FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ mindset will be a key as they host FIU on Saturday night in Fayetteville.
On Tuesday night, four players talked about the mood and mindset of the team with FIU next to come to Fayetteville. Arkansas (3-7) will try to snap a 3-game skid in Razorback Stadium where they have played the two worst games of the season. A 7-3 loss to Mississippi State and 48-10 to Auburn were the worst games of the season and the 38-31 loss to BYU was also a bad one.
The chances of a bowl game are gone. FIU (4-6) isn’t a team normally that would be hard for an SEC team to get up for, but Arkansas needs to win for pride and restore some kind of confidence in playing at home. The Hogs have played much better on the road. Linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul talked about the mindset heading into the FIU game.
“We’re not really a big logo team,” Paul said. “No matter how big or small the opponent is, we’re going to go out there and play a tough, fast, physical brand of football and things like that. Going into this week, we prepare this week like we have every other week, and that’s big on communication, big on getting to the football, big on being physical and flying around. Just giving our fans what they deserve. We haven’t put a good showing on the last couple weeks at home, so it’s just big for us to go out and give the fans what they deserve.”
Transfer right guard Joshua Braun echoed some of those statements admitting Arkansas needs to play much better at home.
“Ultimately, it comes down to us as an offense just doing what we’re supposed to do,” Braun said. “We haven’t put together a good showing at home, so it doesn’t matter if it’s FIU or Georgia at home this week, we’re preparing exactly the same way, hoping to put on a good show for the fans and just for our brothers.”
Obviously Sam Pittman is catching a lot of heat for the Arkansas record. Paul said it will be important to play hard showing support for his head coach and his staff.
“Definitely, I feel like we putting everything out there for our coaches because we really love these guys, these guys are passionate about the game of ball and things like that,” Paul said. “For us, the big thing about it is just blocking out the outside noise and playing our brand of football, going out and worry about FIU this week. Taking advantage of the two opportunities that we have left to get this program going in the right direction.”
Braun talked about the differences when a team is winning and losing as far as attitude and mood around the squad.
“People call college football a brotherhood and this is where those relationships really come into play,” Braun said. “I mean, when you’re winning and everything is going right, it’s easy to be friends, it’s easy to love each other, but when things are going wrong, this is when you lean on each other, rely on each other. Ultimately, you’re working towards a common goal which is to finish the season as strong as possible.”
Defensive end Landon Jackson talked about what the team is playing for this week with the bowl hope gone.
“Our biggest goal this week really is to get a big-time win for our fanbase,” Jackson said. “I mean, these smaller schools the past two years, we’ve had trouble with and I think it’s just because our focus hasn’t been right. So our biggest thing this week is really to be focused and locked in all practice and get a big-time win four fanbase.”
Coming from Texas A&M-Commerce, wide receiver Andrew Armstrong feels FIU will be extra motivated playing an SEC school on ESPNU.
“Going into this game, playing the SEC teams we’ve been playing, this team is no different,” Armstrong said. “I don’t look at them different. I come from a smaller school, so I know those lower levels have some great players that can make a difference in the game. No matter what level you’re at. … We’re going into this game thinking this is another big, great team we’re playing. Nothing is going to change from that.
“Man, I just know for a fact when I was at Commerce, I wanted to play Alabama. I knew for a fact, we weren’t going to win. But I wanted to play all the SEC teams. … It’s you going out there and playing against those teams you probably watched when you were younger … I know they’re going to come in here with a lot of fight, a lot of enthusiasm.”
Paul also talked about how the team gets ready to play with the bowl hopes gone.
“Just going 1-0 these last two weeks and taking advantage of these two opportunities we have,” Paul said. “Yeah, okay, we didn’t play our brand last week, but it’s time to move forward. It ain’t no time to be in the past and things like that. We’re just going to look forward to these two opportunities we have left. All the guys on this team love football, so it doesn’t matter. We’re going to go out there and play our brand. We’re going to play fast, correct what we have to correct and get it right for Saturday.”
Braun put it into simple terms what the season is down to for the Hogs.
“Our season is very simple now,” Braun said. “We have two games left. At this point it’s a point of pride. We’re going out there to put on a show. We’re not playing for championships. We’re not playing for anything except our brothers and our fans and our pride in ourselves. I hope that’s the product we put on the field on Saturday.”
Jackson was asked if the sense in the locker room the team is playing for Pittman among rumors concerning his job security.
“No, we’ve got to treat every game the same,” Jackson said. “The biggest thing in the locker room is the season is not over. We still have this game and Missouri left and we’ve got to prove a point. Just show them the team we are, continue to fight and keep working hard.”
Armstrong was asked the same question about playing for Pittman.
“Like Landon said, we’re just going to go out there and play football, regardless,” Armstrong said. “No matter what it is, we could be 0-9 right now, 0-10. Like I said, we love football. So we’re going to go out there and play football, no matter if it’s practice. We’re just going to play football regardless, no matter if it’s for somebody or it isn’t.”
Braun transferred to Arkansas in January from Florida. What’s the perception of the FIU program?
“They have a solid program, from what I understand,” Braun said. “They hit some road blocks this year, but they keep fighting. They’re not going to come in here and lay down, they’re going to give it their all. They’re fighting for bowl eligibility still, and they’re not going to just hand us a win. So, we need to go out there and be physical, run the ball and just play our hearts out.”
Arkansas and FIU will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night in Razorback Stadium. The game is on ESPNU.