Thursday Grid Update, 10/31

Bret Bielema sees more energy in the Hogs after a bye week as preparations for Auburn finalize on Thursday.

Bret Bielema stayed late at his Thursday afternoon media briefing, well past when the UA media relations representative said, "Two more questions." Bielema's explanation: he didn't want to go home yet because of all of the trick or treaters.

The Arkansas head coach still has a sense of humor despite a five-game losing streak and an 0-4 SEC record. He also has "tremendous respect" Auburn and Gus Malzahn.

Bielema said he hasn't really spent time with Malzahn. He was asked what the two head coaches would discuss at what always is a brief pre-game visit among the two head coaches.

"I really don't know," he said. "I do know that I wondered what I would say at those 50-yard line meetings with guys like Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno. But usually I just let them talk.

"I didn't really know much about Gus when I came here, but I've learned a lot. I didn't know he was a high school coach, but I've heard about him here, at Arkansas State and know what he's done at Auburn. I have great respect for what he's done.

"I have great respect for coaches that have won. I think both of us have had success as head coaches. I do know some of the guys on that staff and I have respect for them."

Most of the questions Bielema fielded on Thursday were big picture in nature. In regards to the game, Bielema said the open date had produced more energy.

"I like where our players are," he said. "I don't think anyone is limited. I thought we had more energy this week. The bye week gave us an opportunity to get some players healed."

Bielema talked a little about the senior class and what they had been through over the last two years. He said there's been solid leadership in the group. He mentioned Robert Thomas, Byran Jones, Chris Smith, Jarrett Lake and Eric Bennett for their help on defense, then Travis Swanson, Kiero Small, Austin Tate and Javontee Herndon on offense. He had special praise for kicker Zach Hocker.

"Hocker is kinda of the unwritten hero of this group," Bielema said. "Seldom do you see a kicker get votes for captain, but he did.

"I always feel an obligation to honor the seniors. I remember when I became head coach I called all of the Outland Award voters for Joe Thomas. Some said they had never had a call from a head coach.

"I tried to call all of the voters for the Groza Award (for the nation's top kicker). I think Zach should be that guy. I wanted to convey all the things he's meant to us. He's been so into it for us this year."

As far as big-picture thoughts, Bielema said he is seeing the little things begin to fall in place. He was talking about off-the-field things that he believes to on-the-field success down the road.

"We had an academic meeting today and I see that a number have changed Fs into Bs and Cs," he said. "We didn't have one player late to any lifting groups this week. That's the first time it's been that way since I've been here.

"We are not skipping any steps. I may not have been a part of a season like this as a head coach, but I have as an assistant and a coordinator. I remember a 1-10 season at Iowa and we didn't skip steps. It wasn't going to be as good, but we set our standards. We are doing that here."

Bielema was asked if he caught Russell Wilson saying "go Hawgs" after his victory in an interview. (Some said it was actually go (sea) Hawks.)

"We are going to say it was Go Hogs," Bielema said. "I can tell you that I got off a plane on the Monday after the Alabama game and I got a long page and a half text from Russell thanking me. This is a guy lighting up the football world, but he took the time to do that."

Bielema was asked who would wear No. 98 for Robert Thomas this week.

"We'll tweet that out tomorrow," Bielema said. "I will say that Robert wanted to give it to Travis Swanson the first week, but he can't wear No. 98 since that's an eligible number. I will say that I've guided him a little for Saturday."

Bielema said that Thomas' original thoughts that the number had to go to "a big frame player" isn't true.

"We will order some smaller jerseys for the last three games," Bielema said. "We are coaching him on that."

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