FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — When Arkansas wins, Bret Bielema opens his weekly news conference by announcing awards for top performers.
That portion of the coach’s briefing has been missing of late since the Razorbacks have lost three in a row since Sept. 14.
Despite the mounting losses, including a 30-10 setback at Florida last week, Bielema is doing his best to keep the momentum alive at Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) following his hiring last December. It’s a job that’s become increasingly difficult at a school that’s 7-11 in its last 18 games, dating to last season’s 4-8 collapse in the wake of Bobby Petrino’s firing.
The fall has been fast and furious for a program that was 21-5 in its final two seasons under Petrino.
“I know this, if I’m down today, the players are going to be down,” Bielema said.
Arkansas faces another difficult task this week when it hosts No. 14 South Carolina (4-1, 2-1). It’s the third consecutive game against a ranked opponent for the Razorbacks, who cap a difficult stretch with a visit to No. 1 Alabama next week.
Bielema was well aware of the four-game stretch against ranked SEC opponents before the season, though he was more concerned about Arkansas’ eight straight games without a bye than the quality of opponents.
The Razorbacks don’t have an open date until the week following the game against the Crimson Tide. Hines is expected to miss approximately six weeks after undergoing surgery on Sunday, while quarterback Brandon Allen and center Travis Swanson are expected to play against the Gamecocks after suffering minor injuries against Florida.
Bielema continued to say he’s pleased with the progress of the Razorbacks, who have won five of their last seven games against South Carolina.
“I’m going to say it a thousand times,” Bielema said. “Winning is a process, and the process needs to be learned. And they understand it. They’re getting it a little bit more each and every day.”
Bielema described Arkansas’ mood as “solemn” and “unhappy” during a Sunday film session. He said he did his best to keep the Razorbacks’ spirits high after the loss and quickly turn their attention to the Gamecocks.
“The lead that we take as coaches hopefully will drive our players, and to be quite honest, when you get older in life, it’s good to be around the youth,” Bielema said. “They tend to bring you back a little big quicker... so that’s what we’ll rely on.”