FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchel knows what Tulsa must be thinking as it prepares for Saturday’s game.
The 7-1 Golden Hurricane see an opportunity against the Razorbacks, who have yet to beat an opponent with a winning record this season.
“So in their eyes they think they are just going to come over here and basically destroy us,” Mitchel said Monday. “But, you know, we are not going to take that.”
Arkansas (3-5, 2-3 in Southeastern Conference) is dealing with disappointment once again after last Saturday’s 30-27 loss to Ole Miss, which ended a two-game win streak and put its bowl hopes in serious jeopardy. The Razorbacks, who now must finish no worse than 3-1 the rest of the way to become eligible for the postseason, are in danger of missing out for the first time since 2008.
Arkansas coach John L. Smith said his team is still confident it can happen even though the remaining opponents include Tulsa and three ranked SEC teams in South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU. The four are a combined 28-5 this season.
“There never have been very many games we go into thinking that we’re going to get our tail kicked,” Smith said. “There’s not going to be any from here on out, definitely. We believe that we’re going to go in and win it. And it has to start now.”
Tulsa will be making its first trip to Fayetteville since 2008, when the Golden Hurricane suffered a 30-23 loss to the Razorbacks during former coach Bobby Petrino’s first season. The difference in that game was a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown by Dennis Johnson late in the third quarter, which helped Arkansas avoid a near-collapse after opening up a 17-0 lead.
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said the Razorbacks can expect the same sort of challenge from Tulsa once again Saturday.
“It means a lot to them and the people in that community,” Wilson said. “They’re going to be ready to play. They’ve got a good football program. They’re going to want to come over here and get a win as much as we do.”
No one needs a win more than Arkansas, though, as it tries to salvage as much as possible in a season that soured in September. Struggles in nonconference games have played a big role in the disappointment. The Razorbacks opened with a win against Jacksonville State, but lost home games to Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers.
Smith was asked if he had any concerns about veterans looking ahead to the NFL Draft or younger players beginning to think about next season because of the ongoing struggles to win games. He said Arkansas hasn’t shown any of those characteristics so far and doesn’t believe it will start now.
“Our guys want to come and play,” Smith said. “It’s like we talked (Sunday) night, if you love the game and you enjoy being here, you’re going to come, and you’re going to work hard, and you’re going to demand that you be as good as you can be. And we’re gong to demand it. And then you’re going to demand it of yourselves.”
Arkansas has won 17 straight in its series against Tulsa. The last loss came in 1976, when the 12th-ranked Razorbacks fell 9-3 in Fayetteville.
Wilson said Arkansas realizes it’s a streak the Golden Hurricane want to end when it travels to Fayetteville. But Arkansas — which is on thin ice in regard to postseason possibilities — understands the importance as well as it begins another week.
“We’ve got a big game this week,” Wilson said. “Obviously a number of our guys in the locker room are from that area. They know a lot of the guys on the roster there. They know they’re going to be coming in here ready to play.
“There’s no question in my mind I’m going to relay the message they’re going to come in and play. They know it. We’re going to be ready to go.”