Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema knows that all involved are disappointed in team’s 1-2 start, but finds solace in the fact that his team got better as the season went along last year.
He’s hoping that is the case again this season as the Razorbacks meet Texas A&M (3-0) Saturday night at 6 p.m. at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas.
“We are actually excited about the start of SEC play for us,” Bielema said on Wednesday's SEC Teleconference. “I know a couple of other teams have gotten some games in, but this is our first one and to be able to go to Cowboys Stadium and play in that environment, we are very, very excited about a kind of rebirth to the season.
“Hopefully it is going to produce some better results. Although Saturday we had a setback in the loss column, I thought offensively we made some strides forward – definitely in the red zone, the ability to run the football and some things we are going to need as we enter SEC play.
“Defensively, we definitely saw some things that we can shore up in the short term, not just down in the red zone, but particularly on third down and being able to make an offense play a little bit left-handed and things we can carry forward.”
Arkansas was 2-1 overall last season and 0-1 in SEC play entering last season’s game with Texas A&M, which the Razorbacks let slip away in the fourth quarter.
“I think the part that our players need to understand is that the SEC play is exactly what it means,” Bielema said. “There are no games in this past couple of weeks that should have an effect on us, obviously there are tiebreakers and all that jazz, but I think guys are excited to open up in SEC play and see exactly where they play from a year ago.”
The Razorbacks started last season 4-5 before winning three of their last four games, including wins over LSU, Ole Miss and a bowl victory over Texas.
“I think there are certain things that have been steady, you lose players,” Bielema said. “We had four players get drafted off of that unit that were very, very good not only on the field, but also great leaders. I think that part, especially has been a little bit on the defensive sice, and we are rebuilding.
“I do see a lot of similarities. We are a team where our roster is not quite where he needs to be depth-wise at certain positions and it is something that only time and recruiting will help.
“We develop our players hopefully as well as anybody in the country and we are going to get better every week.
“I have made this point to our players all along – during our career as coaches, during my time as head coach, we have always played better at the end of the year than we have at the beginning just because we believe you can get better every week.
“I remember a game where we played Nebraska at my old place (in 2012) where we lost to them in heartbreaker, but came back and beat them pretty handily at the end of the year (in the Big 10 Championship game).
“The same thing this year as last year is that we hope to play better in week 10, 11 and 12 than we do in the beginning because that means as coaches you are getting your players better.”
Bielema noted that Kody Walker has a chance to play this weekend and that both linebacker Josh Williams and wide receiver Eric Hawkins - who did not play last week have been cleared to do so this week.
“Kody practiced yesterday and is still a little bit sore with that hand, but I think he is going to be able to help us in some fashion as we move forward,” Bielema said. “…Josh and Eric have both been cleared 100 percent.”
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It certainly doesn't hurt that Texas Tech and Texas A&M have the same type offenses in terms of getting the Arkansas defense ready.
“Obviously that is very well-documented, but I think you would be surprised how many coaches know coaches on the other staffs and have worked with them in the past and share information during the course of the week within the conference and out of conference,” Bielema said. “It is just what goes on.
“That part is there and I know is real, but what I was making reference for more than anything is there is no better assimilation of what you are going to see on Saturdays than what you see ion game days prior.
“In practice, you can have the scout (team) simulate it and we can go good on good and try to make it as good as we can, but nothing is as good as what a game day is
“Because A&M and Tech have close ties, not just philosophy wise, but with coaches, it just helps us.”
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Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen leads the SEC in passing yardage with 916 yards (305 yards per game) and threw the ball 53 times in a loss to Toldeo two weeks ago.
The Razorbacks got back to a normal run-pass situation last week with 43 runs and 21 passes and have now ran the ball 108 times to 94 passes through three games.
“Two things, the past two years we got criticized because we couldn’t throw the ball,” Bielema said. “You want to be balanced and for the first time since we have been here we felt really good about being able to execute the passing game, not just throwing the ball, not just catching the ball, but protecting and the schemes that we have in place.
“A little bit of the one-sideness is because in the third and fourth quarters we have been behind a little bit, but also was what was working.
“What I saw Saturday was a step in the right direction as far as our ability to just execute the plan we too into the game. We wanted to be able to run the football, we wanted to throw the football with certain looks and hopefully we are going to keep getting better at that and the results will become better on Saturday.”
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Bielema was asked about controversial comments that he had over the course of his coaching career.
“I don’t which ones in particular, but I think to paint it all with a broad brush, one thing that I have always said is ‘that if you tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said.’ I have used that my entire life.
“Obviously at times in today’s world, people try to piece things together and it can be interpreted the wrong way and can be used in any way that somebody kind of wants to spin it when you start going half-quotes and all that jazz.
“But I think that the part that I really love and enjoy about this game is getting the chance to be who your are every day. You build a program on what you believe in and teach you kids to kind of stand up for the things you believe in and sometimes that doesn’t set well with everybody, but that’s a decision you make personally.”
He was then asked if he might tone down the rhetoric in the future
“Again, if you know me over the course of time, I have spoke my mind about what I believe in and how I feel, but on the same account I do not want to draw any negativity to not only our program or our university or anything like that,” Bielema said. “I am just going to go water under the bridge as we move forward.
“When you win games, everybody kind of puts them in a perspective of being positive and when you lose everybody spins them as a negative. So it is just the world we live in.
“Like I said, I doubt three quarters of the people that commented on what I said actually read the whole comment into anything that we have said here recently.
“It’s one of those things that you move on and hopefully learn from the past and make everybody better.”