We know Bielema wants a tough, physical team that plays "cave man" football. They've done their best to instill that in the spring, but things they can completely control are clearly evident in the team's play. He wants a balanced offense? Check. Minimal penalties? Only committed two. Protecting the football? No fumbles, just one pick.
Bielema's made clear he intends to recruit different types of players than the previous staff, so it will likely be another year or two until we see a fully realized Bielema team, but those things he can control regardless of the roster are already evident, and that's good news.
This is a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. You can read it in its entirety here.
We knew toughness was a key trait being instilled in the players, and that certainly didn’t disappoint. We did see a physical, downhill running game that showed promise. There were very few running plays that lost yardage, a sign that the offensive line is developing as we’d hoped, and it wasn’t just Jonathan Williams either. Kody Walker, who missed much of 2012 with an injury suffered in The Unspeakable Game, looked like a big, powerful, complete running back. He was used almost only for short yardage situations as a freshman in 2011, but he may be able to play a larger role going forward.
In addition to Walker, it appears this staff won’t hesitate to let fullbacks carry the ball, which is something we’ve rarely seen in recent years. 254-pound Patrick Arinze tied for the team lead with nine carries, and his ability to drag defenders could quickly make him a fan favorite if he continues to see similar action this season. Longtime favorite Kiero Small only carried the ball once, but the coaches have frequently sung his praises this spring. We could be seeing the beginning of a bruising, power running attack the previous staff always said they wanted but never could develop.
Only two penalties were called on the team, and only one before the snap. We know from Bielema’s first press conference, as well as comments made after the Hogs’ first scrimmage this spring, that this was a big emphasis, and it’s evidence that a mental toughness is developing. Coaches won’t be able to fully makeover the program until another recruiting class or two comes in, but this is something that can happen immediately, and it appears the players are buying into it.
Oh, and no fumbles. By anybody.
It’s hard to imagine this team beating itself (another Bielema trademark according to his introductory press conference) and that has the potential to keep them in games this fall against superior talent. How refreshing to think there’s a chance the team won’t give any games away.
However, as much as the team is being molded in Bielema’s image, this is still a team almost completely assembled by the Petrino crew. That will begin to change as many of the incoming freshmen get to campus this summer, but the defense, while showing improvement in some areas, also showed some of the same weaknesses we’ve grown used to.
Particularly, receivers broke tackles immediately after catching passes too frequently. The running backs moved the ball too easily against the second-team defense on the 90-yard scoring drive (the first team defense was much better). On Mitchell’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Sprinkle to cap the drive, the defense allowed Sprinkle, a tight end, to run 26 yards straight down the field to the end zone and was completely open. That play may have drawn a roar from the crowd, but I’m guessing defensive coordinator Chris Ash’s reaction wasn’t so joyous.
There are some good, talented players on defense, and the first team defense was pretty effective in the first half, but the talent on this team is unquestionably deeper on the offensive side of the ball, which shouldn’t be surprising given the recruiting philosophy of the last few years. Bielema and his staff can’t come in and immediately clean the stench the Petrino era left on the Arkansas defense, but they can and should be expected to in time.