Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long announced Tuesday the Razorbacks had amended their contract with the War Memorial commission, limiting the Razorbacks to one game in Central Arkansas over the next five years.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said one day later he thought there were “a set of positives” to the change. But he’s also glad the Razorbacks are maintaining a presence in War Memorial Stadium through the 2018 season.
“The great thing is, we have a number of players, not just from Little Rock, but it makes it a little bit easier for their parents, their families, their loved ones, to get to the game,” Bielema said. “On top of that, I’ve heard so many positive things when I’m out on the (speaking) circuit. People talk about those Little Rock games. It’s their one chance to watch Arkansas, to get a chance to see the Hogs. To keep that in perspective I think is very, very special and very unique to Arkansas.”
Bielema brought up some complications that went into the trip before Arkansas played Samford earlier this season. He said it’s the program’s longest road trip of the season because of the bus ride to games. He also said there are recruiting consequences with Arkansas’ inability to host prospects on official visits.
Arkansas also faces scheduling concerns with an annual SEC game against Texas A&M in Cowboys Stadium resuming in 2014. The SEC is considering the adoption of a 9-game conference schedule, too, which could add to further issues. Some years would leave Arkansas with only two SEC games on the Fayetteville schedule.
So the Razorbacks, instead, will play one game a year in Little Rock over the next five seasons. Three of those will be nonconference games. The one-game schedule in Little Rock begins with Georgia on Oct. 18 next season.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of tradition down in Little Rock,” Arkansas center Travis Swanson said Tuesday night. “I’m not exactly sure what had gone into the negotiating, talking about that obviously. But I know we love to go down there because it’s a different fan base, different stadium, different venue, different atmosphere. It’s fun for us. So thankfully we’re able to keep one on the schedule.”
Arkansas’ two games in Little Rock this season only attracted crowds of 47,358 (vs. Samford) and 45,198 (vs. Mississippi State). Both were well below the stadium’s capacity (53,955). But Bielema still described his first experiences as “awesome.”
“The excitement, the anticipation, I think it allows us to talk about it in recruiting for kids we’re recruiting out of central Arkansas,” Bielema said of the program trimming its trips to Little Rock to one game each season. “A lot of positives that will give us an opportunity to build on for a lot of years to come.”
2. Third-Down Success
Arkansas’ defense faces a challenge in forcing LSU off the field on third down.
The Tigers lead the SEC in third down conversions, moving the chains 58.6 percent of the time (75 of 128) this season. The Razorbacks are ranked 12th in the SEC in third-down defense (52.1 percent).
“I think they have a quarterback that can make great decisions sometimes when things would break down,” Bielema said. “I’ll give obviously their offensive coaches and all that a great amount of credit for it, but there’s a lot of times, too, where some things break down and they just make some plays happen.
“So I think that’s a true indicator of very, very good offenses when the answer that you may have coached or provided isn’t there and they’re still able to have success. That’s truly the mark of a really good offense.”
3. Fumble Response
Arkansas running back Alex Collins’ fourth-quarter fumble against Mississippi State proved to be one of the biggest plays in the Razorbacks’ loss.
Running backs coach Joel Thomas said Collins — who fell two yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark — must learn from the mistake as he prepares for LSU.
“If he’s dealing with it the correct way, he’s going to be super high and tight. Executing the razor grip and the proper technique,” Thomas said. “Obviously, I’m going to stress to the scout teamers and our defense, too, to strip even more at the ball. That’s how you correct a problem like that.
“It’s something that hopefully we live and we learn and in the future when he’s down there at the 12-yard line trying to punch the ball in and somebody’s grabbing at it, we’re going to come away with that ball.”
4. Pro-Style Backs
Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said the Razorbacks will see a different brand of running back when they play LSU on Friday.
LSU’s backfield, which is led by Jeremy Hill’s 1,040 yards and 13 touchdowns, is made of bib, bruising backs. They also possess breakaway speed.
“They’re downhill style runners, much different from the last couple of weeks with little scat-back type of guys,” Partridge said. “These are pro-style offense running backs, ones I have been used to seeing in the last four or five years. I’m anxious to see how we match up against these guys. I’m excited about it to be honest with you.”
The LSU backfield bruised Texas A&M’s defense last week, piling up 324 yards on 55 carries. Terrence Magee led the way by rushing for 149 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Hill added 76 yards, while Alfred Blue ran for 61 yards.