Bielema's Hogs looking for bounceback season

Bielema's Hogs looking for bounceback season

July 17th, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema leavs the field after a football game against South Carolina in Fayetteville, Ark., in this Oct. 12, 2013, file photo.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

HOOVER, Ala. - Arkansas coach Bret Bielema may prefer to play his football at a slower pace, but he certainly talks fast.

Pauses are rare, even when he does them for effect.

"I'll take a minute to talk about last year," Bielema said Wednesday afternoon at SEC media days.

"That's about all I need to do," he continued after intentionally taking a very quick breath.

His first season with the Razorbacks started with promise with three wins and flew off the rails from there.

Arkansas lost the remaining nine games of the season, a stretch that included a 52-7 home loss to South Carolina and a 52-0 destruction at Alabama, and finished 0-8 in the SEC.

Those two massacres only set the table for the season's low point.

Leading LSU in Baton Rouge in the final minutes, the Hogs allowed the Tigers and freshman backup quarterback Anthony Jennings to drive 99 yards and win the game on a long touchdown pass with 1:15 left.

The loss served as a checkpoint for Arkansas, 7-17 the past two seasons since Bobby Petrino was fired, and helped the Hogs turn the page to 2014.

"I wouldn't say immediately, but probably the next day," defensive end Trey Flowers said. "It was a lot of after the game sorrow because of how close it was. That was one that really hurt us after the LSU game.

"We played that Friday, we went work out that Tuesday and a lot of guys were amped up and knew how close we were, and that gave us, I guess, encouragement or inspiration to get better, because we know how close we were."

In seven seasons at Wisconsin, Bielema won 68 games and guided the Badgers to Rose Bowl appearances in his final three seasons in Madison, and he said "winning versus losing" was the biggest culture shock he faced making the move from the Big Ten to the SEC.

"Year two," he said, "my full heart belief is it's going to be better than year one."

Adrian Peterson 2.0?

It took about seven seconds of watching Leonard Fournette's high school highlights for LSU tailback Terrence Magee to know the Tigers' backfield was getting something special.

The 6-foot-1, 224-pound New Orleans native was the nation's top-ranked running back in the 2014 class, and Magee, the 5-foot-9, 214-pound senior, shook his head when he began talking about LSU's freshman.

"Most backs, they have three things that make them unique: vision, speed and power," Magee said. "If you have all three, you're really considered as a great back. I'm going to be honest with you, I only have two.

"When I've seen him run the ball and I watch him, he has the combination of all three. I think he's going to be great."

Magee has waited his turn to be at the top of the Tigers' annual stable of backs, but Fournette's presence has him anything but defensive about his carry count.

"I know you guys have seen Adrian Peterson play," he said. "Who wouldn't want to play in the same backfield as that guy? I feel like I'm getting my opportunity to play with a guy that they compare to Adrian Peterson.

"To be honest," he added, "I think that's the only guy that's playing the running back position right now that you can compare him to."

Breaking bread

Their varying stances regarding up-tempo no-huddle offenses and an accusation of a missing play on film has led to a bit of an ongoing feud between Bielema and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.

Asked again about his relationship with Malzahn, Bielema acknowledged the two "don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on certain things," but added he respected his counterpart for having success with his philosophy.

Malzahn said Monday the two coaches have been in communication this offseason.

"We've talked on the phone a couple of different times about different issues," Bielema said Wednesday. "None of them have been player-safety related. I can assure you of that.

"I can't say that we're breaking bread together and going to dinner when we can," he added, "but I'm not throwing bread at him and rocks and everything else."

Naturally, Arkansas travels to Auburn to open the season on Aug. 30 in a game televised by the new SEC Network.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.