1. For the Seniors
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema wants the Razorbacks’ seven-game losing streak to end for a number of reasons when they play Mississippi State on Saturday.
One of the most important: Rewarding his senior class in their final home game.
“I want them to see first hand the work they’ve done and the way it’s going to pay off,” Bielema said. “I don’t want them to see that one, our first win, next year or whenever it comes. I want them to see it now. That could be the greatest gift we could give them is their last game in Little Rock and the state of Arkansas in front of a bunch of fans who appreciate what they’ve gone through.”
It has been a difficult end for the 20-member class, which includes key players like center Travis Swanson, defensive end Chris Smith, fullback Keiro Small, receiver Javontee Herndon, defensive tackle Byran Jones and kicker Zach Hocker.
The Razorbacks have lost seven straight to equal the school record and have dropped 10 straight in SEC play dating back to last season. Arkansas must win one of its final two games to avoid another historic low — becoming the first Razorback team to go winless in conference play since 1942.
Arkansas continues to lean on the seniors to snap the streak even though there isn’t much to play for this season. Bielema said he feels bad, but credited the seniors for continue to prepare for the final two-game stretch. He said the group continues to “maximize” the opportunity “beyond my wildest dreams.”
Defensive end Chris Smith said their efforts will continue the final two games.
“I’ve just got to leave it all out there on the field against Mississippi State and LSU,” Smith said. “That’s one thing I’m telling all the seniors. Don’t hold anything back. Just go out there and practice hard and just get ready for a good week of preparation.”
The Razorbacks already have honored their seniors before the final home game in Fayetteville on Nov. 2, but couldn’t reward them on the field during the 35-17 loss to Auburn. The Mississippi State game in War Memorial Stadium is the last time they’ll play in front of the home crowd, giving them one more chance to enjoy a win.
Small is hoping Saturday’s game will include much better memories.
“The state of Arkansas, the fan support is great,” Small said. “We’re going to play down there this one last time. … I would like to come out and the fans to be rowdy and make it loud in there and fill the stadium up.”
2. Keeping Quiet
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen didn’t offer much on his team’s quarterback situation for the Arkansas game Wednesday.
“They are all doing much, much better,” Mullen said. “I don’t know who is going to start yet for us. Obviously we have got to see who is the healthiest and who had the best week of practice.”
Starter Dak Prescott didn’t play against Alabama because of an elbow injury. Tyler Russell had to leave the game in the fourth quarter because of a shoulder injury. It left freshman Damian Williams to close out the game.
Mullen said the MSU offense won’t change no matter who plays quarterback, but each player “has their own little twists that they bring.” Bielema said it complicates preparation this week because the quarterbacks have different strengths.
“We have tried to educate our players on when one player is in the game what to expect or have a tendency to do,” Bielema said. “But this is one of those instances when we have had a bye week you may try to outthink yourself too much. We just have got to line up and play solid fundamental football with the looks that they give us and try to play consistently.”
Prescott has started six games this season, but was not dressed out for Wednesday’s practice according to the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. Russell, who has started four games, was dressed out. One of them will start under center if healthy.
“They’re both limited and stuff in practice right now,” Mullen said Wednesday morning. “A lot of that is us limiting them to get their health right for the weekend. … So our biggest goal is to get guys healthy for Saturday right now.”
3. Corner Down?
Arkansas is expected to get cornerback Will Hines back from injury after the sophomore missed four games with a broken wrist. But Bielema said his replacement — Carroll Washington — has been limited this week.
Washington has been dealing with a heel injury, which has given Jared Collins more work in practices. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash said Washington, who has started four straight games, did practice Wednesday and “looked much better.”
Hines is expected to help in some capacity as well against the Bulldogs.
“We haven’t decided on the final lineup for Saturday, but all of them are out there getting reps,” Ash said after Wednesday’s practice.
4. Sack Record
Smith is ranked third in the SEC with 7 ½ sacks this season, bumping his career total to 20 ½. It’s enough to move him to fifth on the school’s career sacks chart.
The senior now is five sacks shy of Wayne Martin’s mark (25 ½) and said breaking the record in his final two games would mean a lot.
“My teammates have helped me,” Smith said. “(Defensive line) coach (Charlie) Partridge has helped me. Even (former Arkansas defensive line coach) Steve Caldwell before Coach Partridge. I feel like they just turned me into a great player.
“If I do get that, I’ll be happy. … I’m going to try to go out there and just play hard for my team so we can get the win. If me playing hard for my team equals up to five, six sacks in these last two games, I’ll take it.”
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau