Favorite

Changes needed 

Bret Bielema (file photo) - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Bret Bielema (file photo)

Those who have read this column with some degree of regularity know that I've held fast to the belief that Bret Bielema can and will revive the Arkansas football program. I like the guy. He's affable and self-effacing, defers appropriately to his support staff, and is seemingly quite passionate about the job he holds and cognizant of the expectations (those unwieldy ones that the fan base foists on him) that it connotes.

Bielema was operating at a steady if somewhat listless pace getting toward his objectives. About six weeks ago, it looked like his fourth team at Arkansas would be his most accomplished, against long odds. With a first-year starting quarterback operating behind an incomprehensibly porous line, and with a defense that could be a sieve in a moment's notice, he had an outside shot at taking this ragtag group to nine or 10 wins as recently as mid-November.

A funny thing happened on the way to Faurot (Field), though. When the Hogs arrived in Columbia to face East bottom-feeder Missouri in the season finale, they looked disturbingly lackadaisical in a game against the only team they were favored to beat in conference play. Even in the first half, when Arkansas built a 24-7 lead, there were leaks and problems afoot, and the emperor got disrobed in a big damn hurry over the final 30 minutes of play in a 28-24 loss that amplified all the lingering concerns about Bielema and his leadership of the program. The team stifled itself in the second half, a trend that has ensnared Razorback football mighty hard over those three prior campaigns and into this one, and had no roadmap for an escape.

So there was this nasty, foul taste heading to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte a month after that defeat, and it almost played out in a way that smacked of black comedy. The team that can't close builds a 24-0 lead on the strength of a really well-played first half, even against the backdrop of some questionable officiating, and then literally gags on every bite it takes after halftime.

And the scene worsened as the day progressed. The pregame disclosure that Jeremy Sprinkle was suspended due to an embarrassing shoplifting farce at, of all places, the local Belk, followed by Drew Morgan's fumbles and boorish, ejection-worthy behavior as the game fell apart, led one to the natural conclusion that Bielema's control of the program is loosening at a breakneck rate. Virginia Tech was, of course, the favorite, and a competent team in all respects, so it took full advantage of all gaffes and missteps by its opponent.

That means 2017 starts with a team in turmoil, just as reconstruction and expansion of Reynolds Razorback Stadium is in its full-throated, cash-snatching puberty. And for what? A stadium that will presumably seat another 10,000 fans in the fall is going to find no takers. Bielema's teams are noted for playing hard, which is commendable, but also for giving ground in the second half at an alarming frequency. Arkansas has lost a dozen games in the last three years in which it led or was tied at halftime or thereafter. The team could have been so much better than 22-17 over that stretch.

For a while, the progress his teams had made was enough to offset this. There was comfort to be drawn from the fact that the Hogs were actually competing in these games, rather than just coughing them up minutes after kickoff. But in 2016, things were different. The Hogs lost six games, and the first four were of the quit-before-you-start variety, then the final two reflected the old trend in full bloom again.

This, of course, has a chilling effect on recruiting, which Bielema cannot afford to flub, given that he's not seen as some kind of tactician who can routinely outcoach the other guy. He has to have the proverbial horses, and the terminus of 2016 is so bad that it's going to be hell trying to get top-tier talent into the stables. Robb Smith's come under all manner of fire for the failings of the defense, but Dan Enos just captained an offense that, despite gobs of production on the surface, failed to breach the end zone in the second halves of four of the six losses. The flaws are rampant and extreme, and they revealed themselves at the worst possible time.

Are changes, then, forthcoming? Let's just say they'd better be, en masse and with conviction. There cannot be a repeat of this type of year in 2017, not because of the wins and losses, but because of the dearth of confidence in the direction of the program. Personnel corrections will ebb that angry tide somewhat, and Bielema, who came here four years ago on the promise of being able to hire and fire high-level staff, is again faced with that crossroads. This time, though, it's to save his own backside.


Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of Bret Bielema, Arkansas Razorbacks

  • Five big questions for Arkansas football

    July 20, 2017
    Among them: Can Austin Allen get a better handle on the job and rein in his emotions? /more/
  • Summer hopes

    June 22, 2017
    Bret Bielema is not, regardless of your possible venom toward him or the catastrophic way the 2016 season wrapped, going anywhere. /more/
  • Hawgball prospects

    March 30, 2017
    The sting of the "Grifters in Greenville" incident having finally dissipated somewhat, I am prepared to assess Razorback basketball anew. /more/
  • Tourney time

    March 16, 2017
    Selection Sunday hasn't been a meaningful day very often in recent years for Arkansas. Over the span of a decade, the Hogs knew they were safely within the expanded 68-team field only three times. /more/
  • Hogs going dancing

    March 9, 2017
    Even in a week where a modest winning streak went by the wayside at Gainesville, Arkansas authored one more earnest surge toward an NCAA Tournament berth that not long ago seemed beyond its grasp. /more/
  • Momentum

    February 23, 2017
    Sure, I'd like to think that Pearls About Swine, that modest batch of haphazard prose, had something to do with motivating Arkansas's beleaguered basketball program to rise from a seemingly inestimable late-season swoon to re-emerge in the NCAA Tournament discussion. /more/
  • Critical stretch

    January 19, 2017
    The minute you take a shine to an Arkansas Razorback team is almost assuredly the same minute you have your sanity tested. /more/
  • Solidly second tier

    January 12, 2017
    It only makes sense that in this numbing era of Razorback slip-and-falls, the Hogs could really put vaunted Kentucky to the test at Rupp Arena for a good 30 minutes of action ... and end up losing by 26 points. /more/
  • Belk bowling, b-ball

    December 8, 2016
    Before Pearls breaks its brief silent treatment about Razorback basketball's latest bid to shake off listless irrelevance, we'll spend a word or two on the Belk Bowl, where the football team draws a Dec. 29 matchup with Virginia Tech in Charlotte. /more/
  • Woeful

    December 1, 2016
    On Thanksgiving night, Bret Bielema could settle into his bed knowing that after a rather miserable 2013 inauguration, he had slipped comfortably into his job and the results were bearing some small but edible fruits for this ravenous fan base. He was only 25-24, but 18-10 with two bowl wins over his last 28 contests, a smattering of takedowns of ranked teams, and a stabilized roster that showed off the staff's endeavors to enlist and develop a caliber of player that would lead to better days ahead in a rugged conference. /more/
  • More »

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

More by Beau Wilcox

  • Five big questions for Arkansas football

    Among them: Can Austin Allen get a better handle on the job and rein in his emotions?
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • Basketball prospects

    While it is a little difficult to prognosticate on anything pertaining to college basketball anymore, short of the blue bloods getting bluer every recruiting season, what has happened to Arkansas since it finished off an accomplished 2016-17 campaign is probably as subtly bewildering as any offseason machinations you'll see.
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • Summer hopes

    Bret Bielema is not, regardless of your possible venom toward him or the catastrophic way the 2016 season wrapped, going anywhere.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated itsĀ 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Pearls About Swine

  • Five big questions for Arkansas football

    Among them: Can Austin Allen get a better handle on the job and rein in his emotions?
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • Basketball prospects

    While it is a little difficult to prognosticate on anything pertaining to college basketball anymore, short of the blue bloods getting bluer every recruiting season, what has happened to Arkansas since it finished off an accomplished 2016-17 campaign is probably as subtly bewildering as any offseason machinations you'll see.
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • Summer hopes

    Bret Bielema is not, regardless of your possible venom toward him or the catastrophic way the 2016 season wrapped, going anywhere.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: On "Beyond Scared Straight"

    • I need to find a scared straight program for my 14 yr old daughter here…

    • on July 20, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation