FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — For a man who hates Auburn, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema sure takes it easy on the Tigers.
Once upon a time, Bielema uttered that contemptuous line, keeping aflame a rivalry between two completely dissimilar coaches. He and Auburn head man Gus Malzahn could not be more different. So much so, in fact, their opposing styles and personalities publicly clashed upon their mutual arrival in the SEC back in 2013. Both made declarations all was well by about Year 3.
Few bought it then. Fewer buy it now. Not after two absolute demolitions Malzahn has laid on the Razorbacks.
The former Arkansas offensive coordinator — who, not coincidentally, is a fan favorite to be the next Arkansas coach in a subsequent regime — is 4-1 against Bielema. Auburn has averaged 46.8 points per game in those five meetings. The last two, the Tigers have outscored Arkansas, 108-23.
The first question Bielema faced after Auburn’s 52-20 massacre on Saturday night was about job security. Bielema admitted it’s crossed his mind.
“Uncharted waters for me. Never been in a situation where we’re 2-5 and disappointed with where we’re at,” Bielema said. “The greatest thing about a coaching position is this, you just worry about the day in front of you. I know it’s probably not the answer you want or the thing that you want to write. You just get in there and go to work. I know we’re close. ”
Maybe. Saturday certainly didn’t look like it, though.
No one has smashed Bielema to the degree Malzahn has. Not Nick Saban or Les Miles, or anyone else. Losing to Auburn, to fans, is bad enough. Losing to a coach whose style and personality is so markedly different makes it worse. That coach being an Arkansas native, a former preps coach at a school about 6 miles away and a former coordinator with the Razorbacks, as they say, adds salt in the proverbial wound.
“I don’t think it needs to be said how much I hate Auburn,” Bielema said before the 2015 season. Those words now linger as macabre recollection to the Arkansas faithful. Only about 10,000 people — at most — stayed beyond the midway point of the third quarter when Auburn took a 38-6 lead. Doesn’t make for much of a rivalry, never mind hatred.
Meanwhile, Malzahn was likely grinning in his private moments, the Cheshire cat who must take absolute joy in providing evidence, practically every year, his ways work better than his nemesis’.
Bielema almost completely abandoned his usual slower-pace style against Auburn. Malzahn has never favored such a display. The smashmouth approach Bielema prefers has earned the Razorbacks nothing but losses against competent teams the last nine games. He ditched it Saturday for a no-huddle, up-tempo methodology and it still didn’t work.
Insert “old dog, new tricks,” or some such chestnut, here. Better yet, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
Arkansas had just 221 yards against Auburn’s first-team defense. Redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Kelley, who prefers a faster tempo, was 8-of-18 passing for 83 yards and was sacked 4 times through three quarters. The porous offensive line also committed 3 false start penalties, another sign the no-huddle was less than a great fit.
Malzahn’s offense, long accustomed to a go-go-go scheme, went for 629 yards. It’s the highest total of yards Arkansas has allowed since — you guessed it — last year against Auburn, when the Tigers went for 632.
Bielema hates Auburn, the school. Malzahn loves Arkansas, the state. Right now, they couldn’t be any farther apart.