Last week, Athlon released their collection of quips from anonymous SEC coaches discussing all the other teams in the league. It can be one of the more fun offseason bits each year.
I thought it’d be fun to break down what all was said about Arkansas here. Check out the full piece in Athlon (linked above) to see what was said about all the other schools.
“Bret Bielema is following the Wisconsin model. His first priority is the offensive line, which is unique, and being really good at tailback.”
This is not exactly a groundbreaking statement. It does, however, ignore how effective Arkansas was throwing the ball last year and this year’s group of receivers, which is expected to be Arkansas’ best since the Jarius Wright/Joe Adams/Greg Childs/Cobi Hamilton crew from the Petrino years.
“You can see the culture starting to take hold there, and there was a lot of culture rebuild he had to do. Those kids are really believing in what Bret’s doing, and they have one of if not the best strength coach in the league, so all the pieces fit, and his coordinators are still with him so there’s some stability. Now it’s just a matter of whether they’re talented enough to break through in the toughest division in football.”
This isn’t so much a question of this team but of Bielema’s entire ceiling at Arkansas - if he has one. We’ve been talking about it since he was hired.
It is interesting to note that this coach considers Ben Herbert arguable the best strength coach in the league. That’s the kind of thing we here from Arkansas people quite a bit but to see it from an anonymous peer validates a lot of it.
“They lost their stud tight end, the running back and the quarterback, so they’ll be hard to replace.”
This is basically the lazy lede for every Arkansas preview story we’ve seen for the last seven months. And they’re not even including the three offensive linemen Arkansas is replacing.
The Hog coaches are very confident in their ability to replace those guys, so we’ll see if they truly can hit on each of those positions.
“Brandon Allen really played well, but in my opinion he was just a guy from a talent standpoint. If they ever got a big-time quarterback, they could be scary good.”
Well, he was an NFL draft pick so I don’t know that we can say “he was just a guy.” That being said, Arkansas does have a roster with quite a few quarterbacks considered blue-chip prospects in high school, and hopefully one or two of them can live up to it, beginning with Austin Allen this year.
“They have some schematic advantages because of how they play. They’re one of the harder teams to defend now because the league has changed so much. It’s become more of a Texas A&M, Ole Miss offense-type league so it’s hard to prepare for Arkansas. They still run two-back trap, still line up in two tight ends so you have to change the way you practice.”
I love this comment because it highlights how completely wrong so much of the analysis was when Bielema was hired. The common narrative was that Bielema’s offense from Wisconsin was going to be too, well, common and that Arkansas would have a difficult time competing in the SEC as a result.
But so many teams jumped on the spread train so quickly that Arkansas’ offense is now the more unique one, the one forcing teams to change their practice habits and adapt instead of the other way around. Arkansas now proudly claims the #ProStyleU mantra and it has helped Bielema create a known identity with the program.
“They seem to get stronger as the year goes on because of how they play. When you’re wearing out a little bit physically in November, that’s the last team you want to see because they’re not going to stop pounding it and they’re just huge up front. If you can catch them early in the year when you’re at full strength you have a better chance.”
This is an interesting perspective on the “Arkansas starts slow” narrative we’ve been hearing about since last year. Does Arkansas really start slow, or does this style of play have more of a built in advantage for the end of the season? Or both?
Obviously, any time you play anybody at full strength you have a better chance. I’m not sure why Arkansas would somehow be impervious to similarly wearing down toward the end of the season, but then again, the Razorbacks do have one of the, if not the best strength coach in the league.