FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Five hundred forty-three. Fifty-six. Twenty-five.
If those numbers don’t mean anything to the casual fan, it’s excusable. For the Arkansas football, they were the three most embarrassing numbers of the 2016 season. They all related to this week’s opponent.
The first number – 543 – is the number of yards rushing the Razorbacks gave up against Auburn last year. The 56 is how many points the Tigers scored. Those 25 are how many yards rushing Arkansas managed, with the SEC’s leading individual rusher on the roster, no less.
Depending on who you ask in the Arkansas locker room, the players either never talk about it or they use it as motivation. Probably a bit of both, in reality. They know if it happens again this year, on Saturday, they’re cooked and perhaps their coach right along with them.
Linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves is the one most tasked, position coach-wise, with handling the Tigers rushing game. Auburn is 23rd in the country, running for more than 222 yards a game. The Tigers run more out of the Wildcat formation than any team Arkansas will play this year and they have several snaps a game that include a run-pass option for quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Hargreaves gave the most direct answer of anyone Arkansas had available during media interviews Wednesday night. He, like everyone else who came in the room, was asked if last year’s 56-3 smashing made any difference to Saturday’s game.
“I don’t know if it has any more weight than normal,” Hargreaves said. “Certainly there’s a little bit of that involved, but I don’t think that’s the main issue. The main issue is winning the ball game.”
Arkansas is desperate for that. Sitting at 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the SEC, Arkansas alone in last-place in the SEC West. Coach Bret Bielema could be coaching his final season if things continue the way they have played out so far this year. With a new coach comes, often a new staff.
A win over Auburn would not completely silence the critics, but it would provide some measure of hope for a team that could use any glimmer at all.
Linebacker Dwayne Eugene played in that game last year. He frowned when asked to recall it. It sticks out even in a season where there were a few less-pleasant-than-usual losses. Eugene knows what’s at stake. He is blending the catalyzing agent of last year’s game with the importance of getting a win in this year’s.
“It’s a motivation that we use,” Eugene said. “The saying we use is ‘never forget.’ But we’re moving on from last year and focusing on this year.”