FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Bret Bielema has his share of memorable victories in his four seasons at Arkansas, from back-to-back shutouts of LSU and Mississippi in 2014 to a “borderline erotic” victory over Texas to end that season.
None of those, however, carried with them the same potential impact on a season as the 41-38 double-overtime win over TCU last week.
No. 24 Arkansas improved to 2-0 with its dramatic victory over the Horned Frogs, giving the Razorbacks eight wins in their last nine games and putting them in the national spotlight much earlier in the season than they had become accustomed to under Bielema.
A year ago, Arkansas was stunned in its second game of the season, a 16-12 loss to Toledo. That led to a 2-4 start to the season, one the Razorbacks overcame by winning six of their final seven games.
It was a slow start that was fresh on the minds of Arkansas’ players before the season when they established the phrase, “Start fast, finish strong,” as one of their goals.
“I think they’ve been hearing a lot about a year ago and years past, and they know what we’ve done,” Bielema said. “I think that was a big point of emphasis, and I think they’re very proud of themselves — and they should be.”
Finishing a season strong hasn’t been a problem for Arkansas in each of the last two seasons, from last year’s fast finish to two years ago when the school won four of its final six games — including the Texas Bowl victory over the Longhorns.
As satisfying as the late wins were for a fan base starving for a return to national relevance following the overhaul of the program following former coach Bobby Petrino’s firing in 2012, they came well after the Razorbacks had been eliminated from Southeastern Conference contention.
Arkansas is now set to open SEC play two weeks from now against No. 17 Texas A&M following a non-conference game at home this week against Texas State (1-0).
The Razorbacks struggled in a season-opening 21-20 win over Louisiana Tech, but that game was the first for three new starting offensive linemen as well as junior quarterback Austin Allen.
Against TCU, Allen led the Razorbacks on a game-tying drive in the final minutes, even catching the tying 2-point conversion, and he also threw a touchdown in the first overtime.
In the second extra period, Allen — who finished 17-of-29 passing for 223 yards and three touchdowns — capped the victory with a 5-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal.
The celebration that followed was equal parts relief and rejoicing for Arkansas, which can now look ahead to what remains this season instead of looking back at what might have been.
“I am excited about where our program is,” Bielema said. “I’m excited to see how we play and see where we go from there.”