Oct. 15, 2016
The Bret Bielema Experiment Has Ran Its Course In Arkansas
I am not one that puts much stock into bowl games, unless it is the playoff ones. I will watch them because it is good football being played and even these games such as the Belk Bowl and Independence Bowl, there is a matter of conference pride on the line, especially given how the SEC fan bases rally around the conference during this time. And it has infuriated fan bases in the Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, and PAC-12, and rightfully so.
But yesterday's game between Virginia Tech and Arkansas in the Belk Bowl was a bit different however. The SEC, already 1-3 in their bowl matchups (including laying stinkers against NC State and USF, while Texas A&M failing to beat old Big 12 conference foe Kansas State), needed a key win, not just for the conference, but also to show they could bring down the ACC's runner up this year (spare me the Louisville/Florida State talk). And it seemed like the Razorbacks would do it. They were up 24-0 at halftime, including a shrewd move by Bielema duping the officials to getting the muffed punt back from Virginia Tech. And something struck me in his interview. Bielema came off like he just won the game. He played it cool, coy, and said all the right things, but you could tell he was in cruise control mode.
At that point, I sensed Virginia Tech would come back. He was trying to downplay the fact he had a big lead on a good football team. But you could tell he was excited and it felt like the game was already won. And of course, what happens?
35-0 Virginia Tech in the second half. Of course, social media blew up at Bielema.
And rightfully so.
I understand Arkansas was in an incredibly rough place after Bobby Petrino rode off into the sunset on his Harley with his Volleyball girl and crashed in the process while the football program crashed with him. And in 2012 and 2013 those were two miserably forgettable years in Razorback history. And I get Bielema rebounded the program into at least a respectable one in 2014 and 2015. But at this point you figure Bielema would have ended up more than a 7-6 record by year #5. Instead, you had embarrassing losses to Auburn, LSU, and to a lesser extent, Alabama. And add the fact you lost to Texas A&M for 5 straight seasons and suffered an embarrassing loss to a lowly Missouri squad, and the wins you had against TCU and Florida are easily negated.
The hire of Bielema was an okay hire at the time. Ironic because Bielema, who was a Big Ten guy at Wisconsin kept on taking shots at the SEC before he was hired and then becomes a part of the conference. He took Wisconsin to 3 straight Rose Bowls and was really Big Ten's best team as Ohio State had violation issues, Michigan was down, and Michigan State was not yet there. Then he took aim at Gus Malzahn at Auburn and Saban at Alabama. Not the greatest of ideas honestly, but whatever floated his boat. Unfortunately, since Bielema took over, he's 1-7 against Alabama and Auburn (and add in Texas A&M he's 1-11 and 3-13 when you figure LSU in the picture). Originally he brought his Wisconsin style of play where he tried to pound the ball. Didn't work. Now he has tried opening it up and that has not worked either. Granted, it is the SEC and having to see Alabama, Auburn, and LSU every year isn't a dreamy idea, but Bielema's ways and taking aim at the big boys with his mouth isn't doing many favors. But how he adjusts in-game is what has killed Arkansas. You saw it with the Belk Bowl and ESPN brought it up they are a +60 in scoring differential in the first half and a -61 in the second half. There is some major adjustment issues at Arkansas and given how the Razorbacks lost players due to conduct issues (Jeremy Sprinkle) and then you make bonehead mistake after bonehead mistake (fumbles, interceptions, penalties). And the strange part is, Bielema seems cool about it.
Unfortunately, in Bielema's tenure, the only thing he's contributed have been some good quotes including a possible freudian slip of wanting to "hop on the wife" after a game. Funny, I admit, but even in the SEC West, where Alabama dominates, you've seen the others like LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Auburn, all have some successes whether it is making a New Year's Six bowl game or being in the thick of the playoff chase. Arkansas has been residing near the bottom of the division, and even has struggled with the likes of SEC East teams, who are way down as well. I don't think he'll be fired after this mishap against Virginia Tech, but everything that could have gone wrong in the 30 minutes of the 2nd half for Arkansas went wrong. And it has been the story of Bielema's tenure to in Fayetteville to this point. And I don't think anything is going to change either.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat