Fayetteville Nights: The Ballad of Bret Bielema

Jonathan Daniel

This is the third and final part of our series on Bret Bielema vs the hurry-up no-huddle spread. It's my concluding essay. Part I is a breakdown of Bielema vs Chip Kelly and Rich Rodriguez's teams, and Part II is a discussion with Bucky's 5th Quarter, the SB Nation Wisconsin site.

I'm fairly certain Bret Bielema sees Gus Malzahn and other practitioners of the hurry-up no-huddle offense like we're supposed to see Jean Girard in Talladega Nights.

He sees the HUNH as the smooth jazz track on a jukebox loaded with 80s rock hits or a bottle of carbonated Perrier instead of a glass of ice water. Instead of thin pancakes it's a crépe, and he'd rather break his arm than look up how to type the accent mark over the e.

Bret Bielema is a coach of real American football, dammit. The HUNH is a nuisance. It's a flimsy, silly, unnecessarily finesse way of playing football. If he spent enough time digging, maybe he could trace it back to Europe where someone with a foreign accent had a hand in creating it. It's the opposite of freedom and liberty. It's different.

Even "1-0" is basically his way of screaming "shake and bake!" Compare his tweet...

...to how "shake and bake" comes into this conversation:

It's the same nonsensical exuberantly defiant tone. You can totally see Bielema sitting wherever he tweets and thinking to himself "Did 1-0 blow your mind, twitter troll? THAT. JUST. HAPPENED!"

He has no problems lining up a team and playing against it, but he likely doesn't respect someone who'd run around him rather than try to run over him.

What's amazing about this entire debate is that, as we outlined last week, Bielema has coached against this style of offense and had success doing so. It's hardly an albatross hanging around his neck. He's not a great golfer who's never been able to break through in a big tournament. He's coached against Rich Rodriguez and wiped the floor with his Michigan teams. Bielema put one of his best Wisconsin teams up against one of Chip Kelly's best Oregon teams in the Rose Bowl and the two traded punches for 60 minutes before the clock ran out on what could have been a game-tying drive.

If there's anything we learned from the first two parts of this series (Part I and Part II), it's that any insinuation that Bielema is somehow afraid of playing these teams is unfounded. I think it just repulses him on a philosophical level like the belly-putter or the designated hitter.

Of course, this has all led to typical ridicule, especially among those who enjoy HUNH offenses or are fans of teams who run it. I'm sure I'd mock Bielema if Gus Malzahn or Kevin Sumlin were my team's coach, as well as Nick Saban for his "Is this what we want football to be?" comment.

However, it's important to remember that Bielema's offenses have hardly been some stereotypical Big Ten "three yards and a cloud of dust" offense. While the running game has been a big focus whenever Russell Wilson wasn't behind center, his 2010 Badgers still ranked 5th in the nation in scoring offense at 41.46 points per game, and were 6th with Wilson in 2011 at 44.14 points per game. So when Bielema's teams were at their best, they were scoring at a rate completely aligned with HUNH teams. Montee Ball didn't set the NCAA touchdown record by winning a bunch of 13-10 games. His style has worked, and if he has to stab a knife into his leg to prove it, he will.

What Bielema's statements have done, whether intentionally or not, is created an identity around himself and the Arkansas program now that is very simple for people to know and understand. He's going to be the coach of a "normal American football" team. And by that, he means he intends to line his team up and hit people in the face (but without targeting). He'll put his flip flop in your ass, it's the American way.

That's not a hard product to sell. I would think it could be framed in a way that would appeal to the raw, physical nature of football that appealed to kids in the first place. It's an appeal to manhood, not unlike Amy Adams' recruiting pitch to Ricky Bobby:

Perhaps it's no coincidence that most of the top recruits he's gotten commitments from since coming to Fayetteville are linemen. Of course, his track record of sending linemen to the NFL may have also had something to do with that, but Bielema's philosophy and its results are surely connected.

Will all of this work at Arkansas? We'll have to wait and see, but Bielema's done it before.

It's true that there are loads of great high school teams running spread offenses, but it's not as if traditional football has gone away. And if a recruit is interested in playing smashmouth football in college, Bielema's prominently established himself as a coach closely associated with that. Potentially, that could help him get in a few doors and help build his brand of Razorbacks into at least as potent an offense as those 2010-11 Badgers.

There's obviously no guarantee that will happen. Talking won't get Bielema very far if he can't back it up on the field. And the upcoming Razorbacks are projected to have a worse record than Bielema ever experienced at Wisconsin (The very optimistic are hoping to match those 2008 Badgers with a 7-5 record. Only absolute homers are even thinking about anything more than that.). Bielema must figure out a way to show that his program is growing and progressing through the year, even if wins are hard to come by. This is something Bobby Petrino managed in 2008 and it payed off in coming years.

That 7-5 2008 team led to the extremely successful run on which he ended his tenure in Madison. And as the folks at Bucky's 5th Quarter mentioned in our previous post, Bielema apparently learned from his mistakes in those seasons, which helped develop his greatest teams later on. If fans have there way, he'll replicate that performance in the Ozarks.

But it's August now, so we're nearly at the point we can stop wondering about this and begin to watch it play out one way or the other. Shake and bake.

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Part I: A breakdown of Bielema's teams against HUNH greats Chip Kelly and Rich Rodriguez.

Part II: Our conversation with Bucky's 5th Quarter, the SB Nation Wisconsin site.

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Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Expats and is a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at heydocharper@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

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