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Bielema optimistic following spring
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema works with his team before the start of Saturday's football scrimmage at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Another spring at Arkansas was just what Bret Bielema needed to put any negative feelings about last season to rest once and for all.
Now he's ready to move on — with his sights set squarely on showing the rest of the Southeastern Conference how far the Razorbacks have come since last year's disappointing season came to an end.
The Razorbacks completed their second set of spring practices under Bielema last weekend in front of an estimated 30,000 fans for the school's annual Red-White game. If the attendance — compared to 51,088 at last year's spring game — showed a drop in interest or bothered Bielema, he wasn't about to show it.
"I think in the world of college football, we're always trying to compare numbers where I just try to compare feelings, and I couldn't be more excited about where we're going," Bielema said Wednesday. "Everybody wants to win, and everybody is entitled to their feelings and their urgency to do that, but I can't speed up the process of getting what we need to do to win."
Finding a way to win proved problematic last season for Bielema in his first season with the Razorbacks after leaving Wisconsin. Arkansas won its first three games, then lost the next nine in going winless in the SEC during Bielema's first losing season as a head coach.
Much of the talk during spring centered on the team's comfort level in its second spring with Bielema and the rest of the coaching staff. He is positive there will be improvement this season.
"I'm probably more confident today than I've ever been that this is a team that takes every day for what it is, has gotten themselves better," Bielema said. "Nobody wanted to go 3-9, but the results of last year's season are nothing more than a great motivator for this year's season."
Bielema's confidence also remained high for junior quarterback Brandon Allen, who followed last season's struggles with a less-than stellar performance during the Red-White game. Allen completed less than 50 percent of his passes in his first season as starter last year, and he did little in the first half on Saturday to quell outside doubts about his ability — despite repeated praise from Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney this spring.
The Fayetteville native was just 5-of-11 passing for 21 yards and two interceptions in the first half against the second-team Arkansas defense. Allen rebounded in the second half to finish 12 of 21 for 108 yards and a touchdown, and he plans on using the doubts about his improvement as motivation.
"You know, you're going to get a lot of criticism — especially at the quarterback position," Allen said. "That kind of stuff, all it does, it can fuel you."
Arkansas finished third in the SEC with an average of 208.7 yards rushing per game last season. With running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins — and new face Korliss Marshall — the Razorbacks could be better than ever in the backfield.
Collins and Williams combined to rush for 1,926 yards last season, but the talented duo was overshadowed during the Red-White game by Marshall. The sophomore split time between safety and running back last season, averaging 8.6 yards per carry in 17 attempts, but is now on the offense full time.
Bielema described Marshall as nothing short of "electric" this spring, particularly when the 6-foot, 203-pound running back gained 99 yards on six carries in the Red-White game. That included a 59-yard touchdown run that left little doubt Marshall is ready to join Collins and Williams as primary offensive options.
This is, if Arkansas can find enough opportunities for all three of its running backs that Bielema labeled options "1A, 1B and 1C."
However the Razorbacks work out their running back glut, Bielema isn't about to complain about having an abundance of talent at any position.
Especially not after last season's struggles, which he believes are a thing of the past at Arkansas.
"I'm excited ... Because we know that we're a better team than we were a year ago at this time," Bielema said.