Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
UA coach sees victory coming
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema watches during the second quarter of the Razorbacks' game against Auburn on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas's 24-point loss to Auburn in Saturday's season-opener was numerically larger than last year's 35-17 setback to the Tigers.
But Coach Bret Bielema sounded certain on Monday the Razorbacks are nearing the point of ending a losing streak that has reached 10 games, dating back to last September, with Nicholls State of the FCS headed to Fayetteville for a 3 p.m. game on Saturday.
"Believe me, I was beside myself Saturday night," Bielema said at his weekly news conference in the Fred Smith Center. "I probably wasn't a great person to be around on Sunday morning. But the more I watched the film and the more I saw things that I know are going to have an effect on us winning games down the road, it makes you feel good."
The Razorbacks trailed 21-7 in the second quarter but pulled even with the defending SEC champions by halftime. Auburn then stuffed the Arkansas run game in the second half and scored a defensive touchdown while outscoring the Hogs 24-0 to end the game.
Bielema said a mostly clean first half -- no turnovers and one penalty -- with crisp offensive execution was indicative of the type of team he hopes Arkansas can be for four quarters in the near future.
"As bad as I'd have loved to come out of there with a 'W,' I think some people probably in that stadium and on that other sideline knew a little bit more about us." Bielema said. "And when we get a couple of more troops ... and a couple of more guys believing in what we're doing and in an unwavering faith in that for four quarters. ... I know it sounds trivial to play a four-quarter game, but we're not there yet.
"And we're building there, and we're going to get there, and there are so many things that are going in a positive direction. I think the fact that we play in a game like that and you lose it and you're not talking about anybody this week missing a game, that's big."
Bielema said his perspective on the Auburn loss changed a bit when he walked into his office Sunday and noticed an SEC Network replay of the game airing on the far wall.
"I popped in ... and there was a few minutes remaining in the third quarter and it was a seven-point game and you realize you're in a good situation," he said.
Bielema spoke extensively about two plays from Saturday's game -- one on each side of the ball.
The offensive play was a third-and-4 snap from the Auburn 28 midway through the third quarter with the Tigers ahead 28-21. Arkansas ran a "wham" play, with fullback Patrick Arinze blocking for Alex Collins, a play that produced several huge gains earlier.
"Really 10 guys executed it as clean as possible," Bielema said. "There a communication breakdown -- and I used it as a specific example to our guys yesterday [Sunday]. ... This play is blocked up. Not only is it going to be a first down, it has a really good chance of Alex hitting his head on the goal post. ... We had one guy block down instead of block out and the result is now it's fourth and 10."
Collins was thrown for a 6-yard loss by linebacker Cassanova McKinzy -- a holding call against the Hogs was declined -- and Bielema elected to punt from the 34, ending the scoring threat.
The defensive play came on the game's first score, when Auburn receiver Melvin Ray, seeing a corner blitz, caught a short hitch pass, eluded safety Rohan Gaines on the sideline and sprinted 49 yards for a touchdown with Alan Turner in close pursuit.
"One thing you can't do on the back end is you can't play tentative," Bielema said. "As some things started to unfold, there was just a step of hesitation."
Bielema said alignment issues played a part in Ray's touchdown, citing Gaines' missed tackle and Allen Turner's late pursuit.
"We probably wanted him [Turner] to be over in his alignment at least 2 more yards," Bielema said. "We wanted Ro to be in his alignment 2 more yards.
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"Well, that greatly affects when you got there. The precision in that detail is all about coaching and all about us getting them in the right spots. We can play with our eyes better."
Bielema said he's eager to see the team get a reward -- leaving the field victorious -- for all its work and improvements.
"We're guaranteed 12 opportunities in this season and we failed in the first one," he said. "So although there were a lot of positives and a lot of really, really good things, we're only guaranteed 11 more opportunities. And what we do with those 11 opportunities is going to determine the success of failure of this season."
Sports on 09/02/2014