As he stated on Saturday night, Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema had two quarters that he could live with in his team's season opener and two that he most certainly could not.
That resulted in the Razorbacks being tied with Auburn 21-21 at half, but ultimately falling to No. 6 Auburn 45-21 as the Tigers ripped off 24 straight points and dominating the second half.
“I’m sure all of us growing up in life, you probably took a beating or two,” Bielema said. “As much as I disliked it, my brothers used to whoop me every day. I have a feeling I’m probably a stronger man today because of it. We took our beatings last year a couple of times. We took the worst two probably in the Alabama and the South Carolina games. We took that as an opportunity to say it’s not going to happen again. 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.
“And when we get a little more, when we get a couple of more troops in our Army and a couple of more guys believing in what we’re doing and in an unwavering faith in that for four quarters,” Bielema added. “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. “Because there are teams that take a beating, as we did in the fourth quarter like there, or do something and you’ve got guys that quit or don’t have part in it. Maybe those guys that we talked about, they came to the sideline and they’re not going to be back this week, but there’s no quit in this dog. We’ll be out there.”
It was – obviously – not a happy flight home for Bielema and his Razorbacks.
“Believe me, I was beside myself Saturday night,” Bielema said. “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 there road, it makes you feel good.”
Or at least better as the Razorbacks – who have now lost 10 straight games – start preparing to host Nicholls State (0-1), whose 44-16 loss to Air Force on Saturday was its seventh straight loss.
“In regards to Nicholls, obviously a team that played Air Force, you know on a significant losing streak like we are,” Bielema said. “So that taste of a win is what we both want and obviously our guys are getting prepared this week. What I really want this week to be about is how they prepare and snap into that preparation because obviously we have two bye weeks ahead of us (Oct. 4 and Nov. 8) so it is really important for them to snap into a 20-hour work week and stuff like that they need to do for the rest of the season.”
Bielema was asked how he walks a fine line between confidence-building and criticism when a streak like this is happening – albeit it is the first time in his nine-year coaching career that it has happened.
“I think one of the things that happens when you are in a situation like this is - just as when you are winning it is very hard to stop that streak because you get that confidence and momentum, - it is important for our guys to realize they can't accept defeat.”
Bielema made it clear that he will get some younger players snaps this week in practice in hopes of getting increased snaps in games.
That will include true freshman in safety Josh Liddell, sophomore linebacker Josh Williams, true freshmen linebackers Randy Ramsey, Dewayne Eugene and Khalia Hackett, defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson, junior offensive Sebastian Tretola, true freshmen wide receivers Kendrick Edwards and JoJo Robinson.
He also noted that true freshman center Frank Ragnow was not rushed into things at Auburn, but would see action next week and that fellow freshman offensive lineman Brian Wallace was in a wait-and-see mode.
"We wanted to get a few more in there to get in the game more," Bielema said. "We just didn't want a guy like Frank Ragnow - we didn't want to put him in under those conditions and try to to do a two-minute and some things in the second half. Same thing with Brian Wallace."
Bielema knows his team has to have better play in the secondary.
“I think that the one thing you can’t do in the back end is you can’t play tentative," Bielema said. "You can’t play in a way that you’re hesitant in any way. As some things started to unfold, there was just a step of hesitation. You look at that big play on the sideline, where you missed a tackle and safety AT (Alan Turner) barely missed him getting in the end zone.
"We can play with our eyes better," Bielema added. "I thought our defensive coordinator (Robb Smith) and (defensive back) Coach (Clay) Jennings made a great point on Friday night that a lot of our success and potential failures on defense were going to be on eye discipline. Where their eyes are. Where they’re going.
(Auburn head) Coach (Gus) Malzahn has an offensive system that certain things are going to trigger a response that lets not only that person react, but it allows the reaction out of the next player," Bielema continued. "It’s kind of a chain reaction. It’s a domino effect to get the whole defense to work together. So when one link in that chain breaks down it affects everybody.”
Arkansas decided to have punter Sam Irwin Hill boot the ball twice from the 35 and 37 instead of having John Henson try field goals of 52 and 54.
"You know it's more about where the ball is at," Bielema said. "You can kind of do the math. You have got to be a quick major to figure it all out but it's obviously seven yards from the hold and 10 yards from the end zone so we had kind of put that mark at the 25-yard line - 25 to 20 we felt good in one direction.
"Inside the 20 we kind of feel we can guarantee where we are at," Bielema added. "But I tell you what he (Irwin Hill) hit the ball extremely well. He did very well in their operation."
A negative play on third down made Bielema's decision on the other one.
"The second one, obviously he got a little bit backed up because of the negative play in the run game which affected my thinking a little bit," Bielema said. "We actually okayed that I was going to go for two downs. I told our play-caller we had two downs to get there. We went with a wham play and there was a bust at the point of attack which caused it to bounce and then obviously negative yards after that."
Bielema pointed out that the game was a seven-point one deep into the third quarter.
“You know, during the course of the game obviously I’m locked into what’s going on, offense, defense, special teams," Bielema said. "I do remember at some point on Sunday, I can’t remember what it was, on my far wall in my office, I had the SEC Network going, just kind of all the time, just to ... And I popped in, I looked up at the screen and there was you know a few minutes remaining in the third quarter and it was a seven-point game and you realize you’re in a good situation."
It was at that point that Brandon Allen's pass under pressure resulted in a pick six.
"It’s a seven-point game, and our defense had made a stand and gotten the ball back in our offense’s hand," Bielema said. "We have a guy slip off one of our protectors, and hits BA right under the chin as he’s releasing the ball. And obviously turns the ball over and they get in the end zone, and it’s all the sudden a 14-point game.
"So, we’re there knocking on the door," Bielema said. "I’m not going to settle with anything other than a win, so I’ve got to take the positives that we can have out of it, continue to learn from the negatives and move forward.”
Allen, who truck was a victim of suspected arson earlier in the week, was 18-of-31 for xxx yards and two touchdowns with what his coach said was five drops by his receivers.
“I tell you what, I liked BA," Bielema said. "I thought he was, obviously he went through a little bit. You think about where we were last Monday, you know. That didn’t affect him at all. I talked to him about it that day, but I kind of let him just handle his own business because I saw he was handling it. Last night we talked about it a little bit just to make sure we’re all on the same page. Anything I can do. But he was engaged."
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