In a more in-depth autopsy of Arkansas’ 2016 season, it is clear this is a team that could have finished with nine wins.
No, it wasn’t a team that is ready to challenge Alabama for a title. But the excuses and pulling out bits and pieces here and there to justify losses are getting tiresome.
At times Bret Bielema sounds like a 6-year-old just scolded for not cleaning up his room.
“But I cleaned it up last week,” is the reply.
If you have kids, you get the idea.
Arkansas’ season is just another example of what has become a habit for Bielema’s teams — they can’t finish.
When a team turns a halftime lead into a loss, it’s for one of two reasons:
• The other team simply has much better players that become motivated or they wear down the opponent.
• Coaching blunders.
Looking back over Bret Bielema’s four years at Arkansas, the signs really started to show themselves in that first season. We should have seen the signs then.
Before Robb Smith, Dan Enos, this offensive line, these players.
Remember 2013? Bielema basically had a pass on all the losses that year. In stepping back and looking at the overall picture it should have been better than 3-9.
Below we look at all 14 losses that could have been wins and the reason for the loss at the end:
2013 Blown Chances
• Leading Rutgers 24-7 and watch it all go by the wayside in a 28-24 loss. That should have been the first clue that 24 is not a good number for Bielema. Coaching
• Against Mississippi State, the Hogs had a 10-0 lead, then a 17-10 edge going into the fourth quarter and lost it in overtime. Remember, this was Dak Prescott’s rookie year and he wasn’t even the starting quarterback all year. Coaching
• Against all odds, the Hogs were leading LSU 27-21 in the fourth quarter, and had knocked starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger out of the game. Backup Anthony Jennings came in and took the Tigers 99 yards in a hurry for a 31-27 win. This one gets a combo-grade because there were some questionable decisions at the end that should have been the third set of red flags for what was coming. Talent-Coaching
2014 Blown Chances
• We discovered that Texas A&M has gained a steady hold on Bielema and the Hogs. Arkansas led the Aggies 28-14 entering the fourth quarter and lost the game in a one-possession overtime, looking horrendous being stopped without a first down. Coaching
• Shockingly, the Hogs found themselves ahead of Alabama 13-7 going into the fourth quarter, but then the Crimson Tide put enough together for a touchdown drive and a 14-13 win. Talent
• Again, finding themselves with a 10-7 lead in Starkville against No. 1-ranked Mississippi State, Prescott brought the Bulldogs back to get a 17-10 win in a game the Hogs could have won, but we’ll give Bielema a half-out on this one. Talent-Coaching
• Leading what had become the best team in the East for two seasons, Arkansas had a 14-6 lead on the Tigers going into the fourth quarter. Then Missouri scored twice and shut down the Hogs’ offense for a 21-14 win. Coaching
2015 Blown Chances
• After losing to Toledo the week before (which everyone pretty much wrote off as one of those things), the Razorbacks found themselves tied at 21-21 with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders and their spread attack, which Bielema said the previous summer was the type he would “kick your ass.” The Hogs were outscored in the second half 14-3 and lost by double digits. Coaching
• Texas A&M again saw the Hogs lead 21-13 in the fourth quarter. The Aggies, again, got it to overtime and held Arkansas scoreless there for another win. Coaching
• Facing another Alabama team headed for a national championship, the Razorbacks took advantage of the Tide’s sleepwalking in the first half for a 7-3 lead, but then lost the game by double digits. Talent
• Mississippi State came to Fayetteville and on a bitterly cold night, a track meet broke out as Prescott showed flashes of what Dallas Cowboys faithful are cheering for now. He led the Bulldogs down the field at will. In the end, though, a blocking snafu on a field goal got the Hogs’ game-winning shot blocked. Coaching
2016 Blown Chances
• After a hard-fought opening win over Louisiana Tech and an overtime win against a sub-par TCU team, it was the Aggies again. The Hogs were tied at halftime and ended up losing by 21 points. Coaching
• In the season finale, the Hogs led hapless Missouri 24-7 at halftime and lost. The Tigers were the worst team in the SEC East and Arkansas had just blown out the top team in the East, Florida. Coaching
• Fans were thinking the Missouri game was a simple snafu at halftime of the Belk Bowl with Arkansas leading Virginia Tech 24-0. That changed as the Hokies came back to win by double digits as the offense completely disappeared for the Hogs. Coaching
Over four seasons, that’s 14 games. Split the difference and give Arkansas wins in just half of those games and Bielema’s record is 32-19. The water might be a little warm, but it’s nowhere near boiling.
The total is 10 losses that can be chalked up to coaching while two are strictly talent (Alabama) and two are a combination of the two.
In today’s world of college football, you know what you have in a coach in four years. Colorado discovered they made the right choice with Mike MacIntyre, who just finished his fourth year leading the Buffaloes to a 10-4 record and an appearance in the Pac 12 title game.
Even looking back now, can you say Colorado in December 2012 was a better job than Arkansas then?
Yes, they aren’t in the SEC West. UA officials were pretty much aware that Arkansas was in the toughest division in the toughest conference in the country.
A division that has won six of the last nine national championships. Yes, if Alabama beats Clemson on Monday night it will be seven-of-10.
Firing Bielema now isn’t going to happen.
But what has to happen is some changes in the expectations, culture and approach in Arkansas football.
There are no more excuses acceptable. Those really should have expired at the end of 2015, but some — fans and media alike — prefer to continue to not step back and look at the big picture.
When you look at that, blowing games in the second half comes down to not taking care of the details.
Bielema has tried it his way for four years.
Now we see if he can change.