Wobbling Hogs steadfast behind Bielema

By: Bob Holt
Published: Monday, September 25, 2017
Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema speaks during a time out in the first half an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. Arkansas defeated Tennessee 73-60. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema speaks during a time out in the first half an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. Arkansas defeated Tennessee 73-60. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Bret Bielema had the Walton Arena crowd cheering with approval.

The date was Feb. 2, 2013, two months after Bielema had been hired as the Arkansas Razorbacks’ football coach on the heels of winning a third consecutive Big Ten championship at Wisconsin.

“We didn’t come here to play in the SEC,” Bielema said at halftime of the Razorbacks’ basketball game against Tennessee. “We came here to win the SEC.”

It was what University of Arkansas, Fayetteville fans, hungry for the Hogs to win their first SEC championship in football, wanted to hear.

But in Bielema’s fifth season — and Arkansas’ 26th season in the conference — winning an SEC championship remains an elusive goal.

Arkansas’ best conference finish under Bielema (5-3 in 2015) tied for a third in the SEC West. His teams are 10-23 in SEC games after losing to Texas A&M 50-43 in overtime Saturday at AT&T Stadium.

It’s the seventh consecutive season the Razorbacks (1-2, 0-1) have lost their SEC opener — Alabama (2011-2012) and Texas A&M the past five seasons.

Bielema was asked after Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0) if he believed he still has a chance to lead the Razorbacks to an SEC championship or if he’s running out of time.

The Aggies have defeated the Hogs six consecutive times, the past five with Bielema as coach.

“Well, I think the SEC West is one of the toughest divisions in college football,” Bielema said. “I know A&M has got one win in the conference now and we don’t. So that puts them ahead of us.

“But we’ve got everybody else [in the West] left on our schedule and also two crossover games. We’re going to take every game for what it is. After a while, you obviously will start to mathematically get people, but not right now.”

Arkansas is 6-12 under Bielema in games decided by eight points or fewer points. That includes a 3-4 record in overtime games — 0-3 against Texas A&M.

“We’ve had a lot of tough losses where one play here, one play there, it goes a different way,” senior quarterback Austin Allen said. “It’s a different perception around this program.”

Allen said the players remain solidly behind Bielema.

“I think he’s a heck of a coach, building it the right way,” Allen said. “I mean, right now people, all they see is overtime loss, same story.

“But what’s in that locker room, the trust we have in him, the trust we have in the coaches, I don’t think the outside world really sees that.

“We’re going to continue to come out here every Saturday playing hard, not just for us, but for all the coaches, all the fans. We don’t go out there on Saturdays just to play. We go out there to win.”

The Razorbacks face New Mexico State (2-2) — which beat Texas-El Paso 41-14 Saturday — at 11 a.m. Saturday in Fayetteville, then resume SEC play at South Carolina (3-1, 1-1) on Oct. 7.

“We still believe,” said Arkansas junior receiver Jonathan Nance, who had three catches for 100 yards and a touchdown against Texas A&M. “It’s a heartbreak, tough loss. We’re just going to bounce back next week.”

Senior tailback David Williams, a graduate transfer from South Carolina, said the Razorbacks are sticking together.

“I saw fight from everybody on this team,” Williams said.

Allen said he would be surprised if the Razorbacks don’t practice well this week.

“It sucks right now but we’ve got a lot of football left,” Allen said. “We’ll be ready for New Mexico State.”

Texas A&M safety Armani Watts made a diving interception of an Allen pass in the end zone intended for tight end C.J. O’Grady on the game’s last play.

“The guys are crushed,” Bielema said. “But obviously three games into a season, we’ve got a lot of football in front of us.

“If they can fight that way for four quarters and beyond for the rest of the year, they’ll be all right.”

Williams said Bielema hasn’t lost the players.

“The team is definitely all the way with him,” Williams said.

“He’s just such a caring person. He cares so much about us.”

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.