Bielema: Arkansas Makes Big Statement

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema met the media on Monday for his post-season press conference and touched on a variety of topics - including the fact that his improving team capped off the 2014 season with a huge statement by winning three of its last four games and routing Texas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl in Houston.

With less than a minute left in the Arkansas’ 31-7 bowl win over Texas last week in Houston, the Razorbacks lined up in the victory formation and knelt on the ball rather than run up the score on the Longhorns.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema thinks that’s a perfect way to sum up how far his Razorbacks (7-6) - who won three of their last four games and four of their last six - came in his second year at the helm.

“To take a knee inside the 5-yard line three times because you want to makes a big statement, I think, about where you are at and what you want to do, and how you want to play the game,” Bielema said at Monday's post-season press conference. “So that part helped us out tremendously. And I think after the game…just the respect that I think Arkansas gained. The way we played the game, the way we went about it.”

It was something that he felt strong about after being accused of doing a downward facing Hook ‘Em Horns sign while shaking hands with Texas head coach Charlie Strong during a pre-game press conference.

“I’ll put my hand on a Bible and take every polygraph test known to man, I did not do anything with my hand during that handshake,” Bielema said, “that really probably disturbed me more than anything because that really is not who I am, what I am. And I think that game solidified it more than anything.”

It was quite the turnaround for program that had won just seven games in the previous two years, including going 3-9 in Bielema’s first year after arriving from Wisconsin.

The response to the win and the end-of-the-season momentum has been great according to Bielema.

“Obviously to get out of that bowl game, to fly home the day after, we haven't really been on the road recruiting but have been on the phones a lot,” Bielema said. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of positive reaction, not just from the players, but from high school coaches, parents, so many people reaching out to us on social media.

“A lot of positive feedback, especially as the bowl season played out and the SEC West (2-5) kind of took a couple of hits,” Bielema said. “It was kind of nice to be a team that they could talk about positively, so that's very positive.”

Bielema was asked if he could measure the length the program has come in two years.

“That’s a broad-based question, but I’m probably more excited now to be the head coach at Arkansas than I’ve ever been,” Bielema said. “You’ve heard me say that now several times because it keeps getting better. I mean, it got really bad there for a while.

“... As you move forward, I think that part is really neat to know that you’re getting in on recruits that are are signing at these other places,” Bielema said. “You’re talking with high school coaches that believe that you’re going to be better than those other places. You get opportunities that are afforded to you that maybe haven’t been there before because of what you’ve done but more importantly why you’ve done it or how you’ve done it.

“I think there’s a lot to be said, you know, just staying true to what you want and not compromise and not waver, to not flinch and give into something or somebody that you know you shouldn’t just to try and get a quicker fix,” Bielema continued.

“… I just reaffirms that you have a plan that is good, you have a faith that you know is unyielding and good things will happen,” Bielema said.

Bielema hit on a variety of subjects at his post-season presser, including noting that defensive coordinator Robb Smith had signed a new contract, suspended junior safety Rohan Gaines returning to the team and true freshman offensive lineman Josh Allen being added to the roster.

He also noted that he, Smith and defensive line coach Rory Segrest had met with redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Darius Philon on Saturday.

“I went over to Mobile and met with his dad, his uncle and I think everything is very positive,” Bielema said. “We have given him a lot of information and been able to let him process through that and Darius kind of goes through things at his own pace.

“So I do expect him to give us some news at some point this week, obviously the deadline is the 15th and it's been very, very positive,” Bielema added. “I talked to his aunt and uncle and his dad again yesterday and Darius.

“Darius went to the GoDaddy Bowl (in his hometown) last night so think he is in Mobile enjoying himself but the thing is about Darius he has an incredible future in front of him,” Bielema continued. “When he is going to take advantage of that opportunity in the NFL is going to be in his hands.”

Gaines was suspended for the Texas Bowl for a violation of team rules.

"I had a great conversation with Ro shortly after his completion of the fall semester," Bielema said. "I had a great conversation with his father. After things were said and done, things began to proceed forward I had a great conversation and comment from his dad that will give light to what I think he can accomplish here in the next year. If he comes back and does what he's capable of doing it will probably be one of the greatest lessons that he ever learned in his life.

He will be officially reinstated when classes start for the spring semester at Arkansas next week.

"The kids come in next week and he will hit the ground running full go," Bielema said. "He's full clear academically and fulfilled all the obligations I had asked him to do and he'll be ready to roll.

Bielema noted that defensive end Mitchell Loewen was hurt during the bowl game and will miss spring practice.

He also noted he has high hopes for several players to step up and make improvement in the same manner that linebacker Martrell Spaight did this season while going from a lightly-used junior linebacker to the SEC's leading tackler as a senior.

"I hope it will be Darius Philon," Bielema said " I think he grew a lot this year and can put himself in the right position if he comes back. He’s that guy. I think in the back end, you would like a guy like Rohan to take this experience as a positive one and jump himself forward into doing something good."

"But these young guys, I mean, D.j. Dean, Jared Collins, he don’t say ‘Boo,’ but they really just work and don’t do anything but exactly what you ask him to do," Bielema added. "That’s huge. I think at the Mike linebacker, Brooks Ellis has really developed some leadership skills. It’s going to be fun."

"...Also another guy that really could come on for us is Jamichael Winston," Bielema continued. "I think Jamichael has leadership capabilities that could come out of nowhere and do some really good things."

Bielema also noted that Arkansas had looked at guard Denver Kirkland at tackle and center Frank Ragnow at guard.

"We will sit down and assess, exactly, you know where we are at when we come back," Bielema said. "But I think the opportunity for Denver to play tackle would only benefit him. Not just us as program but he is probably one of the better pass-pro athletes I have ever been around. He has incredible feet. For him, and I know he is not thinking or wired like this, but tackles make more money than guards in the NFL and that's a very real thing.

"If we are better suited to move Frank Ragnow off to a guard spot where he doesn't have to worry about snapping that ball, and Mitch Smothers had a really nice year and now you start bringing in some of these upperclassmen that are going to be with us - we have got three O-linemen that are going to be with us in spring ball," Bielema added. "That's worth it's weight in gold, (true freshmen) Josh Allen and Zach Rogers and the possibility of another guy. Those are really big things that could be helpful to our program."

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