It’s finally game week. It is clear that Arkansas’ football team is happy that it has finally arrived.
Razorback offensive coordinator Dan Enos perhaps summed it up best.
“Guys are sick of going against each other,” Enos said.
Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith echoed that same sentiment.
“Our guys are definitely tired of hitting on each other,” Smith said. “They are ready to hit somebody on another team.”
That will happen this Saturday when the head coach Bret Bielema and Arkansas hosts UTEP in a 2:30 p.m. game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
It’s certainly a different opener than last season when the Razorbacks had to travel to play defending SEC Champion Auburn.
"Last year was a totally different opener," Bielema said Thursday. "A conference rivalry game, a game where I really don't like them people all that much. There were a lot of things going into that opener.
“I would have lot rather played them in Game 12 than Game One. Because I think I saw where we were going and they were going, and it was kind of in opposite directions, which is fun to watch."
UTEP is coming off a 7-6 season just like Arkansas and is led by third-year head coach Sean Kugler.
"They run the ball very, very well," Bielema said. "They are a physical team offensively. Defensively they blitz, they blitz, they blitz, they blitz. They blitz all the time. That's a risk-reward, but you don't want the wrong scenario where the wrong guy gets hit at the wrong time in the wrong way and the ball is loose and creates momentum."
Bielema breaks down his team’s schedule into non-conference games (UTEP, Toledo, Texas Tech), the early part of the SEC schedule (Texas A&M, Tennessee and Alabama) and the six games that follow Arkansas’ bye week.
“The thing that I naturally do whether it is right, wrong or indifferent is that we kind of break the season up in little mini-schedules,” Bielema said. “So I kind of look at it as we have three-game non-conference that is very important for us to play well and to find out who our players are, how they play under stressful conditions. I think that is an important stretch.
“Then we will have three games on the road in the SEC with A&M, Tennessee and Alabama and that is really going to define where we are at in the league race. I think going into that bye week you should have an idea of where you are headed.
“If we can get better every week that is what I concern myself with. I think as a head coach or just as a competitor there are games that you look forward to because there are guys that you want to compete against.
“In recruiting I probably get wrapped up in some of those battles for us because that is always kind of in the forefront of my mind - not just this year’s recruiting, but two years down the road.”
One member of the media asked if Auburn, the first game after Arkansas’ bye, is one that Bielema looks forward to more than any other.
“Again, I think those are things that are best kept personally to myself, but if you know me, you probably know the answers,” Bielema said. “I am excited, though. It is easy to get wrapped up in those moments, but you really, truly just get involved in the moment.
“I think UTEP, just watching them on film every day, they get better and they bring a lot of pressure defensively and you realize how one hit can change the game. I think we have to be prepared in all the phases we have in the game and we just have to move forward.”
The biggest things that Bielema wants to see this season are better rushing stats against SEC foes and better execution in the fourth quarter, something that wasn’t the case last season.
“I think without a doubt,” Bielema said. “That is a big part of our offense is to play and play well in SEC competition. I get it, stats were skewed a little bit. Texas Tech, we ran for a lot of yards and Northern Illinois we ran for a lot of yards.
“More importantly we have got to execute well in the fourth quarter. There were certain games where we would have really good rushing numbers and then we would get away from it.
“Maybe we would only have 100 yards, but we would have 80 and above at halftime and for some reason we wouldn’t go back to those same things.
“I think that is not going to be an issue with Dan and the staff. I think they understand it is a four-quarter game and if we believe in one thing it is that we should be more effective in the second half than we are in the first half because of the wear and tear that you can put on an opponent.”
Enos expects to see a lot of schemes from UTEP.
“With the multiplicity of the things they do on defense and all the things they are capable of doing obviously, it gets our attention,” Enos said. “They are a very well coached team that plays with a lot of effort. They’ve got our sense of urgency really high and they do a really good job.”
Smith broke down the UTEP offense.
“Right now based on last year, on first and second down, they're about 50 percent play-action,” Smith said. “ There's 10 percent boots and nakeds where they move the pocket. A very small number of drop-back passes on first and second downs.
“It's going to be critical that we communicate and have our eyes in the right place. For us, it all starts with stopping the run. We've got make sure we get that done."