FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bret Bielema knows the path to a bowl game likely requires Arkansas to win at least three of its last four games.
The Razorbacks coach just isn’t ready to look that far ahead, not in a season full of disappointing blowout losses, numerous season-ending injuries to top players and growing fan frustration.
Arkansas (3-5) is expected to take a step toward keeping its remote bowl hopes alive when it hosts struggling Coastal Carolina (1-7) on Saturday. The game comes on the heels of the Razorbacks improbable comeback win over Mississippi last week, a much-needed moment of success Bielema hopes can be a springboard for the rest of the season – after the Razorbacks handle their business this weekend.
”The task at hand is the challenge in front of us, and that’s where we’re at,” Bielema said. ”We’re not going to talk about anything but what’s in front of us this Saturday.”
What’s likely in front of Arkansas this week is a fourth straight game with quarterback Austin Allen on the bench while still recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered against South Carolina on Oct. 7. The senior has made progress in recent weeks, even returning to practice this week in limited fashion, but Bielema isn’t about to risk Allen’s professional future if he isn’t completely recovered and ready to go.
”Ideally, you’d love to have him play all the way through the season,” Bielema said. ”Ideally, to get him back as soon as possible, but again, I don’t think you want to rush him.”
Some things to watch as Arkansas tries to win two straight games for the first time this season:
KELLEY ON DECK
If Allen is unable to play, freshman Cole Kelley will start for the Razorbacks. The 6-foot-7, 268-pound Kelley threw three touchdowns and completed 19 of 30 passes for 189 yards in last week’s win over the Rebels, and he’s quickly earned the support of Arkansas fans with his outgoing personality.
SUN BELT TEST
The Razorbacks have already defeated one Sun Belt Conference team this season, having downed New Mexico State 42-24 on Sept. 30. The Chanticleers, meanwhile, have had little success since a season-opening win over UMass – losing their seventh straight game last week against Texas State. ”The tough part about it just the way we have lost, the way we’ve played in consistently week to week,” first-year Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell said. ”That’s been the toughest thing to deal with, and we’ve been so up and down.”
Chadwell said Coastal Carolina’s top two rushers, Osharmar Abercrombie and Marcus Outlow, are still recovering from injuries but are hopeful to play on Saturday. Abercrombie leads the Chanticleers with 495 yards rushing and five touchdowns this season, but he injured his ribs last week. Outlow, meanwhile, has 227 yards rushing this season and is dealing with a hip injury. ”Right now, our plan is both of those guys will play,” Chadwell said. ”How well, I don’t know, but they both will play.”
Arkansas sophomore T.J. Hammonds led the Razorbacks with 84 yards rushing on 11 carries against Ole Miss. The carries were a career high for Hammonds, who has split time between running back and wide receiver for much of the season – moving into more of a full-time role in the backfield following an injury to freshman running back Chase Hayden .
Arkansas linebackers De’Jon Harris and Dre Greenlaw have combined for 130 tackles this season and are tied as the top tackling duo in the Southeastern Conference. Harris leads the Razorbacks with 68 tackles for the season and has five for losses, while Greenlaw has 62 tackles.
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