The old phrase goes “if you lie to yourself long enough, you start to believe it.”
Apply that to Bret Bielema and the Arkansas football team.
Since March, when it was finally realized Denver Kirkland would not make his return the Razorbacks in 2016, we have all been told everything was grand with the Arkansas offensive line. They had Dan Skipper and Frank Ragnow and this kid, Hjalte Froholdt, and boy, he was a player. Colton Jackson could step in as a redshirt freshman, too. Jake Raulerson, from Texas, those four starts he made down there really showed he was capable.
These aren’t my words. They’re parroted and paraphrased from the spring. It wasn’t just that the coaching staff built expectation. The staff didn’t even attempt to temper it. Unless you count *not* putting the offensive line on the cover of the media guide this year. Week after week, things were going to be fine, the coaches said.
Yet, here we are. More than halfway through the season and a Bielema-coached team is 12th in the SEC in yards rushing per game. The Hogs are 13th, out of 14 teams, in yards per carry. When it comes to sacks allowed, Arkansas has surrendered 21, or an average of three a game. That total is dead last in the league.
Over at the National Library for Medicine National Institute of Health, there is line about self-deception: “Finally, a positive form of self-deception may serve to orient the organism favorably toward the future.” Perhaps that was the hope: “If we keep saying this, maybe it will come true.”
If you feel like you’ve been lied to, that’s justifiable.
Sometime, somewhere, Bielema’s brute-strength offensive philosophy has been lost. Reasons why are as varied as the number of points Auburn put up Saturday. That’s 56 in case of forgetfulness.
Bielema arrived with his seven seasons of producing NFL talent galore from his offensive lines at Wisconsin. In his last five seasons with the Badgers, Wisconsin led the Big Ten in rushing three times and never finished lower than third. The common thinking went he could apply such a philosophy at Arkansas and have even greater success, what with the superior talent in the SEC.
That hasn’t panned out in the application or the injection of talent.
Simply put, though, the unit just isn’t very good. It never was. Not in the spring when he and offensive line coach Kurt Anderson kept giving reps to the inexperienced Froholdt. Nor when, before Raulerson arrived, defensive linemen kept lighting up Johnny Gibson, Deion Malone and Jalen Merrick at right guard. Then it continued into the fall, when Skipper was forced to move back to the left side and Ragnow was the best option at any and all positions. Now, with hard evidence to back it up, it’s borne out.
Still, it took eight game weeks for Bielema to publicly acknowledge it, and that only barely. He became perturbed with our constant week-after-week questions about the offensive line, lashing out (somewhat) in the middle of last week. He was growing frustrated with us, the collective media who cover the team on a day-to-day basis, but more, in my estimation with his crew.
For years upon years the front line has been the hallmark of a Bielema team. For years upon the years, the front line at Arkansas has been competent, if unspectacular. Now, it’s neither and it’s hard to remember exactly when either party ever had it this bad.
Former Arkansas offensive lineman and Super Bowl winner Mitch Petrus took the unit to task Sunday night.
— Ben Creighton (@Ben__Creighton) October 24, 2016
Truth is, someone is going to have to answer for the mess at year’s end. Even if Arkansas splits its final two games and finishes 7-5, the season is going to feel like a letdown to the masses, if for no other reason than Saturday’s result and the sheer embarrassment of the line’s performance.
The best bet? Anderson’s stay is just this one year. It never felt like a fit from an outside point of view and with the performance after eight games, it makes sense.
Of course, it’s still possible Arkansas wins out and finishes with nine wins. But the stronger hypothesis would be Arkansas loses out. Neither are likely, so probably split the difference.
No matter what, though, someone is going to have to take responsibility because no one can seem to remember the last time things were this bad with the group.
All that being said, don’t leap off the proverbial ledge, folks. Arkansas still carries a 5-3 record with two teams left on the schedule to which the Razorbacks are superior. Wins there would yield a 7-5 season, which is where reasonable people projected the team to finish, anyway.
But, to those with the pitchforks and torches, yes, something needs to change.
This is where you come in. What exactly would you like to see done? Take a vote. Have your say.
That’s in the short-term. How about the long-term?
Finally, a fun one. Completely unrelated, but something to enjoy, because heaven knows, lots of people need it after the weekend. Some buddies and I were going back and forth on this topic a few weeks ago.
Apologies to “Varsity Blues,” “Remember the Titans” and “Any Given Sunday.”
Was there anything good to come out of the Auburn game? Offense, defense and coaching all received Fs, but one unit graded out decently, according to our Jason Kersey.
Not only was Arkansas’ 543 yards rushing allowed the most in school history, it was the most anyone in Football Bowl Subdivision has given up this year, per Cole Cubelic.
The 543 yards rushing Auburn put up against Arkansas is the most by an FBS team in a game this season.
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) October 23, 2016
And one more: Auburn ran for more yards against Arkansas than two teams in FBS, per Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee.
Auburn gained more rushing yards today (544) than Texas State (535) and Georgia State (458) had for the season entering today.
— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) October 23, 2016
Over at WholeHogSports, Matt Jones, not exactly known for talking about Arkansas’ bummers, writes this last weekend was bad all the way around.
Someone at CBS loves them some Hogs. Not sure how else to explain the Razorbacks being ranked 21st out of all 128 teams in FBS.
This one is just funny, but even national folks are noticing the freak-out over at Hogville.
— The Football Four (@TheFootballFour) October 23, 2016
Arkansas held its annual Red-White scrimmage Sunday inside Bud Walton Arena. It went about as intrasquad kickoff games do. There was lots of scoring, limited defense and good times.
And all that is fine. The Razorbacks are expected to be contenders in the SEC after being picked fifth by the media this preseason (for the record, I picked them second). You can get a complete rundown of what happened here, but in the meantime, after Saturday’s debacle, it was nice to see a good crowd representing Razorbacks fandom for what should be a good team.
Semi-real stuff starts Friday when Arkansas hosts Central Missouri in an exhibition game at BWA. The actual regular season begins Nov. 11 against Fort Wayne.
- Travis Swanson, Detroit center
Started for Lions at center in 20-17 win over Washington. And this shoutout to Kirk Cousins, apparently.
Travis Swanson yelled "YOU LIKE THAT!?" as he ran on to the field after the Lions beat Washington.
— Mike Mulholland (@mulho2mj) October 23, 2016
- Alvin Bailey, Cleveland offensive lineman
Started at right guard for Browns in 31-17 loss to Cincinnati
- Alex Collins, Seattle running back
One carry for 2 yards in Seahawks’ 6-6 tie with Arizona
- Knile Davis, Green Bay running back
Carried twice for 1 yard and had one kick return for 18 yards in team debut, a 26-10 Packers win over Chicago on Thursday
- Trey Flowers, New England defensive end
No stats in Patriots’ 27-16 win over Pittsburgh
- Hunter Henry, San Diego tight end
1 catch for 16 yards in Chargers’ 33-30 overtime win over Atlanta
- Darius Philon, San Diego defensive lineman
- Ryan Mallett, Baltimore quarterback
DNP in Ravens’ 24-16 loss to the New York Jets
- Brett Goode, Green Bay long snapper
No stats in Packers’ win
- Jason Peters, Philadelphia offensive lineman
Started for Eagles in 21-10 win over Minnesota. Hurt his biceps and did not finish the game but said he would not miss a game
- AJ Derby, New England tight end
- Chris Smith, Jacksonville defensive end
- Martrell Spaight, Washington linebacker
No stats in Redskins’ loss to Philadelphia
- Robert Thomas, New York Giants defensive tackle
- Jonathan Williams, Buffalo running back
- Jarius Wright, Minnesota wide receiver
- Brandon Allen, Jacksonville quarterback
- Sebastian Tretola, Tennessee offensive lineman
- Cobi Hamilton, Pittsburgh wide receiver
3 catches for 36 yards in Steelers’ loss to New England
In basketball, former Razorbacks guard Patrick Beverly will miss about three weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, per Adrian Wojnarowsjki.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) October 22, 2016
Beverly is entering his fifth year in the NBA, all with Houston. He was projected as the team’s starter at shooting guard for a fourth straight season. He averaged 9.9 points per game last year. The NBA starts its regular season on Tuesday with three former Razorbacks — Beverly, Bobby Portis (Chicago) and Joe Johnson (Utah) on rosters.
- Arkansas men’s golf finishes its season today and Tuesday in Florida at the Quail Valley Intercollegiate. The Razorbacks are sending four freshmen and junior Alvaro Ortiz to the tournament a week after winning their penultimate showing in West Virginia.
- Razorbacks volleyball lost its eighth straight match Sunday, falling to Auburn, 3-1. The team has two more shots at Barnhill Arena, hosting Mississippi State on Wednesday and Georgia on Sunday. The Bulldogs are tied with Arkansas for last in the SEC (1-8 each).
- After the best regular season perhaps in school history, the Arkansas soccer team had a crash-and-burn home finale. Kentucky, which hadn’t won an SEC game all year, came to Fayetteville and beat the Razorbacks, 2-1, on Sunday. The 15th-ranked Arkansas team sits tied for the third in the SEC (7-3) with one game left on the schedule. The loss also snapped a 10-game home winning streak.