FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith said nothing out of the ordinary took place in the locker room during halftime against Texas A&M last year.
The senior said the Razorbacks, who played poorly in the first half and were stuck in a 35-17 hole, didn’t make mass schematic changes. They didn’t make a wave of personnel moves, either. Highsmith said it was something much more subtle.
“We just looked at each other different and said, ‘We’ve got to get a win,’” Highsmith said of a game Arkansas rallied to win 42-38. “We played hard for each other.”
The timing is appropriate, considering the current dilemma Arkansas (1-3, 0-1 in Southeastern Conference) faces as it prepares to play Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1) at Kyle Field on Saturday. The Razorbacks believe they saved their 2011 season with the second-half rally against the Aggies, something that also helped boost Arkansas on a late-season run that led to an 11-2 finish and top five final ranking.
That won’t be possible after Arkansas’ free-fall in 2012. Winning just one game – and enough to become bowl eligible at the end of the season - appears to be an enormous challenge at this point. But Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said sticking together in the locker room will be critical if the Hogs want the slide to end.
He admitted after Saturday night’s loss it’s not that easy.
“Well, there’s 100-plus guys that we’ve got in this organization,” Wilson said. “So there’s a lot of horses to kind of run the other way, so to speak. So at this point, it’s important that you have as many of those guys all in as possible and ready to go or else it could go the other way quick. We’ve got some leaders. We’ve got some leadership. We’ve just got to keep all the horses together.”
Wilson believes Arkansas has done that in the two days since the Rutgers loss, which clinched the Razorbacks’ worst start since the 2005 season. It’s just a small step in the process, but the senior believes it’s a good sign Arkansas won’t fold.
“With a few losses and expectations the way they were, you’d think there would be a lot of crazy things and such happening,” Wilson said. “But the way we came out last night, you know, was another positive. Everybody was together. On time. Ran hard. Worked hard. Had a great attitude.”
Arkansas is pointing to its performance down the stretch against Rutgers as proof players still intend to salvage the rest of the season.
The Razorbacks trailed 28-13, but scored two touchdowns to pull to within 28-26 midway through the fourth quarter. Mistakes down the stretch — allowing a 60-yard touchdown, throwing an interception, and an inability to keep running back Jawan Jamison contained in the endzone for a safety — all contributed to the eventual loss. But players said effort and intensity were not lacking Saturday.
Wilson said it’s a sign of progress after the 52-0 loss to Alabama, when he suggested the Razorbacks gave up. It may be a small step, but it’s what Arkansas is clinging to as it tries to move forward after its third straight loss.
“We had high expectations coming into the season and this is kind of a shock to all of us, and we’re still trying to figure out what we really need to do fix everything,” Arkansas center Travis Swanson said. “Do I think the season is over? Not at all. I think it’s still just beginning. We can still turn this around and make it a great one.”
Arkansas coach John L. Smith urged fans to stick behind players as they try to push through the struggles when he spoke to the Little Rock Touchdown Club Monday. It has been his message since the unexpected tumble began with the loss to Louisiana-Monroe, saying the Razorbacks understand the fans deserve better.
Smith, meanwhile, remains under fire for Arkansas’ performance under his watch.
But players continued to stick up for their coach as they prepared for another week.
“It’s not his fault,” Highsmith said. “He doesn’t have to make a tackle. He doesn’t have to throw the ball. He doesn’t have to catch it. It’s only so much a coach can do.
“Once he calls a play, that’s it. It’s up to us now.”
So Wilson said Arkansas is back at work trying to correct the mistakes that have led to the disastrous start. It’s all they can do now. Receiver Cobi Hamilton was asked after the loss what the Razorbacks are playing for and said it was simple.
“It’s for each other,” Hamilton said. “Keeping each other together. Keeping each other intact. We’re still a team. We’re still brothers. We still work hard. We still go out there and we sweat together. …
“We’re doing it for each other and trying to get this season finished off.”