FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema knew his defense needed changes following its historically terrible performance two weeks ago at Auburn.
When you allow 543 rushing yards in one game, it’s pretty clear things aren’t working.
“One of the things I’ve always done as a head coach is that if I feel a player needs to play, I’ll just come in and say it,” Bielema said. “I’m not going to give a lot of reasons why.
“When (stuff) needs to happen, I’ve got to make it happen. That’s what I needed to do.”
As you can probably decipher, he didn’t say stuff.
Nevertheless, “stuff” needed to change. And it was clear from Florida’s first offensive snap Saturday that things were different.
First, the pre-snap.
Five-star freshman McTelvin Agim made his first career start. Sophomore Randy Ramsey entered the starting lineup. Senior Jeremiah Ledbetter moved from tackle to defensive end, and senior Deatrich Wise Jr. — considered a potential first-round NFL prospect next spring — was not part of the starting lineup.
Then, Santos Ramirez picked off Luke Del Rio’s pass and returned it 24 yards for a quick touchdown and 7-0 Arkansas lead.
Two weeks ago, of course, Auburn’s Eli Stove rushed for a 78-yard touchdown on the Tigers’ first offensive snap, resulting in the first points of a 56-3 rout that was Bielema’s most-lopsided loss of his head coaching career.
Bielema said he made those defensive personnel changes the day after that embarrassing defeat.
“You know, the past two weeks, we were really mad,” Ramirez said. “We wanted revenge. The game just stuck in our head. Fifty-six to 3. Five-hundred something yards rushing.
“We were just practicing with a motive. … We were not going to be run on.”
Because of that motivation and those personnel changes, they weren’t.
Florida managed just 12 rushing yards — a 531-yard difference from two weeks ago.
It was the first time an Arkansas opponent didn’t rush for at least 150 yards since nonconference play.
Ledbetter’s move outside helped Arkansas “set an edge” against the run, something Bielema has cited all season as a major contributing problem to the Hogs’ running defense woes. The Razorbacks entered Saturday’s game ranking 109th in the country in run defense.
“I like to set the edge,” Ledbetter said. “There’s more freedom out there to rush the passer and just to get after their offense.”
Ramsey, who moved from linebacker to the defensive line during the offseason, was listed as the starter at the “SAM” linebacker position, but played more like a stand-up defensive end. He recorded a sack in the victory.
Wise, who is nursing a shoulder injury, played mostly on third down in pass-rushing situations. He finished with 2 tackles, half-a-sack and 2 quarterback hurries.
And then there was Agim, who was the most highly touted of Arkansas’ 2016 signees. He finished with 3 tackles and a quarterback hurry.
“Coach came to me after the Auburn game and said he was going to give me a chance to show what I can do, and it was on me to take advantage of it,” Agim said.
The victory means Arkansas has achieved bowl eligibility and still has the opportunity to win nine regular-season games.
Next up, though, is LSU and all-world running back Leonard Fournette.
“We feel like we can win out,” Ramirez said. “The next opponent we’ve got is LSU, so that’s who we’re focused on.”