October 27, 2012 12:34:11 AM
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- University of Arkansas football coach John L. Smith has seen a change in the mood around the Razorbacks over the last few weeks.
A two-game winning streak will do that when it comes on the heels of a hope-crushing, four-game losing streak that sent the Razorbacks from the preseason top 10 to a Southeastern Conference afterthought.
"I don't notice a sense of relief," Smith said. "It's more like a sense of, 'We're back (to) where we think we should have been.' "
Arkansas (3-4, 2-2) might have been forgotten by some following its early season collapse, but it's out to show that it's far from gone. The Razorbacks have put together back-to-back wins against Auburn University and the University of Kentucky, and they play host to the University of Mississippi (4-3, 1-2) at 11:21 a.m. Saturday in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium -- with a chance to climb back to .500.
The mark is a small step on the path Arkansas hopes leads to a fourth straight bowl game.
To reach a bowl, any bowl, Arkansas must win three of its final five games against teams that are combined 31-7. It's no easy task, but the Razorbacks are eager to show they are more like the team that was 21-5 the last two seasons than the one that lost to Louisiana-Monroe.
"We were very highly touted team coming into the season and we had a little slump in the beginning," Arkansas center Travis Swanson said. "Hopefully, I think we've figured out what we need to figure out to fix that slump. I know we just want to show everyone that we are the team who we said we were going to be."
The Razorbacks, who had a bye last weekend, looked every bit like their former selves their last time out. They jumped out to a 42-0 halftime lead over Kentucky before settling for a 49-7 win in a game that was called midway through the third quarter because of inclement weather.
Most important, Arkansas -- which is tied for the SEC's worst turnover margin with a minus 10 -- didn't commit a turnover.
Quarterback Tyler Wilson threw for 372 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in that win. Wilson's performance was another sign that last season's first-team All-SEC signal caller has recovered from an early season concussion that forced him to miss a game and a half -- including the second half of the loss to Louisiana-Monroe and a 52-0 drubbing by No. 1 Alabama.
With a host of Razorbacks still out for the season with injuries, including the team's top two defensive players in Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright, Wilson will be counted on to match his Kentucky performance against Ole Miss. The Rebels, who also had a bye last week, defeated Auburn 41-20 their last time out and have shown improvement in their first season under coach Hugh Freeze.
Freeze, who coached last season at Arkansas State, is aware of Arkansas' preseason hype and he expects the Razorbacks' rejuvenated ways to continue this weekend.
"There's certainly no argument Tyler Wilson will be one of the two or three first quarterbacks taken (in the NFL draft)," Freeze said. "They've got great talent, and now they're taking care of the ball and their defense is playing quite a bit better."
Smith said he's seen a renewed confidence throughout the Razorbacks since they snapped the losing streak. The interim coach said Arkansas is gaining confidence daily, a far cry from the disappointment earlier in the season.
"There's nothing like getting your juices flowing, knowing that you can be more confident now that you've got a few wins behind you," Arkansas defensive tackle Alfred Davis said. "I think they guys understand that we're in a great position right now, coming off two big wins in the SEC, and I think it will carry over."