Hogs take SEC stage

Last year’s re­sults drive change, they say at me­dia days.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - TOM MURPHY

HOOVER, Ala. — Bret Bielema might be a softer man per­son­ally at home af­ter be­com­ing a first-time fa­ther Satur­day.

But he knows his fifth edi­tion of the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs have to be tougher in ev­ery as­pect to make progress in the SEC West.

Bielema and the Ra­zor­backs kicked off SEC me­dia days Mon­day and tough talk — af­ter a 7-6 sea­son that in­cluded a se­ries of blown sec­ond-half leads — was on the agenda. “We talk about it all the time, you know,” de­fen­sive back Kevin Richard­son said. “We want to raise that bar from the stan­dard we had last year. That was our stan­dard. We left our stan­dard as los­ing games in the sec­ond half, and we want to raise that bar and be able to fin­ish games.”

The most re­cent mem­o­ries for the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville were sec­ond-half melt­downs af­ter lead­ing Mis­souri 24-7 at half­time and lead­ing Vir­ginia Tech 24-0 at half­time. The Hogs were outscored 56-0 in the sec­ond halves of those games com­bined in los­ing 28-24 in the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale at Mis­souri and 35-24 to the Hok­ies in the Belk Bowl.

Bielema and his coach­ing staff took a hard look at the team’s short­com­ings, which in­cluded the in­abil­ity to pound out first downs in short-yardage sit­u­a­tions in sev­eral games and a por­ous run de­fense, and made changes to win­ter con­di­tion­ing and spring drills.

“First, you have to un­der­stand why things hap­pen, which isn’t al­ways easy,” Bielema said. “You have to look at it on film and you have to an­a­lyze it as coaches, so we ad­dressed a lot of that be­fore the play­ers had a chance to be around us in Jan­uary, Fe­bru­ary, March.

“Then in spring ball we did some things to re-em­pha­size do­ing things later in prac­tice when you’re tired. We did in­di­vid­ual drills at the end of prac­tice, rather than at the be­gin­ning. Things like ball se­cu­rity, things on de­fense like break­ing on balls, tackle se­cu­rity. We did a bunch of stuff in the lat­ter part of prac­tice, rather than just the front end.”

Win­ter work­outs were tougher phys­i­cally and men­tally. Spring prac­tices in­cluded an em­pha­sis on strong fin­ishes and be­ing tougher.

“We wanted to estab­lish a run game in spring ball where if it’s third and 3 we don’t need to throw the ball, we can get those three yards on the ground,” quar­ter­back Austin Allen said. “So just the type of phys­i­cal­ity we have to have where that’s the type of peo­ple we are. We’re not just go­ing to be a fi­nesse team and all that. We want to run it up in there and be re­ally phys­i­cal.”

Cen­ter Frank Rag­now was even more ex­plicit when talk­ing about the 35 sacks al­lowed by the Ra­zor­backs and the hits Allen en­dured.

“It’s hon­estly em­bar­rass­ing and un­ac­cept­able what hap­pened last year, and I don’t want it to hap­pen again,” Rag­now said. “That’s one thing … as a front I’ve re­ally tried to em­pha­size dur­ing the off­sea­son is that it’s not ac­cept­able for him to get hit. It’s not ac­cept­able for him to have pres­sure in his face. We should hold our­selves to the stan­dard where he’s never get­ting touched, and if he is touched it’s on very, very rare oc­cur­rences.”

Bielema said the nec­es­sary im­prove­ments in the Ra­zor­backs’ run game and de­fense against the run worked hand in hand dur­ing spring prac­tices.

“Two things that Coach [Hay­den] Fry taught me a long time ago about run­ning the foot­ball is if you want to win games, you got to run the foot­ball and stop the run,” Bielema said. “And last year of­fen­sively at times we weren’t able to run the foot­ball ef­fec­tively be­cause of good de­fenses, and de­fen­sively there were times where the game got away from us in stop­ping the run.

“So there’s two huge points of em­pha­sis that kind of fed off one an­other, so in the spring I could re­ally em­pha­size on that and work off it.”

Bielema talked up the switch to a 3-4 de­fense un­der new co­or­di­na­tor Paul Rhoads.

“I think the 3-4 al­lows us, just by pure math you’ve got 11 guys on the field and eight guys now will be on their two feet,” he said. “You got eight guys on two feet be­ing able to change and run. You nat­u­rally be­come more ath­letic with the 3-4 scheme with ath­letes on the field.”

Bielema, who has a 25-26 over­all record and a 10-22 SEC record at Arkansas, said he’s s feel­ing more com­fort­able in his fifth sea­son for a cou­ple of rea­sons.

“First, I think ev­ery player in this pro­gram I’ve been a part of re­cruit­ing them, so I know their story, I know their back­ground, I know their his­tory,” he said.

“That is worth a lot, man. You’re in crit­i­cal mo­ments and you can re­flect on some­thing, you can tell a story, you can call on a per­son to help you. You know what their ca­pa­bil­i­ties are more so than their in­ca­pa­bil­i­ties. You know what they can push them­selves through.

“Plus I think our ros­ter is stronger than it’s ever been, es­pe­cially switch­ing to the 3-4 and al­low­ing us to have just three D-line­men on the field with more lineback­ers and DBs helps us.”

Bielema, who wore a pink tie Mon­day in honor of his new child, said he’s got­ten lit­tle sleep since his wife, Jen, gave birth Satur­day to Briella Ni­c­hole, the cou­ple’s first child.

Ac­counts vary as to whether Bielema was able to nod off on the plane to Hoover.

“He got a nap on the way over, then he got a nap when we were sit­ting in the Buck­ing­ham Room,” Richard­son said.

“I didn’t blink an eye,” Bielema said. “K-Rich is deliri­ous. We had the SEC Net­work on the plane with us, so they were ro­tat­ing us through. I know we were giv­ing ev­ery­body heat on the plane.”

Said Allen: “He stayed awake the whole time, which is kind of sur­pris­ing to me. That’s such a spe­cial, spe­cial time in his life right now. He just kind of has a smile, and there’s some­thing about him where noth­ing’s go­ing to bring him down or any­thing.”

Rag­now said it’s been fun see­ing Bielema “at­tack” his role as a fa­ther.

“We were bug­ging him about it, ask­ing ques­tions,” Rag­now said. “Ask­ing him how much sleep he’s got­ten, so it’s been fun to bother him about it.”

Bielema said he’s got fam­ily time set up for the next cou­ple of weeks be­fore things turn to­ward im­prov­ing the Ra­zor­backs’ for­tunes in the SEC West.

“I’m ex­cited about it,” he said. “I kind of have some foot­ball stuff sprin­kled in there, but I am ex­cited be­cause we planned on the baby com­ing on the 17th, so I’ve got a cou­ple of days here to fine-tune it.

“But as we get close to that other start time, it’s harder not to put your mind there.”


Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema hit on sev­eral is­sues re­gard­ing the Ra­zor­backs at Mon­day’s SEC me­dia days in Hoover, Ala., but he spoke at length about his team avoid­ing the kinds of sec­ond-half melt­downs that plagued it to­ward the end of last sea­son, par­tic­u­larly in the Belk Bowl loss to Vir­ginia Tech.


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