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October 12, 2013

Opposing view: 'We'll hunker down'

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - After a 52-7 loss to South Carolina that lent itself to minimal positive takeaways, first-year Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema told his players "today is a day that you have to put in the memory bank and vow that you'll never let it happen again."

The Razorbacks were outgained 537 total yards to 248. They turned the ball over three times, gave up 32 first downs, were out-possessed 43:25 to 16:35, and allowed South Carolina to convert nine of 16 third-down attempts and all five of their fourth-down tries.

After a game where South Carolina ran 52 more plays and held the Razorbacks to four pass completions, Bielema called his team's performance "unacceptable" and apologized to the homecoming crowd of 66,302 who attended the game. Arkansas' fourth-straight loss came once again came as a result of an inability to handle adversity, Bielema said.

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"I thought our guys were ready to play, and once again we were hit with a little adversity and we just can't get over that speed bump," Bielema said after the game. "It's very, very frustrating for the players, the coaches and, I know, for fans."

Bielema said he was shocked by the way his team struggled to bounce back from negative plays and challenges they faced. Bielema said overcoming adversity was something he stressed to the team all week, but that he was upset that his team didn't respond well Saturday.

The Razorbacks marched down the field for a touchdown on their first drive of the game, but couldn't sustain that momentum. Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen was intercepted on his own 27-yard line on the Razorbacks' second drive, setting South Carolina up for a quick score that put the Gamecocks up for good. Fueled by positive momentum, South Carolina sprung ahead 10-7 by the end of the first quarter, put together a 24-7 lead by halftime, and left the Razorbacks in the dust with 28-point second half.

"I'll go back to winter conditioning, to spring ball, to fall camp - the one thing you cannot simulate when you're playing each other is to simulate adversity," Bielema said. "We have a negative play and then it just cartwheels into everything and is around us in every way."

"It's a continued process. It's a faith, it's a journey," Bielema said. "It's something to get past what's in front of you right now, and a lot of times to get those things to turn, it's a big play. Offense, defense, something special teams-wise that can get that mojo going in the other direction. It's something that we try to emphasize.

Bielema said the Razorbacks got close, but never caught that break or big play that could have picked up their spirits and helped them get back into the game. Arkansas had three plays that went for 29 yards or more, but two of them ended with a tailback fumbling the ball away. And Bielema's call for a fake punt with the Razorbacks down 17-7 backfired, giving South Carolina possession on Arkansas' 49-yard line and setting up yet another South Carolina touchdown.

Arkansas had gone three and out on each of its past three possessions, and Bielema said he called the fake with hopes of regaining some momentum with a first down to pick.

"You can never force a fake," Bielema said. "One of the issues I had with that fake punt is that I probably forced that situation just because everybody was pressing, trying to get something. You wish that would have had a different result, but one thing you can't do is try to force something that's not ready."

Bielema said his team players looked disappointed, hurt and frustrated in the locker room after the game. It's good to see that his players care, Bielema said, but the program is not yet where it needs to be in several areas. The Razorbacks are looking for their first SEC win since Oct. 13, 2012, but their head coach was optimistic they could use the short-term experience of losing to learn in the long run.

"Much as in the same with our player development, with our academic development and with our social development, they're going to be able to go a long ways with a short-term wrong," Bielema said.

Chief among Bielema's concerns in preparing for Arkansas' bout with No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., next week is correcting some of mistakes he saw from the Razorbacks against South Carolina.

"The good news is that so many things are correctable," Bielema said. "If I take Sunday's practice and Tuesday's practice and we just work on ball security offensively and tackling defensively, we'll get better as a football team. It's as simple as that."

Bielema said Arkansas had five different misalignment errors on South Carolina's third scoring drive of the game, an 11-play sequence that put the Gamecocks ahead 17-7. Bielema also took the blame for having big offensive plays negated by poor ball security.

"To have a couple big offensive plays get negated by ball security is coaching. That's on me," Bielema said. "A point of emphasis in our program and it's something that needs to cease."

Despite four straight losses and a road ahead that includes five SEC games and two top-10 opponents, Bielema isn't ready to give up on this team and this season.

"We'll hunker down. I don't think these guys have any quit in them - a group that has a real amount of pride," Bielema said. "I feel for our guys but on the same account, until we decide to make a stand, it's going to permeate and continue to be a part of what we're doing. All of us have to get better, starting with me."

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