The Hogs come up short in the second-half and lose to LSU in the ‘Battle for the Golden Boot’.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before
As they headed into halftime Arkansas and LSU were all knotted up at seven apiece. Then, like a broken record, Bret Bielema’s team fell apart in the second half as they were outscored by the Tigers 26-3.
Much of the damage throughout the game came on big plays, including two touchdown catches from LSU’s D.J. Chark, a 68-yarder, and a 45-yard score. Star running back Darius Guice also added three touchdowns on the ground, including a 33-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
In the last nine games against Power 5 conference teams, the Razorbacks have been outscored 211-77 in the second half. To put that in perspective, on average the Hogs have allowed 23.4 points and only put up 8.5 in the second half of such games.
In fact, looking back to the midway point of last year, in the last 15 contests for Bielema’s team the Razorbacks are 5-10 and 2-5 in the Southeastern Conference. The five wins have come against Florida A&M, New Mexico State, Coastal Carolina (by 1), Ole Miss (by 1), and Mississippi State. If the SEC is a “What have you done for me lately” league then Bret Bielema’s recent past is a daunting one.
The SEC is a different animal
In Bielema’s seven seasons at Wisconsin, he won eight or more games every year except one. With Arkansas, he has reached eight wins once, in 2015 when he led the Hogs to a Liberty Bowl victory.
Including his stint with the Badgers from 2006-2012, Bielema has had a winning season in every year except 2013 with the Razorbacks. As it stands now, he would need to win the final two games of the season, as well as win a bowl game to be above .500 for this season. That is if the Razorbacks even get invited to said bowl game at the end of the season.
When Jeff Long hired Bielema it seemed like a homerun hire.
At Wisconsin, in the Big Ten, he had a 74% winning percentage, including 3 appearances in BCS Bowls. But, for whatever reason, the success has not carried over into the SEC.
Seven years in the Big Ten Bielema went 37-19 in conference, a 66% winning percentage, and only one season with a losing conference record. In five years in the SEC Bielema is 11-27 in conference, a 29% winning percentage including just one season with a winning record in conference.
Simply put, Bret Bielema has had a tough time figuring out the puzzle that is the SEC, and it does not seem as if he has Arkansas heading in the right direction anytime soon.
Head scratching coaching decisions
On multiple plays, during the game on Saturday, there were times where Austin Allen was coming up short on throws. Whether it was deep out routes on third-and-long, or plays down the field it seemed as if he did not possess the arm strength to put the ball where it needed to be.
On Monday, offensive coordinator Dan Enos spoke about the inefficiencies on down-field throws saying, “We had opportunities and you don’t get a bunch of those against good teams.”
“It’s an area that needs to be improved,” Enos continued. “There were some throws [Austin Allen] missed, he’s got to play better and we have to play better around him.”
After the game, Allen was asked whether his shoulder gave out on the deep throws, and he stated that he didn’t think so, saying that he just struggled with stepping into throws.
That sounds like a guy who was nervous about the potential of taking hits in the pocket going up against a stout LSU defense after being out four weeks. Bielema even noted as much saying, “that was the first time he’d [Allen] played in a long time and that’s not the easiest place to start back.”
This begs the question then, if Allen was healthy last week going into the Coastal Carolina game which the coaches said he was, then why not get him some action at home against a 1-7 team before throwing him to the wolves against LSU in a hostile environment in Baton Rouge?
What about the star from the week before, running back T.J. Hammonds? Well if you got up at any point during the game to make yourself a drink or go to the bathroom then you likely missed him. After being only the fourth player in program history to have two different 60-yard scoring plays in one game, Hammonds had a total of three touches for zero yards.
All week prior to the LSU game the coaching staff raved about his athleticism and big-play ability, and how they plan to get him more involved in the offense. Then, last week he only gets three touches? Either there something that we do not know on the outside or these coaches simply dropped the ball Saturday and forgot about Hammonds. Time and time again Bielema and this coaching staff have made questionable decisions, and have struggled with getting key players the ball.
And the hits just keep on coming
If the loss to LSU and the announcement of another 11 A.M. Kickoff next weekend for the Mississippi State game wasn’t discouraging enough, the lone semi-bright spot of the season, redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Kelley was arrested early Sunday morning for DWI and reckless driving by Fayetteville Police.
At Monday morning’s press conference Bielema stated that Kelley would be suspended indefinitely from the program. While everyone makes mistakes, and this is a 19-year-old kid we are talking about, for Razorbacks fans, this season has been about as bad as one could imagine.
Moving forward Arkansas will have a tough home test against Mississippi State on Saturday. A Mississippi State team who nearly pulled off the upset of the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide. Then they will finish the regular season with another home game against a hot Missouri team that is averaging over 53 points per game in their current four-game winning streak.
The Hogs will need to win those final two games for Bielema to avoid a losing record and have the chance at a possible bowl berth.