FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas defensive tackle Alfred Davis thought back to middle school as he tried to put the Razorbacks’ current dilemma in perspective Monday.
His school’s basketball team got off to a bad start on year, losing four straight games. But Davis didn’t focus on what went wrong in the losses. He remembered what happened afterward, when three teammates stopped showing up for practices.
"We needed them because we only had seven players on the team," Davis said. "But they didn’t come. They quit."
Davis doesn’t see it happening several years later even though Arkansas (1-4, 0-2 in Southeastern Conference) has endured one of the worst opening months in school history. The Razorbacks, who were ranked in the top 10 to begin the 2012 season, lost four games in September for the first time. Arkansas also is off to a 1-4 start or worse for just the seventh time in school history.
Conventional wisdom says Arkansas is primed to roll over. Especially after being outscored 110-10 in two SEC games. But Davis said the Razorbacks haven’t "hung up their shoes" as they begin preparation for Auburn (1-3, 0-2) on Saturday.
"It can be easy right now for some guys on this team to say, ‘Hey, man, look. I’m a freshman. I’ll just wait until next year,’" said Davis, one of Arkansas’ six captains. "But they are not doing that. They accept the role. They understand that, ‘Hey, we have a lot of football left to play. And they are not quitting. They are not giving in.
"They are still showing up on time, going to class, doing the things they are supposed to be doing to be good football players. That’s a lot of credit that should be given to us for that because it’s so easy in some situations just to give up."
Especially since so much has gone so wrong for the Razorbacks in a month to forget.
The defense is a disaster, ranking near the bottom of the nation in every major statistical category. It includes points allowed a game, which now sits at 40.6.
The offense has had problems, too. Arkansas’ run game has been suspect most of the year, especially in short yardage. Turnovers have been killers Both have attributed to redzone woes like last Saturday, when Arkansas scored once in five trips.
It has gotten to the point where running back Knile Davis admits he doesn’t even want to leave his house because "losing feels really bad." But Davis said Arkansas is determined to keep fighting. If not, the free-fall will continue.
"I’ve never been a quitter," Davis said. "I’m not surrounded by quitters."
Understandably, Arkansas’ preseason goals have been destroyed by the 1-4 start.
It has left Arkansas staring at one sobering fact: The Razorbacks would have to finish 5-2 over the final seven games to simply become bowl eligible.
But Arkansas coach John L. Smith said he doesn’t want his team thinking in those terms Monday. He said there’s only one thing to consider at this point.
"We’ve got one goal and that’s to go get a win," Smith said. "And at this point, that’s the only thing we should be thinking about. This other stuff, the hype and all that stuff, and all this and all that are all gone. So let’s worry about go getting a win.
It’s hard for anyone to stay motivated when facing that harsh reality.
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said he realizes there are still opportunities to perform in front of the Razorbacks. He believes there are plenty of players in the locker room who feel the same way. Wilson said his job is to make sure the rest are on board as Arkansas tries to salvage something out of the disappointment.
"I think it’s pride at this point," Wilson said when asked about how a team stays motivated. "I think you can speak until you’re blue in the face. You get across sometimes and sometimes you might not. But at this point, look yourself in the mirror and know that what you do out there on the field is to the best of your ability and you’re going to be prideful in doing it. … Whoever you play for."
It’s not the motivation Arkansas envisioned when it opened the season with the 49-24 win against Jacksonville State on Sept. 1.
But, a month later, pride is all Arkansas has left to play for in what Alfred Davis described as a difficult "life experience" for the Razorbacks.
"We are all — coaches players, staff, the players, everyone — going to take something away from this," Davis said. "We have faced adversity in the past and yes, it’s tough but we can’t just run away from it. We are a football team and we are going to continue to be a football team.
"I am not happy that it’s like this but I think in the future it will help."