The old saying “talk is cheap” has its truth, but then again, sometimes you pay for what you say. That seems to be the message aimed at Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema.
Bielema has been feeling the blowback from some of his comments. Last week he was the butt of jokes after his Razorbacks suffered a stinging 16-12 loss to Toledo after making comments about how soft Ohio State’s schedule was. What he said about the Buckeye’s slate is absolutely true, but did he have to say it?
Then Saturday night after the Razorbacks lost their second home game in a row, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury took absolute glee in throwing Bielema’s words back at him after the Red Raiders defeated the Hogs, 35-24.
Kingsbury related that Bielema had bragged about his favored style of play and took a shot at up-tempo style of football while speaking at a gathering of Texas high school football coaches last summer. Many of those coaches, 90 percent by Kingsbury’s estimated account, run the spread offense. One of them happens to be Kingsbury’s father.
To paraphrase, Kingsbury said Bielema got his hind end kicked by two spread football teams the last two weeks and that Texas A&M would likely do the same at 6 p.m. Saturday when the two squads meet at Arlington, Texas, in a game to be televised by ESPN.
Only Kingsbury knows how personally he and his father actually took Bielema’s comments from the summer, but in actuality, those comments had nothing to do with the outcome of the game. If the Razorbacks had been the better team, they would have beaten the Red Raiders regardless of what anyone said.
But, Bielema’s pointless bravado isn’t doing him any favors with his team sitting at 1-2 with their entire SEC slate looming large on the horizon. What’s funny to the rest of the country is down right disheartening if not infuriating to Arkansas fans, whose hopes were high after hearing Bielema brag on this team all summer long.
Penalties and complacently did the Hogs in against Toledo, but the Red Raiders outschemed, outexecuted and outplayed the Razorbacks. As poor as the tackling was in the Razorback’s first two games, it was just as bad against Texas Tech. To keep a spread team in check, defenders have to tackle in space as the catch is being made, and the Hogs whiffed in crucial situations all night long. The most telling stat of the game may be that the Red Raiders didn’t punt at all.
Arkansas is ranked 118th in the nation in third-down defense. The Red Raiders converted seven of their 10 third-down plays in the contest. On the season, Arkansas opponents have made 51.2 percent of their third-down plays, and Arkansas hasn’t played a down against an SEC opponent, yet.
Offensively the Razorbacks did execute their game plan to a degree or the outcome might have been worse. Arkansas hogged the ball for 37:55, but the failures in the red zone persisted. For the second week in a row, the Razorbacks did not score a touchdown in the second half and had a touchdown called back because of a penalty.
With the holes currently showing in the defense, the Razorbacks have a slim margin of error on offense. The Hogs have to take advantage of every opportunity. Arkansas’ mounting injury list isn’t making that any easier.
Arkansas’ top three receivers on its opening season depth chart — Keon Hatcher (foot), Cody Hollister (foot) and Jared Cornelius — will be out for an extended period of time. Running back Kody Walker is limited by a hand injury, and of course, the loss of Jonathan Williams with an ankle injury for the season was a tremendous blow.
The combination of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, who had 28 carries for 174 yards against the Red Raiders, fueled Arkansas’ offense last season and kept a fresh back ready to roll for the entire game. Freshman Rawleigh Williams played well with 8 carries for 32 yards, but as of yet, he has not been able to complement Collins in the same manner that Collins did for Jonathan Williams did the past two seasons.
Overall Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen has played well. Heck, he’s leading the SEC in passing yardage with 916 yards and has a 67.39 percent passing percentage. However when the Hogs desperately needed touchdown throws in late-game situations, he missed Hunter Henry high in the end zone against Toledo, and he shortarmed what probably would have been a touchdown toss to Jeremy Sprinkle against the Red Raiders.
Add all that up, and things don’t look great for the Hogs as they hit the road for games at Arlington against No. 14 Texas A&M (3-0), at Knoxville against Tennessee (2-1) and at Tuscaloosa against No. 12 Alabama (2-1). With the Hogs dropping back-to-back home games, it might actually be good for them to get out of town as counterintuitive as that thought may be.
To keep hope alive, the Razorbacks need to find a way to win at least one of the trio of games before their open date on Oct. 17. The back half of the schedule isn’t any less daunting with road trips to No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 8 LSU, but for the moment, Hog fans might be able to convince themselves that home games against Auburn, Tennessee Martin, Mississippi State and No. 25 Missouri might be winnable. Right now that’s about as much consolation as anyone can expect.
As for the Razorbacks, they have to concentrate on the Aggies, who according to the rankings are even better at the spread than the Red Raiders. To have a chance the Razorbacks must tackle better and find a way to put points more points on the scoreboard. In today’s game, 24 points isn’t going to be enough to win many games no matter what style you play.
With a fourth of the season behind them, it’s time for the Razorbacks to start becoming the team Bielema and everyone else expected them to be.