1. On the Road Again
Arkansas is still searching for its first Southeastern Conference game under Bret Bielema and only has two opportunities remaining against Mississippi State (Nov. 23) and LSU (Nov. 29).
But the second bye week provided the Razorbacks with a chance to spend time thinking about the future. In addition to the extra practice time devoted to “developmental” players, Bielema and staff members have spent a good portion of time on the road recruiting this week.
“We knew going into the first bye week and this bye week, by NCAA rules, we’re allowed 42 evaluation days and we really try to maximize those,” Bielema said. “We’ll use all of those up, actually 41 of the 42 before this weekend. We save one back for a playoff game next week here in Arkansas. I thought our staff had come up with a great plan. We’ve been very fortunate being able to maximize it out.”
Bielema was among those on the road evaluating prospects earlier this week. He wasn’t in town for Tuesday’s practice, which kicked off Arkansas’ bye week work.
“The reception has been very, very positive from the coaches that we’ve visited with,” Bielema said. “We can’t visit with the players yet until actually the Sunday after we play LSU. But it’s continued to be very positive.”
Arkansas currently has 17 players who have made verbal commitments. The latest came earlier this week from Shreveport, La., cornerback Santos Ramirez.
Lassiter (Ga.) High cornerback Chris Murphy — who plans to enroll at Arkansas in January — also signed a financial aid agreement with the program Thursday, according to Hawgs Illustrated. The signature is permitted under new NCAA rules that allow players to sign financial aid papers with a school after Aug. 1 if they plan to enroll in January.
It agreement binds the school to the player, although Murphy still is not required to sign a national letter of intent with Arkansas. But Murphy chose Arkansas over offers from programs like Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Missouri and Louisville.
Bielema said the Razorbacks are continuing their search for other prospects who want to help Arkansas rebuild after its disappointing season.
“We’re going coast to coast,” said Bielema, who had to cut his Thursday press conference short to catch a flight. “We’re relying a lot on the relationships we’ve had in the past. I’m very, very excited when I talk to some of these guys on the phone about the desire for them to come in and help contribute.”
2. Mitchel Responds
Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchel has had a rough stretch the past few weeks, making mistakes that have led to big plays in Arkansas’ losses.
But Bielema said Mitchel — who was replaced by freshman D.J. Dean late in the Ole Miss loss — has responded on the practice field this week.
“I know a lot of people drew interest to this, but Tevin Mitchel probably had his best week of practice,” Bielema said. “We really challenged him, showed him some things during the bye week. I thought (cornerbacks) coach (Taver) Johnson did a nice job of handling him.”
It’s not clear if Mitchel – who has started every game this season – will be back in the starting lineup for the Mississippi State game. Bielema said the group of Mitchel, Dean, Carroll Washington and Jared Collins have been rotating between the first- and second-team defense this week.
Will Hines, who is returning from injury, also has participated in practice and could regain his starting spot with solid work next week.
“A lot of times when you have a kid that goes through a bone fracture, they become timid. That’s not been the case at all with him,” Bielema said. “He’s been very aggressive. Not afraid to put his hands in there. I’ve been very, very pleased with his progress and has been actually 100 percent cleared. So depending on how he handles next week could be whether or not he starts or his amount of playing time.”
3. Must Win?
Arkansas is two losses shy of its first winless conference season since 1942, when the Razorbacks went 0-6 in the Southwest Conference. The Razorbacks would set the school’s record for consecutive losses next Saturday as well.
But Bielema said his approach to its final two-game stretch against Mississippi State and LSU hasn’t changed.
“What happens in these next two weeks I don’t think has any effect on what we’re doing or how we’re going about it,” Bielema said. “It would obviously be a positive step in the right direction for people to talk about and indicate it. But we’re not approaching this next week’s game as a must-win that we have - all of them have been must-wins for us. I just, I don’t know how to approach it any differently.”
4. More on Allegation
Bielema was asked once again about Florida center Jon Harrison’s allegation that a Razorback harassed him with racial slurs when the teams met on Oct. 5. Bielema, who said he didn’t think there was an issue Wednesday, felt the same Thursday.
“Our people reached out to Florida and from their people there was really nothing more than that kid talking,” Bielema said. “Obviously, the kid loves to talk. He got ejected from our game. … It’s a dead issue. It’s a moot point. Our kids understand and know what the boundaries are and no one crossed that barrier.”
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau