Bret Bielema wanted Arkansas’ seniors to know in the offseason he wasn’t simply looking ahead to the future. The first-year coach had 2013 on his mind as well, wanting to win now for a group that had been through plenty as Razorbacks.
The season hasn’t produced the type of results Arkansas imagined after five straight losses, which include two of the program’s most lopsided defeats against South Carolina (52-7) and Alabama (52-0). But Bielema wanted his seniors to know once again earlier this week he hasn’t turned the page despite a 3-5 record.
“I had a senior meeting on Tuesday,” Bielema said Thursday. “We had a luncheon where we sat down and I basically said, ‘From December when I first met with you to where we are today, I’ve never wavered in trying to say two years down the road or three years. I’m talking about now. I want to win now.”
Bielema spent the off week trying to figure out how to still make that happen with the Razorbacks preparing for their next game against BCS No. 11 Auburn on Nov. 2. Arkansas (3-5, 0-4 in the SEC) wrapped up its off week practices Thursday, but an animated Bielema indicated during his week-ending press conference there hasn’t been much rest for he and his staff as they try to fix the problems.
“There comes a day when Ground Hog Day isn’t entertaining,” Bielema said. “You have to begin to move forward. You have to make decisions as coaches that you know you are going to be in position to get yourself better.”
So every aspect of the program has been under the microscope as the Razorbacks search for solutions. Bielema said he won’t stray from his basic coaching principles, but Arkansas is evaluating personnel to make sure the right players are on the field.
One player mentioned specifically by coaches this week was freshman linebacker Brooks Ellis. Bielema said he had his “best week of practice by far,” while defensive coordinator Chris Ash said Ellis and defensive back DJ Dean will be “on the field in some capacity more than they have” after Wednesday’s practice.
“You know, I’m not saying we’re just going with a full-scale youth movement,” Bielema said. “But on the same account, I think if we’re through eight games and you’re a player of senior status to junior status, and you have not progressed the way that we would like, haven’t had the results that we would have liked at certain positions, you can expect someone to get an opportunity.”
Bielema sounded as if players weren’t the only ones under the microscope this week when referencing a staff meeting held before Thursday’s press conference.
“I just had probably the most abrasive staff meeting this morning with my coaches because I can’t get people to understand that if you don’t run the football and if you don’t stop the football, we’re not going to win games,” Bielema said.
Arkansas has been unable to do either with much success the past two weeks. The Razorbacks remain one of the SEC’s top rushing teams, but it hasn’t led to points in seven quarters. The defense was gashed repeatedly by South Carolina and Alabama, allowing 50 or more points in consecutive games for the first time in school history.
The task won’t be much easier when Arkansas returns to play Auburn. The Tigers are off to a surprising 6-1 start under first-year coach Gus Malzhan and, barring a loss to Florida Atlantic on Saturday, will be Arkansas’ fifth straight ranked opponent.
But Bielema has urged his team to show some fight when it returns to the field.
“The No. 1 reason to beat Auburn is for pride,” Bielema said.
2. Just ‘Awful’
Ash didn’t need long to explain his defense’s performance at Alabama.
“Awful,” Ash said. “You know there is no other way to put it.”
Tackling was the biggest disappointment in the 52-0 loss. Ash watching players miss opportunities that led to big plays for the Crimson Tide. It became the third straight week tackling troubles have led to big plays.
“We just have got to get that stuff better,” Ash said. “I mean when you look at our missed tackles there are three things that really I attribute it to: One is fundamentals. We have to coach fundamentals more and more and get them to understand it. Two, with some guys there may be some talent issues out in space against a team like Alabama. And there may be some guys that don’t have the courage or toughness that need right now, too.”
Arkansas linebacker Braylon Mitchell said it has been frustrating to see the missed tackles turn into big plays. The junior said Arkansas continues to emphasize it during the off week as they prepare for next Saturday’s game against Auburn.
“It’s something we worked on all spring and all camp,” Mitchell said. “And it’s something that we still work on every day in practice. It’s frustrating, but you know, the way to work on that is making it a habit in practice and wrapping up and driving your feet and making big tackles and making big plays when they come to you.”
3. Going ‘Bonkers’
Bielema said Arkansas showed plenty of enthusiasm at the end of Wednesday’s practice, when he called the group together and asked in anyone wanted to “watch a little football.” Arkansas then put its younger players on the field for a scrimmage and Bielema said players on the two-deep “went bonkers” as they watched.
“(Safety) DeAndre Coley came up and whacked - I can’t remember who was trying to get - but a great hit, great explosion,” Bielema said. “You would have thought we’d won the Super Bowl the way the team reacted, the defense. I said, ‘It’s still second-and-8. It’s not that big deal.’ But it was good to see the energy, the excitement.”
Bielema said Coley stood out and included Korliss Marshall, who has returned to safety after a stint at running back. He also said defensive lineman Tevin Beanum has “made a huge jump” during his redshirt season.
Bielema said freshmen Austin Allen and Damon Mitchell handled the quarterback repetitions during the scrimmage.
“To see those guys compete gets exciting,” Bielema said.
4. Hines Update
Bielema said cornerback Will Hines (broken arm) has been involved in practices on a limited basis this week. The sophomore has missed two straight games after suffering the broken arm in the loss at Florida.
Bielema remains hopeful Hines can play in the final two games.
“He is still obviously in an air cast and can’t have contact,” Bielema said. “It looks as though as he continues to progress along the way that he has at this point — an early X-ray (Wednesday) showed the development that we had hoped — So hopefully we will get him back for our two remaining final conference games.”