When Arkansas wins, Bret Bielema opens his weekly news conference by announcing awards for top performers.
That portion of the coach's briefing has been missing of late since the Razorbacks have lost three straight since they beat Southern Mississippi on Sept. 14.
Despite the mounting losses, including a 30-10 setback at Florida last week, Bielema is doing his best to keep the momentum alive at Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) following his hiring last December. It's a job that's become increasingly difficult at a school that's 7-11 in its last 18 games, dating to last season's 4-8 collapse in the wake of Bobby Petrino's firing.
The fall has been fast and furious for a program that was 21-5 in its final two seasons under Petrino, though Bielema isn't about to dwell on what happened before his arrival— or this season's struggles.
"I know this, if I'm down today, the players are going to be down," Bielema said.
Bielema has lost four games in a row just once in his career as a head coach, coming during the 2008 season when he lost five out of six in his third season at Wisconsin. The Badgers closed out the regular season that year with three straight wins to reach a bowl game, a scenario that's becoming less and less likely this year with the Razorbacks.
Arkansas faces another difficult task this week when it hosts No. 14 South Carolina (4-1, 2-1), which has won three straight after a 41-30 loss at Georgia on Sept. 7. It's the third straight game against a ranked opponent for the Razorbacks, who cap a difficult stretch with a visit to No. 1 Alabama next week.
Bielema was well aware of the four-game stretch against ranked SEC opponents before the season, though he was more concerned about Arkansas' eight straight games without a bye than the quality of opponents.
The Razorbacks don't have an open date until the week following the game against the Crimson Tide. It's a week off Arkansas can use at this point — especially after cornerback Will Hines broke his arm against the Gators.
Hines is expected to miss approximately six weeks after undergoing surgery on Sunday, while quarterback Brandon Allen and center Travis Swanson are expected to play against the Gamecocks after suffering minor injuries against Florida.
Regardless of who's healthy, Bielema continued to say he's pleased with the progress of the Razorbacks, who have won five of their last seven games against South Carolina.
"I'm going to say it a thousand times," Bielema said. "Winning is a process, and the process needs to be learned. And they understand it. They're getting it a little bit more each and every day."
Bielema described Arkansas' mood as "solemn" and "unhappy" during a Sunday film session the day after the loss to the Gators. He said he did his best to keep the Razorbacks' spirits high after the loss and quickly turn their attention to the Gamecocks.
He also looked to Arkansas' players to help his own attitude while suffering through one of the most difficult stretches of his career.
"The lead that we take as coaches hopefully will drive our players, and to be quite honest, when you get older in life, it's good to be around the youth," Bielema said. "They tend to bring you back a little big quicker, a little bit stronger, so that's what we'll rely on."
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