FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas coach Bret Bielema had a tough time falling asleep following a 45-33 loss to Texas A&M last week.
The loss was the second straight for the Razorbacks, the fifth time Bielema has lost at least two games in a row during his eight seasons as a head coach.
Bielema has lost more than two games in a row just once in his career, a four-game stretch while at Wisconsin in 2008 — a mark he hopes to avoid matching when Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) travels to No. 18 Florida (3-1, 2-0) on Saturday.
Despite the loss to the Aggies, Bielema's insomnia afterward had less to do with how poorly the Razorbacks played and more to do with what he called the "positive things" about the game and direction of the program. There are things to do.
Arkansas was 4-8 last season under interim coach John L. Smith, and it was picked to finish last in the SEC West this season.
Bielema, meanwhile, never had a losing season while leading the Badgers to three Rose Bowl appearances in seven years there. His worst season was a 7-6 mark in 2008, during which Wisconsin lost four in a row and five of six games after opening 3-0.
"It's a totally different perspective for me," Bielema said. "I mean, I knew coming in and taking this job that there were some things we were going to have to go through. ... I told our guys after the game, I said, 'We're not there yet, but this climb up the mountain has been a lot of fun, and when we get to the top it's going to be really fun to know what you did.'"
Arkansas never led against Texas A&M, but it looked much crisper on offense than it had a week earlier during a loss at Rutgers. The Razorbacks led by 17 points in the second half of that game before falling 28-24 in a game they played without quarterback Brandon Allen.
Allen returned from a shoulder injury against the Aggies and threw for a career-high 282 yards and three touchdowns.
The sophomore also threw a pair of interceptions in the loss, but his return sparked Arkansas to 483 yards of total offense — leaving the Razorbacks feeling much better about their performance than during the loss to the Scarlet Knights.
More than anything, it was Allen's demeanor that made the biggest impression on his first-year head coach.
"I've only known him through the games that we've played, but I saw a feisty, aggressive, angry, competitive young man Saturday night that can win a lot of football games," Bielema said.
Bielema might have felt better about the overall direction of the program following the Texas A&M loss, but he wasn't happy with several mistakes he saw during the game and off the field issues leading up to it.
He said the Razorbacks spent too much time on defense celebrating between plays and not focusing on pre-snap alignment — a factor that helped the Aggies gain 523 yards of total offense.
Also, Bielema said several players had been late to team meetings over the last few weeks, an issue he said led to less playing time and demotions.
"I'm a big, big believer in what happens off the field carries over directly to what happens on the field," Bielema said. "I spoke to the guys pretty strongly about that and got everything cleaned up, because I know it works and we had to get on board there."
Arkansas is 1-8 against Florida, and hasn't defeated the Gators since joining the SEC in 1992.
The game is the second of four-straight against ranked opponents for the Razorbacks, who are hopeful Allen's return and Bielema's accountability are enough to come away with a win in their new coach's first SEC road game.