Bielema, the Arkansas coach, didn't dodge playing Texas every year in the future, but he knows schedule making is a tough business.
“It would be fun,” Bielema said. “I don’t know how Charlie feels. It would be an easy one to sell, but in today’s world there are so many changes that are going to evolves. I think the playoffs and the way it goes. We’re talking about games in 2021. I’m hoping to be live and kicking. I just get crazy when we start talking about these event schedules. Obviously, the Big12 conference and everything we just witnessed. I’m sure there’s going to be changes. It’s a new world, it’s an exciting world to be a coach at this time, this day, and this age is absolutely awesome.”
It's clear that it's a rivalry where everyone watches what they say, what they do. A nervous twitch of your hand can send the other fan base into a tizzy, as Bielema found out Saturday at the lone media event with the two head coaches this weekend.
Bielema and Strong were asked to pose for a ceremonial handshake at the end of a media opportunity. Both held the hand shake for about 30 seconds, smiling for the cameras. Only one TV guy who got it all on tape, isolated on a nervous twitch by Bielema's left hand held down by his side with a gesture that is considered disrespectful by Longhorns.
For just an instant, Bielema's two middle fingers scratched at his wedding ring. And, if you freeze that, it shows the downward hook 'em sign that Texas fans think mocks them. Bielema said that's not what he did, just a nervous twitch for a split second.
It speaks at the heart of what makes Texas fans arrogant and sorry. They will take something like that and turn it for their own means. Never mind that Bielema wasn't aware of doing anything.
Bielema does understand the thoughts in Arkansas about playing Texas, maybe a little better today after what happened to him yesterday. During that media opportunity he was asked about the history of the rivalry.
“I think it’s a little more old school and old school is a good school,” Bielema said. “I think to have that be so important to so many people. Everybody just has this picture of maybe a gentleman of distinguished character that we were talking about (in former coaches Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles). But, I met some very angry women about this event. I think it cross ends both gender and age group.”
There was a luncheon were players from both teams discussed the game. There were a couple of jabs about attendance for the event. Texas players chuckled at mention of a large crowd, around 71,500. They said they play in front of 91,000 every week. “It’s a lot of fun for us to be a part of it,” Bielema said. “Even you can see on stage, our three guys didn’t like comments they said. They probably didn’t like comments we said. That’s why you play the game.”
What isn't so fun is the way folks take to Twitter, after using Photoshop to say what is or isn't the truth. In reality, Photoshop wasn't involved in this downward hook 'em sign. But it was just a hand hanging at the side with a nervous twitch. The game will be fun. There won't be any worries about nervous twitches once the ball is snapped. It's going to be a hard-hitting physical affair between two defenses. The key to the game may lay in the offensive line where the Hogs seem to have the advantage. The Texas offensive line has had trouble with consistent play this season, along with quarterback Tyrone Swoopes.
Swoopes has thrown for 13 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Conversely, the UA's Brandon Allen has 18 Tds with just five interceptions. Perhaps a better comparison is the top two running backs for the two teams. UT's Malcolm Brown has 683 rushing yards, six Tds, and Johnathan Gray has 628 yards, seven Tds. For Arkansas, Jonathan Williams has 1,085 yards, 11 Tds, Alex Collins 1,024 yards, 12 Tds.
It isn't so much the stats, but the opposition. Texas plays in the Big 12 where there aren't a lot of dominating running teams. Arkansas is in the SEC West, where the defensive lines and linebackers are tough week in and week out.
What really matters is that Arkansas has found its defensive touch in the last half of the season. After giving up 45 points against Georgia, they gave up two Tds against Alabama-Birmingham in a blowout victory, two against Mississippi State, then none in back-to-back shutouts of LSU and Ole Miss, then two at Missouri.
The key is that Arkansas has been good in turnover ratio for the last half of the season. Allen has only five interceptions on the season. The difference between this season and last, he will throw the ball away instead of throwing into coverage. He had one for a pick six against Auburn, one to end the Alabama game, two against Georgia and one to end the Mississippi State game. That's it.
Conversely, the Hogs have done a little better at forcing turnovers. They have forced 22 turnovers and were good in the last half of the season in that category.
We'll open our keys to victory right here, with the turnover ratio. Texas was minus 11 on the season. The Hogs have to win that category, as they have late in the season. And, it starts with consistent play at quarterback. It will come down to pressure on Swoopes, most likely from UA's defensive front, led by end Trey Flowers and tackle Darius Philon. The Texas offensive line has been a rotation trying to get it right. Four different players have started at right tackle, three at right guard and three at center. Conversely, Arkansas has had the same starting lineup in the offensive line for every game. If you want a quick way to lose the turnover ratio, it's lack of stability in the offensive front. That will turn loose defenders almost every time.
Top 10 Keys to Victory
1, Turnover Ratio – This is the place to start if you want to analyze the Texas Bowl. If Arkansas is successful in holding onto the football, it's likely going to lead to a comfortable victory. Texas probably does not have the offense to consistently drive the football against a good Arkansas defense.
2, Contain Brown – This works for both sides of the ball. The best player on the Texas team is defensive tackle Malcom Brown. He's the best defensive linemen in college football and a likely first-round draft pick. Quarterback Brandon Allen must identify where Brown, the Big 12's top sack man with 6.5, lines up and adjust blocking schemes for it, perhaps checking plays to run away from Brown's “spike” defensive charges. Brown does not try to control blockers. He wrecks blocking schemes. He'll likely require double teams if the Hogs run to his side. Then, on offense, the Hogs have to control running back Malcolm Brown. The names are slightly different, but he's the best of two UT runners. He's strong and powerful. With a better offensive line, Brown might truly be dangerous.
3, Tight Ends – This might be tricky for the Hogs, based on the availability of AJ Derby. The senior tight end had knee surgery before the Missouri game. Bielema suggested earlier this week that the Hogs would have Derby for some situations, but he's probably not an every-down player in the Texas Bowl. Hunter Henry will likely be joined by Jeremy Sprinkle and Alex Voelzke in double tight end alignments this week. Voelzke is a Texas product and is excited for this outing. Derby is still listed as a starter for the game, but it might be a surprise if he plays a lot of snaps based on the recovery time on knee surgery.
4, Stinger – Who has it? Bowl games are always tricky. Who wants to be there and who does not? Texas has been a bowl regular. This is the first for many Arkansas players. Only those who played against Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl three years ago remember bowl trips for the Hogs. Most on this roster were not regulars against K-State in AT&T Stadium. It has seemed like the Hogs are the ones who most want to be in Houston this week. They seem to have been disrespected by the Texas attitudes at bowl events. I think this is a key that favors the Hogs.
5, Fill In Safety – Arkansas left starting safety Rohan Gaines at home this week, suspended for violation of team rules. That means senior free safety Alan Turner gets true freshman Josh Liddell for the second time in three games as the starter at strong safety. Liddell finished the LSU game when Gaines was tossed for targeting, then played the first half against Ole Miss. There were no glitches in either game, but Texas is sure to test him early. De'Andre Coley and Davyon McKinney are the two backups at safety.
6, Atmosphere – Arkansas was given only 10,500 tickets to sell in NRG Stadium, capacity 71,500. Of course, that's all Texas got, too. But it's a given that most of the Houston area boosters who bought advance tickets are probably going to shovel those tickets to UT fans. So, what will the atmosphere be like in the stadium. Arkansas boosters are numerous in the Houston area, too. But how many could find tickets. I'm guessing this is a 60-40 pro Texas crowd, but who knows? Arkansas players have seen a great show of Arkansas supporters in Houston the last couple of days. Maybe this will be a surprising aspect of this game. Don't underestimate Arkansas fans. They may take over NRG Stadium. It's the first sellout in the history of the Texas Bowl. Will it be dominant red or orange?
7, Leverage – It's been almost one month since the two teams played. Who has maintained that physical leverage point required to play the game in the trenches at a high level. Both coaches stress physical play, but who enhanced it with their bowl practices. Arkansas players claim their workouts were physical an intense from start to finish. Brandon Allen said the Hogs brought a physical, intense team to Houston. That will be as much of a key as any aspect in the game.
8, Rushing Defense – Who can stop the run? Arkansas allows just 124 yards per game, 22nd best in the nation. Texas is good, but at 162.1 yards per game, that's just 64th in the nation. And, if you look at the offense, the Hogs run it for 220 yards per game, 26th best nationally. Texas rushes for 148.7, 85th in the nation. This favors the Hogs. If it holds true in the game, this might be as strong of a key as any. It's what Arkansas players think is the key to the game, as long as the secondary continues to limit big plays as it did for most of the season.
9, Tradition – This has been a game Texas dominated for the first half of the series, but the Hogs found a way after Frank Broyles arrived. Texas leads, 56-21, but the Hogs won 12 times since 1960. They are 2-2 since leaving the SWC in 1991. The most famous Arkansas victories were in 1964, when the Hogs won 14-13 over No. 1 Texas on the way to the national title. The most notable Texas victory was in 1969 when the Great Shootout was waged in Fayetteville. The Hogs beat No. 1 Texas, 42-11, in 1981.
10, Guard Play – Sebastian Tretola and Denver Kirkland will be largely responsible for handling UT tackles Malcom Brown and Hassan Ridgeway. If Tretola and Kirkland have good days, the Hogs may be sitting in the victory column and celebrate another victory over Texas like the 2000 Cotton Bowl when the Hogs rolled 27-9 on a day Houston Nutt flashed the downward hook 'em sign in celebration near the end of the game, something many Texas fans have not forgotten. Tretola and Kirkland are massive bodies. If they tilt the field, Bielema may get to flash that dreaded sign to Texas fans on his way out of NRG Stadium.