FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) -- After yet another loss, Bret Bielema approached the podium in the bowels of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"Injury-wise, we’re just piecing it together, unfortunately."
That’s Bret Bielema's final season summed up with a sound bite, a head-shake, and a sad laugh. That followed a fourth quarter loss to a ranked Mississippi State team, in which Arkansas was reduced to using the third-string center.
"You don’t have a roster filled with 22 starters who are all playmakers, and when you lose your playmakers, it hurts," said defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads.
Before the season even started, the Hogs lost their running back, Rawleigh Williams. They’d lose one of his backups, Chase Hayden, later in the season. Star cornerback Ryan Pulley went down for the year in game one. Jared Cornelius, the team’s only returning starter at wide receiver, ruptured his Achilles in the third game. And things were just getting started.
"Usually you’re gonna have a couple (injuries) in the preseason maybe, one or two during the course of the year," reflected Bielema. "But to have running back, wide receiver, quarterback, best offensive lineman, maybe best offensive player on our team, you know."
Austin Allen’s injury almost felt inevitable, as he spent much of the year behind a banged up and beleaguered offensive line. But it was the injury to Frank Ragnow, the heart, soul, and center of that group, that felt back-breaking.
"You lose a great player, when you lose someone of the caliber that Frank is, you’re never going to replace them," said Bielema after the injury was announced. Ragnow injured his ankle 10 plays into the Auburn game, then gutted out several more possessions. He was declared out for the season later that week.
"I don’t really like to talk about the what-ifs cause it sounds like we’re making excuses," said Ragnow. "But we had a lot of guys go down, everybody kind of sees that, it’s tough but it is what it is."
To his credit, Bielema tried not to use injuries as an excuse.
"I’m not gonna sit up here and poor boy injuries, but there were injuries that had a huge effect, not just on the field but in the locker room."
But ultimately, the team’s inability to stay healthy played a large role in the season that would ultimately be Bret Bielema’s downfall.