Arkansas coach Bret Bielema covered the challenge of Texas A&M, the status of Brandon Allen at quarterback, the return of some key talents at wide receiver and the excitement of playing a top 10 team in Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference.
"We have an opportunity to play at home our SEC opener against A&M and everything that they bring," Bielema said. "To have a top 10 program roll into town here, I think not only our players, our state, our fan base, everybody is excited.
"This team continues to take steps forward on a daily basis. Probably had one of our better Tuesday practices of the year yesterday and very, very excited about the challenge. Very disappointed in how we finished the game last week and took some life lessons there that unfortunately needed to be learned. But they were learned in a non-conference game. As we enter SEC play, we know that every game matters tenfold from this point forward."
Bielema said quarterback Brandon Allen, out last week with a shoulder injury, has still not been cleared to throw. He has taken snaps and would make handoffs in Wednesday's practice. But, AJ Derby and Austin Allen would get the bulk of snaps this week. Bielema said Allen's situation is about the same as last week in that they would wait until game day to make a final decision. But, he said he would not jeopardize the quarterback's bright future by playing Brandon Allen.
Wide receiver D'Arthur Cowan had "a great practice" Tuesday and is in the plans for Saturday's game. Cowan had practiced a little bit last week, but is full go now.
Cowan's return, along with Keon Hatcher's presence, helps the wide receiver group.
"We got Keon back last week, but weren't sure how he'd hold up in a game," Bielema said. "To be honest, we struggled to piece it together at wide receiver for the first four games. To get those two, Keon and D'Arthur, back is great and a little bit of a surprise. To have them to go along with Javontee Herndon is big."
On the key penalties against Rutgers, Bielema said referees are at practice and penalties are called and emphasized daily going back to spring. He said penalties against Rutgers were critical and might have meant a difference between a win and a loss.
"We have made an effort to get that changed and those that can't change, we'll move on without them," Bielema said. "I think the sky is the limit (with penalties eliminated)."
The challenge of playing the Texas A&M offense is quite a task. Bielema said it's more than just going against Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at quarterback.
"It's very, very different challenge," Bielema said. "In going through different offenses in different conferences over the past few years, you see a little bit of everything and they have a little bit of everything in their offense.
"Manziel is a unique player. He has the ability to throw it into a tight window and do it on the move. He can keep things alive with his feet."
Bielema said the Arkansas players are well aware of Manziel's talents. They have seen all of the highlights and watched A&M games.
"Our kids watch TV and listen to everything," he said. "They are out there on social media. But they know how great he is, but what you also have to know is that they have great running backs, wide receivers and offensive linemen.
"Manziel presents a great challenge. What we have to do is disrupt his throwing. It may not always be about sacking him, but changing his throwing lanes and make it tough on him."
The Arkansas offense must control the ball and score, Bielema said.
"Our offense is wired in such a way that we have to control the football," he said. "But we have to move and score. Then, all three areas -- offense, defense and special teams -- have to work together."
Bielema said that the Hogs have to do a better job of handling success. He was asked if overcoming lack of personnel -- most notably playing with a backup quarterback -- forced some unconventional calls in the Rutgers game. The Hogs converted a first down with a fake punt to set up a field goal and then hit a halfback pass for a touchdown.
"When you are breaking in a new quarterback, it's a tremendous challenge," Bielema said. "So yes, you do (try unconventional things). I think when we hit the halfback pass, it may have surprised some people, including our guys on the sideline. Our guys were out of their minds on the sideline.
"We knew we needed to get some help. We have some issues as we are building our team. But we had several opportunities to put the nail in the coffin. You can make a play when the ball hits you on the hands on defense, or your offense can get a first down."
Bielema: A&M Visit Excites Everyone
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