1. Long’s Support
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has endured a rough start to his Southeastern Conference coaching career, losing three straight games by a combined score of 127-50. But Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long has expressed his belief that the program is moving in the right direction the past few days.
Long made a quick appearance at coach’s weekly radio show on Wednesday night, reassuring listeners he was more convinced Bielema was the right person for the position despite the losing streak. He echoed those comments a day later, when asked about Bielema during a press conference about his recent selection as the College Football Playoff’s selection committee chairman.
“I know now even more than when I hired him, he’s going to be successful here,” Long said. “He’s going to build the program the right way. He’s going to recruit and bring the kind of talent we need to compete in the strongest division in the strongest conference in the NCAA. I have great confidence in him.”
Arkansas, which has lost four straight, is in danger of suffering its first five-game losing streak since the 1997 season. The past two weeks have been the toughest to endure with Florida and South Carolina beating Arkansas by a combined 82-17.
The task won’t any easier Saturday at top-ranked Alabama. The Razorbacks have lost six straight to the Crimson Tide, including last season’s 52-0 loss.
Alabama is Arkansas’ fourth straight game against a ranked opponent. Long said he knew there was going to be a “transition” when he hired Bielema even though the coaches “don’t always know it.”
“It’s not easy any time when you take over a program in transition,” Long said. “It’s just not easy. And when you put it into the toughest conference, it’s tougher.”
Bielema said he appreciated Long’s support and said his relationship with the athletic director has been “kind of a different thing for me” because they didn’t really know each other when he was hired. Bielema was a coordinator at Wisconsin when Barry Alvarez moved into the athletic director role and promoted him.
So Bielema said Long’s support is a sign he is seeing “all the little things.”
“From the way we handle our recruiting, from the way we handle our budget, to the way we handle our business, to the way we have a transparent relationship with the administration that we’re not looking to do anything behind your back,” Bielema said. “We’re not looking to do anything other than do everything that we say we’re going to do and we back it up 100 times over with the guys every day. I think the spike in academics and the standard we’re holding our guys to, whether it be on the field, off the field, drug policy, all of that stuff is really, really on a positive upswing.
“At some point it’s going to have the results that you want to carry over to the field.”
2. Full Pads
Bielema wanted to make sure he “emphasized the physicality” he anticipates from Saturday’s game at Alabama. So he put his team in full pads for practice all week.
The full-contact work was a change of pace from last week, when Bielema said he lightened up practice sessions with a handful of players banged up. The result — a 52-7 loss to South Carolina — made Bielema rethink his plans.
“Anything I did last week you can guarantee I’m probably going to do the exact opposite,” Bielema said.
Bielema said Arkansas also went back to the normal amount of practice time after trimming the time of practice sessions last week. Bielema liked the results.
“(Thursday) was by far the most spirited practice we’d had on a Thursday in a long time,” Bielema said. “I’m excited to see the physicality come out Saturday.”
3. More On Allen
Bielema said quarterback Brandon Allen completed a full week of practice for the first time since suffering his shoulder injury. He’s hopeful the regular workload will show in a passing offense that has struggled the past two weeks.
But Bielema stopped short of saying he was confident it will make a difference in the performance of his quarterback and receivers against the Crimson Tide.
“Without a doubt,” Bielema said. “Well, I shouldn’t say that. It looks good (Thursday) and we’ll see how it looks on Saturday. But just to have the timing and to have those guys working with each other has been a big, big bonus.”
4. Personnel Update
Linebacker Martrell Spaight participated in practice all week after missing the South Carolina game with a knee injury. Bielema said Spaight — who has 20 tackles — will be back in the starting lineup if Arkansas opens with three linebackers Saturday.
Bielema also said cornerback Carroll Washington will earn his second straight start in place of injured sophomore Will Hines (broken arm). Redshirt freshman Jared Collins will share time with Washington at the position Saturday.
“Jared played well in the game when he got his chances this past Saturday,” Bielema said. “So those guys will be a little bit more split.”