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Bumbling Bielema


Bret Bielema (file photo) - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Bret Bielema (file photo)

The numbing sense of complete disillusionment in the wake of a listless 28-7 loss to Texas Christian University on Saturday in the Arkansas Razorbacks' "true" home opener gives way to disgust when you see these statistical markers of failure:

*Arkansas trailed the Horned Frogs 14-7 at the break after a ragged first 30 minutes, then petered out more fully from there in the loss, running Bret Bielema's record to 0-15 when his Razorback teams trail at halftime.

I get it, when you're down 28-3 at Auburn (2016) or 28-0 to Alabama (2013), you probably don't come roaring back — you are just flat beat and that will happen from time to time. But being down by a touchdown or fewer in five of those losses? Where is that character-building second-half rally? Ironically, the Hogs furiously came back against Mississippi State in 2015 after trailing by 17 in the first half and stormed ahead by 11 on the strength of four straight Brandon Allen touchdown throws, but that was probably the last time the Hogs came blistering out of the gates after halftime. And yet they ended up losing even that one because ...

*Cole Hedlund, once hailed as the best placekicking recruit the university has seen, shanked two extra-point-level field goal tries, bringing his career tally at Arkansas to a rather hideous 14 of 24 over two-plus seasons. He's had potential winners blocked and he's never genuinely made a clutch kick to speak of so ... why was he still holding the job? This has been a known issue for two full years; ergo, it's no longer his fault for all the trust being misplaced in him.

Bielema bewilderingly characterized the second miss against TCU, a straight-on 20-yarder after Austin Cantrell stupidly lost track of where his feet were on a potential game-tying touchdown toss, as "juvenile." You know what is juvenile, coach? Trotting Hedlund out there time and time again to make kicks he has exhibited zero competency at making. The first whiff from 22 yards should've been the ultimate indicator that Hedlund was incapable of helping the Hogs on a Saturday where every point mattered, at least until the late stages.

*Austin Allen had yet another stupefying, horrifying day. Not because of his own performance, mind you — he is not responsible for once-dependable people like Jared Cornelius completely disappearing, his aforementioned tight end blowing an easy score on a bootleg, or his linemen continually showing poor balance in the face of a pass rush. But Allen, the league's most productive passer in 2016 despite inordinate challenges, now has 273 yards passing in the aggregate over two games, and he crossed that mark in a single game five times last year. The lack of trustworthy receivers is one issue, but he might well develop chemistry with some of these targets if Johnny Gibson could hold a block.

* Last and most damning: take away the gaudy numbers Dan Enos' offense put up against the two Mississippi schools in 2015-16, and this has really been an erratic and pedestrian mess on that side of the ball for the most part for quite some time. "Halftime adjustments" is an oxymoron in the embattled coordinator's world — after Allen put the Hogs on the board with a beautiful bootleg left and toss to Jonathan Nance for a 49-yard score, the ensuing drives were punchless. Some of it is playcalling, but personnel choices were baffling, too. David Williams showed burst and strength on three runs on the scoring drive, then was rarely used again until another semi-successful third quarter drive where the Hogs threatened to tie but didn't thanks to Cantrell's lack of spatial awareness and Hedlund mistaking the goal posts themselves as the target instead of the wideassed gulf between them.

s a result, Arkansas in its last three games against FBS teams, all losses, has scored a whopping zero points, coughed up seven turnovers, and missed three field goals in second halves of those debacles. Remember how that collapse at Missouri felt even worse than it looked? As Allen chucked picks into the end zone and the ground game got stifled, and as those hapless Tigers blazed through a sieve of a defense, you got the sense this was no sickening anomaly. After all, the 2016 Hogs were, sadly, possessed of a rather soft constitution: They could score and move the ball and unleash all kinds of weapons, but the minute adversity hit, they were crippled. It started at Arlington against A&M when a long drive died inside the 1, carried onto the Auburn and LSU routs, and then trailed them to Faurot Field and onto the infamous Belk Bowl.

That 2015 squad was resilient. Brandon Allen had simply been through too damn much over four years to possibly let a silly loss to Toledo or Texas Tech crush him or his mates for weeks. His little brother was celebrated for his greater exuberance and passion but that necessarily won't translate directly to leadership. And regrettably, it will fall on Austin to be that cagey, smart, durable senior leader, because this coaching staff sure as hell seems uninterested in putting that kind of fire in any of their charges.

Bielema is coaching the rest of the year for his job, and that is now a fact. He has a large buyout and a clearly stellar relationship with his boss, but the old seeds of discontent that were sown when that interloper athletic director hired a Big Ten coach (not my words, mind you, but a rough amalgamation of the regional public's bristling in late 2012) have come home to roost again. Bielema had almost turned the corner and gotten this fan base fully behind him despite a somewhat rocky 2016 season.

But Missouri slammed on the brakes. Virginia Tech squealed the tires. On Saturday, TCU threw the party bus in full reverse and over the next week and a half in preparation for similarly unstable Texas A&M, somebody is going to need to get back behind the wheel and act like he can move the damn thing forward again.

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