“It just allows you to focus a little bit more early on,” Bielema said of facing a conference opponent in the opener like Auburn. “At the time this was scheduled they weren’t the defending SEC Champs and didn’t come within a hair on their chinny-chin-chin of winning the national championship. They’ve got great players offensively. I don’t know how long the quarterback is not going to be in there, but the second quarterback is a very good player.
“Nick is a very accomplished player,” he added. “I think back to our game a year ago and he hadn’t got much experience. They had kind of been rotating some things around, but obviously he flourished down the stretch. Nick, in his own regards, is a seasoned player with a lot of athletic ability. He can say that he’s played in big games and won and excelled. He’s played on the big stage.
“But, I don’t see their offense changing a lot whoever is at quarterback. I see a running back they lost from a year ago, but they’ve got productive players coming back this year. They’ve got an offensive line with a couple of good players and one really good player. It all starts with them up front with their running game and passing game.”
An area of concern for Bielema this weekend for his defense will be trying to contain an Auburn wide receiver group that is one of the most talented in the country. Led by Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis and junior college transfer D’haquille Williams, the Tigers will present a serious challenge for a secondary that had its share of problems a season ago.
“I think wide receiver is one area that is kind of being overlooked in my opinion,” Bielema said. “They signed a couple of really good players and the perimeter players from a year ago are back. They have a lot of gifted speed. That’s our biggest concern.”
In charge of slowing down the Tigers is first-year coordinator Robb Smith for the Razorbacks. Coaching the linebackers last season with the Tampa Bay Bucs, Smith was one of the architects behind a turnaround at Rutgers when the Scarlet Knights had one of the top defenses in college football. Now he’ll have to contend with a talented Auburn team, something Bielema said will be a big challenge.
“The proof is going to be in the pudding on Saturday, but I couldn’t as a head coach be more pleased with what Robb has done and Clay Jennings had done and Rory Segrest and Randy Shannon,” Bielema said. “Those four guys together have been very engaged on how we can make Arkansas better. The three new guys I brought in, I think the details of their coaching always show up.
"Robb is always quoting the saying ‘the devil is in the details.’ These guys are very detail-oriented. It’s going to be a tough matchup. Going out of the gate we’re going against one of the most efficient offenses in 2013, but 2013 was 2013. Whatever shows up in the backfield, whatever person starts, whatever person is on the field, we just have to roll with it and make the best of the situation.
“What I am excited about, I think our depth chart in particular and the consistency we’ve had the last 10 days of preparation,” he added. “We don’t have any suspensions. We don’t have anything hanging over us in a cloud of doubt. We’ve just got our guys lining up and playing good football, which we like.”