When Alfred Davis looks back at the season that was in late November, he hopes that he can say one day turned everything around for Arkansas.
Following a 1-4 showing in the month of September, the Razorbacks, who embarrassingly lost their head coach in April, appeared finished. They had lost to Louisiana-Monroe, their quarterback -- and leader -- had accused them of quitting in an ugly loss at home to Alabama and they barely registered a pulse after a 48-point home loss to Texas A&M.
But when everyone counted the Razorbacks (3-4, 2-2 SEC) out and were already turning their attention to the 2013 Hogs, something clicked. Davis, a redshirt senior defensive tackle, said it wasn’t a rousing speech from any player or inspiration gained from an outside speaker. All he saw was one of the most energized practices ever when the Razorbacks came out on the Tuesday before the Auburn game in early October.
“To say that we had lost four football games in a row, you wouldn’t have believe the energy and excitement that we had that Tuesday practice,” Davis said.
Fresh off a beating from the Aggies, players came out flying around the ball, Davis said. The focus was tremendous and the real character of this team showed. Davis said that players talked beforehand about not wanting to feel that sickening feeling in their stomachs that came with each loss, and it showed that Tuesday.
For a team that had just been trounced in front of its home crowd for three straight weeks, the Razorbacks looked like a group of winners at practice, Davis said. Players hit harder, ran crisper and prepared more meticulously.
Even though this was a preseason national championship contender, everyone understood there was no giving up, Davis said. No one had left after that dismal September, so the season was salvageable.
This team was tired of losing and if it was going to right the ship, it had to start somewhere. For the Hogs, it started on Oct. 2.
“We understood that even though we lost some ball games, it wasn’t time to throw in the towel and give up,” Davis said. “We just kept fighting and fighting and fighting and things got turned around for us.”
Slowly, things have turned around. Arkansas still has a lame duck coach in John L. Smith, isn’t an SEC West contender and isn’t going to a high-profile bowl, but the postseason isn’t out of reach and pride is still on the line. Arkansas was on life support for a month and is now kicking as it prepares for its crucial game against Ole Miss in Little Rock, Ark., Saturday.
“I have to really commend my guys on having heart, having pride and continuing with what we know,” quarterback Tyler Wilson said. “That’s big for us. I’m happy our guys responded.”
The Hogs responded with a 24-7 win over Auburn and then a weather-shortened 49-7 thumping of Kentucky. After registering 15 turnovers through the first five games, Arkansas had just two in the last two and went 8-for-9 in the red zone (seven touchdowns) after being 4-for-11 (one touchdown) in the last three games.
The critics will point to Arkansas’ level of competition the last two weeks, but wins are wins in this league, especially for a team like this.
Davis said one important aspect to Arkansas’ recent turnaround was the lack of finger-pointing. The locker room never split and hanging heads quickly lifted when leaders spoke. If players wanted to give up, the door out was there.
Arkansas is surging with confidence and has some real fire inside it. There’s still a long way to the postseason -- three ranked teams in November could be too tough to overcome -- but Arkansas is reenergized and believes it’s a team no one wants to face right now.
“Everybody in our locker room knows we can beat anybody if we play like we can play,” Wilson said.
“We’re a very dangerous team. We’ve always been that way; it’s just a matter of putting everything together. Any team is going to have to prepare hard to play us.