It appears that Arkansas fans got what they paid for in the season opener, a 34-14 victory over Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns on Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long gave Bielema a salary pool for assistants over $3 million after luring him away from Wisconsin. The idea was to hire a veteran coaching staff that could rebuild from a 4-8 debacle of 2012.
So what did the Hogs look like against the Cajuns? Was all of that money well spent?
The first look in game action seemed like things on track in the Bielema system. He advertised that his first recruiting class would provide immediate help and that strength coach Ben Herbert had done an amazing job of retooling the Razorbacks over the last eight months.
I've got no problem saying all of that is true after one game. Hunter Henry, Alex Collins and Denver Kirkland made a splash in the opener as true freshman and others slipped in and out of the lineup, too. Jonathan Williams is a fine SEC back and has that home run ability that a good running game needs.
One of the most impressive things is what you didn't see, players falling out in 95-degree heat, perhaps one of the hottest days of what was a mild. Clearly, Herbert's ability to teach hydration and body recovery is on the cutting edge. After the game, players didn't think it was a particularly nasty day. It was incredibly nasty.
We'll go through our pre-game top 10 list of keys and questions and see what was answered in the opener.
Top 10 Review
Backfield Power - It was there for all to see, two backs going over 100 yards in the same game. Jonathan Williams, courtesy of a 75-yard dash, led the way with 151 yards and freshman Alex Collins added 131. UL coach Mark Hudspeth called them "Thunder and Lightning," a fair thought. Kiero Small had four big carries and three receptions. Small was the third-and-1 back missing last year and is a change-up in the passing game. My favorite play on the day was Small's 10-yard touchdown catch and the way he smoked UL defensive back Corey Trim at the goal line. Ouch!
Quarterbacks - Terrance Broadway was the man with the reputation, but Brandon Allen was the best quarterback on the field, thanks to a fine complementary cast. Allen was polished, skilled and displayed a powerful arm. He answered all questions. Allen will tell you it's nice to have a running attack that goes for 292 to put eight in the box for some seams to open up in the passing game.
Down and Dirty Inside -- That's what Arkansas was, but temper that by noting it was against a Sun Belt team. But, the Hogs did not look down and dirty inside against underdogs the last few years. They had to beat them with finesse. That wasn't the case Saturday. Arkansas was the more physical team. Hudspeth commented on that afterwards. He said, "They make you tackle them." And that's hard to do when you are getting knocked around up front.
No Option -- Broadway's bread-and-butter is the read option and Arkansas negated that from the start. Broadway carried 13 times for 24 gained yards, but he also lost 25 for a minus 1 net. He was not a threat on the option. It was clear that the Cajuns were not going to run the ball against the Hogs and finished with a net of 85.
Big Plays -- Arkansas had gains of 75 and 17 in the running game, and added pass plays of 49, 25, 27 and 17 on the way to 522 total yards and a per play average of 7.1. Louisiana totaled 274 after averaging 455 last year. The Cajuns had a long play of 31, on a wheel route that Bielema moaned about afterwards. It's clear that he doesn't want anymore wheel routes uncovered. UL's long run was 17 yards. So, the Hogs won the day as far as big plays. Tackling was solid for the most part. The defense is improved.
Mesh -- It's hard to believe there is only one holdover coach on this staff, Taver Johnson, based on the way things went in the opener. It was a smooth operation. Coordinators had plays in on time. UL's staff returned completely intact. Really, neither team had any bad problems. It was a clean game from both sides.
The Look - It was darn nice. Bielema has converted this team to his physical nature. The pads were lower. Pass protection was good. Allen threw 22 passes, completing 15. He was smooth and delivered the ball on time. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has him on track to be a solid SEC quarterback, even if Saturday's work was against a suspect Sun Belt defense breaking in a new coordinator and exposing a weak secondary.
Talent -- The talent is decent, but not outstanding. It's clear there are some weapons, but it's sometimes hard to measure that against a Sun Belt team. Speed at middle linebacker is an issue. Overall ability at cornerback is probably still a question mark, although the Hogs made more than there usual share of plays there Saturday. A century long (my way of expressing sarcasm over the last 12 years) problem of turning for the ball while it's in the air did look improved. We'll have to watch the cornerbacks more to see if that continues to be a slightly better.
Fresh Help -- Oh, there is help. Hunter Henry is going to be a treat at tight end. Big, long tight ends are tough on linebackers and safeties. Henry looks like a mismatch and he knows how to sit in space and make himself available to Allen. Collins is the real deal. And he looks comfortable in a supporting role under Williams. Denver Kirkland didn't play like a freshman at right tackle. Brooks Ellis, D. J. Dean are going to help on defense. There is help in this class.
Offensive tackles -- Grady Ollison, David Hurd and Kirkland looked like SEC players. They moved the pile. Ollison was clearly a factor early when the Hogs made yards on the perimeter, plundering UL's left flank time after time. Ollison can get out front and turn the corner, cleaning up trash. He better be quick because senior center Travis Swanson is right on his heels in a pulling frenzy that has not been seen before from that position at Arkansas. He's a tackle playing center.
Extras -- I didn't see any fat guys on the field for Arkansas. That was one of my tests in pre-game warmups, to scan the field for those that aren't lean and trim. There aren't any on this Bielema team. I didn't see Martrell Spaight's lone tackle, perhaps on special teams. So, I don't think there were any Cajuns that were "Spaighted," the term coined in camp for those the junior college linebacker planted. Javontee Herndon fielded punts in fine fashion. About the only thing that went wrong was the post-game celebration. Bielema said he didn't understand the tradition of singing the Fight Song to the fans. He said he'd work on that and promised to participate. OK, the head coach gets one pass on that, but don't let it happen again.
State of the Hogs: Top 10 Review
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
TCU vs Iowa State primerAfter falling in double-overtime to Arkansas, TCU looks to get back to their winning ways against Iowa State.
Horned Frog Insider09/15/2016
The Ultimate Midlands TeamThere is a lot of talent in the Midlands region, with a vast majority of the highest rated recruits playing high school football in the Lone Star State. Which prospects made the…
These rival helmet color swaps are revoltingSwapping rival teams' helmet colors? It shouldn't have been done, but someone did it anyway.
Post-July 2017 Top 100 Player RankingsWith the July evaluation periods, Nike Skills Academy, adidas Nations and Under Armour's Elite 24 over, Scout's basketball recruiting team has updated the 2017 top 100. DeAndre…