Two of the legends in Arkansas football gave a big thumbs up on the Bret Bielema hire. Ken Hatfield backed it because of how Bielema's style of offense will help the defense, and Barry Switzer needed only the simplest of facts.
Hatfield was an All-America halfback for the 1964 national champs and coached the Hogs from 1984-89 with a 55-17-1 record. Operating out of a "flex" version of the wishbone, Hatfield guided the Hogs to back-to-back Southwest Conference championships and Cotton Bowl trips to end his six seasons at his alma mater.
The retired coach and UA season ticket holder watched the bowl pairings closely of late with hopes Wisconsin didn't cross paths with the Razorbacks. Bielema has coached Wisconsin to 66 victories in the seven seasons. The Badgers are preparing for their third straight Rose Bowl.
"I didn't want to play them," Hatfield said of Bielema's teams. "I didn't think it would be a good matchup on either side of the ball for us.
"Wisconsin was good, real good. They did it the right way. They took on everybody up front with power on both sides of the line, real physical. I was impressed with Coach Bielema's teams, just excellent."
Hatfield thinks running the ball on offense is good for your defense, too.
"When you run the ball, you are going to get your defense ready in the spring and in camp," Hatfield said. "I think Coach (Bobby) Petrino has a good system, but it makes it difficult to get third-and-1 and fourth-and-1. That became passing downs for us. We could run it when we got a numerical advantage because teams were playing the pass, but we didn't knock people off the ball."
Hatfield said he learned that from watching a transition Bear Bryant made at Alabama. Bryant's offense produced huge offensive numbers when he switched to dropback passing, but the Tide slumped to three straight 6-5 seasons.
"I remember what a pretty good coach told me," Hatfield said. "Bear Bryant said the main reason he went to the wishbone was to get his defense prepared. That third 6-5 included a game against Southern Cal's Sam Cunningham. Alabama couldn't stop him. Bear said he knew after that game that putting in the passing game was the wrong decision. It killed his defense.
"Coach Bryant was a guy who tried it all, but he learned you had to go with an offense that prepared your defense against the run."
Wisconsin's success under Bielema — and under former coach Barry Alvarez — caught Hatfield's eye.
"I was impressed," Hatfield said. "Ever since Barry came there, Wisconsin was competitive again. They have been knocking on the door and been very tough for Michigan and Ohio State to handle.
"I think what you see is a team that knows how to come off the ball and run the football. We were able to run it three years ago over the second half of that season with Knile Davis. I remember what we did to LSU (in 2010) with Knile, just very difficult to handle. That was very good. But most of the time, we weren't able to run it unless the defense was playing pass."
Switzer, the former Oklahoma coach and also an Arkansas alum, approved of the Bielema hire, too. Switzer prefers smashmouth football and thinks the run toughens your defense, just as Hatfield argued. He said that was proven in college, where he led Oklahoma to national titles, and in the NFL, where he took the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl triumph. Switzer didn't have a lot of information, but plenty to pass judgment in his own style, especially with Wisconsin's 70-31 victory over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game.
"The first thing I heard was that he grew up on a pig farm," Switzer said. "That's quite a start in my book. And my freshest memory is watching him hang 70 on Nebraska. Just those two facts are enough.
"Then, I hear that he's out of the Hayden Fry-Bill Snyder-Barry Alvarez coaching tree. Oh, that's enough for me to like a lot. Then, I hear he's got a 27-year-old wife. OK, we can stop. I like him.
"I think you have to run the ball. I think it helps your defense. You have to be able to stop the run."
State of the Hogs: Thumbs Up
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