scratching the surface of where I think we can go. (With) a lot of hard work and a lot of great people, good things will happen.”
Arkansas (6-5, 2-5) forced six Ole Miss turnovers to become bowl eligible. With the win, the Razorbacks joined the 1942 North Carolina Pre-Flight as the only unranked team with multiple shutouts of AP-ranked opponents in the same season, and they are the first unranked team to shut out AP-ranked opponents in consecutive games within the same season.
“We shut them out, but we played the whole second half with our backup quarterback (Austin Allen, who replaced Brandon Allen),” Bielema said. “Just a lot of really good efforts, a lot of great preparation from our coaches. For our No. 2s to buy in and be prepared for that big moment to step into (will hopefully pay off in the future).”
Three of the turnovers Arkansas forced Saturday were fumbles.
“It seemed like the ball actually bounced our way once or twice,” Bielema said. “I think our kids took advantage of some opportunities that came their way. Just a lot of really positive things. Both of (the wins) were at home, so that’s always nice. It was Senior Day. It gave those guys a very great, lasting memory that I think they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
Especially after all they’ve endured. The Razorbacks lost to then-No. 6 Texas A&M in overtime, they lost to now-No. 1 Alabama by a point, and they lost to then-No. 1 Mississippi State by a touchdown.
That schedule is just exhausting, isn’t it?
“Well, it’s what you signed up for,” Bielema said. “That’s part of the reason I came here – to play in the best conference in the country. It’s exactly what we’re doing. But we didn’t just come to play; we came to have success and win games.”
Arkansas will play its seventh ranked team of the season this Friday at No. 20 Missouri (9-2, 6-1).
“It is what it is,” Bielema said of facing yet another tough opponent. “The neat thing of it is, no matter who we’re playing, it’s like, who cares? No. 4? Okay. No. 8? Okay. We’re just going to play and see what happens.”
Bielema was also asked about his seven-year run at Wisconsin, which included one Big Ten Coach of the Year award and three trips to the Rose Bowl.
“Wisconsin is a wonderful place,” Bielema said. “I won a lot of games, (made) a lot of great friends, (have) a lot of great memories (and coached) a lot of great players. I just felt as a relatively young coach, I wanted to kind of step into the SEC and see what it’s like.”
Bielema, 44, is trying to bring an old school Big Ten philosophy to the SEC – one involving a strong running game and tough, physical defense.
“It’s something I firmly believe in,” Bielema said. “It’s weather resistant. I think you can recruit a certain type of kid that loves the game to play that way. Sometimes kids are more into the jerseys and what kind of reflective helmet they have instead of how you tackle. That allows us to recruit the right type of kid.”
But what if a kid wants a reflective helmet?
“Well,” Bielema deadpanned, “then we’ll let them wear it during practice.”