Execution key for upbeat Bielema, Arkansas
Bret Bielema’s had a rough go of it thus far in the SEC after three straight Rose Bowl appearances and extensive success at Wisconsin.
He’s sticking to his guns though, and believes the Razorbacks are on the right track with execution being the top concern this season as his team claws their way up from the bottom of the Western Division.
“I didn’t come here to lose,” Bielema said Wednesday in Hoover. “I didn’t expect to go 3-9, but I don’t expect it to stay that way either. What I’ve done is sustain what I believe helps you win. Understand that the only way to change the results of a 3‑9 season is to change what you’re doing.”
Known for his brutal honesty, Bielema said there have been wholesale changes in all facets and attention to detail has been stressed. Three losses came by a touchdown or less last season, something Bielema says he has held onto throughout the offseason.
“Year two, although we don’t know the record yet, my full heart belief is it’s going to be better than year one,” Bielema said. “That’s going to be determined on a weekly basis, but I do know it’s going to be better.”
Bielema didn’t budge when asked if he had softened his view on fast-paced offenses, a Media Days sticking point last summer during a spat with Gus Malzahn. He says there’s still concern for player safety and won’t change his traditional line of thinking in the era of the up-tempo spread.
“We don’t necessarily see eye‑to‑eye on certain things,” Bielema said. “But I think the greatest thing I’ve learned in life is you respect the opposite of what you believe in more than anything. By that I mean, Gus runs an offensive style and philosophy that is completely opposite of what I believe in, but who can argue with his success. That makes me respect him even more.”
The Razorbacks return 16 starters, second-most in the SEC, including three players Bielema brought with him to SEC Media Days — Brey Cook, Alan Turner and Trey Flowers.
“I brought three seniors that represent what Hog Football is all about,” Bielema said. “They represent all of the things on and off the field. They represent everything I want in my program. As a head coach, that’s all I care about. I don’t care about what the outside world perceives I should do, I care about what makes our program better.”
Quarterback Brandon Allen is one player under the microscope for the Razorbacks, an integral piece on offense who struggled as a first-year starter. Thrown into the fire as a redshirt freshman against Alabama in 2012 after an injury to Tyler Wilson, Allen seized control of the offense last fall and managed five touchdown passes in his first two starts before regressing during a tumultuous season for the Razorbacks.
Allen spent time in May with passing mechanics guru Chris Weinke at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., specifically working on his footwork in the pocket. He didn’t appear comfortable down the stretch as a sophomore and threw more interceptions — 9 — than touchdown passes — 8 — over his final eight starts.
Often off-balance, Allen completed passes at a 49.6 percent clip — fourth-worst in the country among starters with at least 200 attempts.
The Razorbacks hope Allen’s trip boosted his confidence and most importantly, takes him back to the level he was at coming out of high school as the nation’s fifth-best pro-style quarterback in 2010.
Offensive balance has been a struggle for Arkansas under Bielema and until the Razorbacks can prove a reliable passing game, defenses will continue to stack the box and try to combat the fierce production of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams along with a soon-to-break out Korliss Marshall.
“Offensively we bring back a starting quarterback in Brandon Allen that has had probably one of the best, oddest seasons that I’ve ever seen a positional player have, let alone a quarterback,” Bielema said. “He’s gotten stronger, he’s gotten better mentally. He understands expectations that he needs to fulfill as a quarterback.”
More from Bielema’s SEC Media Days appearance:
- On opening against Auburn: “To play Auburn up front, to play a team that played in the national championship game, can be nothing but a positive. It’s a motivating factor for us year‑round, from the time it was announced to where we are today.”
- On the Texas A&M-Arkansas rivalry heading to Cowboys Stadium: “You have Jerry Jones who stands for everything in the NFL. He’s one of the hugest Hog fans you’ll ever meet. I heard him quoted as saying, to have the Super Bowl, to have all these high‑profile events in his stadium, but to have Texas A&M play Arkansas is one of the most rewarding in his career. For a guy to say that means we want to stay true to that tradition.”
- On learning from his first season in the SEC: “I think the biggest thing I took away, especially after the season, is you have to be true to who you are, what you’ve been. Don’t flinch. There’s a lot of times there’s some teams that go through some adversity, you know, for sure a team that doesn’t win a game in their conference, they’re going to change out philosophy, got a new idea, new this, new that. I believe you have to do what you do better.”