In the post-mortem of yet another loss to Alabama, Bret Bielema wanted to talk about what Arkansas did wrong.
He kinda has to.
The actual truth of the matter is, well, not something he wants to dive into publicly, even though it’s not really his fault.
Without Bielema and a staff that has gotten Arkansas to over-achieve for the past couple of years, the top-ranked Crimson Tide would have probably won this one by some sort of ridiculous number.
Oh, yes, it could have been worse. Much worse.
Don’t forget Alabama went down the field without much hindrance from the Razorbacks’ defense the first couple of times they had the ball.
That wasn’t due to a lack of planning by the coaches or effort by the players.
When Alabama plays focused and on top of it’s game, nobody in the country may be able to beat them.
Certainly not Arkansas.
“Well, I think you get to a certain level where you have a base pool of players that you know are developed in a way and recruited in a way that you know they have these certain talents,” an obviously disappointed Bielema said later. “You have a lot of them, and you have coaches that are very, very good.”
To decipher that coach-speak, for really just the second time since he’s been the Arkansas coach (in four meetings), Bielema faced a focused Crimson Tide team and the difference in the talent level became alarmingly clear.
“That combination and the ability to roll people through and have the depth that you do, it’s a very good position to be in,” Bielema said.
In the 247Sports.com composite recruiting rankings, Alabama has signed 58 4 and 5-star players over the last three-year recruiting cycle. Arkansas, for comparison, signed 16 4-stars and one 5-star.
Don’t tell me that the stars don’t matter. It doesn’t mean a player can’t develop from a 2-star to a 5-star, but nobody can develop enough of those to compete against that kind of talent disparity.
“[It’s] one we’re going to strive to get to every day,” Bielema said.
The last two years, particularly the 14-13 Bama win in 2014, the Crimson Tide helped the Hogs as much as the Hogs helped themselves.
On Alabama’s first possession you got the idea it might happen again.
The Crimson Tide drove 80 yards in eight plays, taking 6:47 of the first quarter before Joshua Jacobs coughed it up at the 1 when Dre Greenlaw hit him in a pile of players and De’Andre Coley got it at the 1.
Except the Razorbacks could only muster a first down before punting it back, the Crimson Tide got a 57-yard run by Damien Harris to set up a 5-yard scoring run by Jalen Hurts and it was 7-0 in a flash.
Then Arkansas fumbled on the ensuing kickoff and a 6-yard run by Hurts made it 14-0 in a span of two minutes.
“Obviously that kickoff return that we fumbled was huge,” Bielema said.
The Razorbacks answered with Austin Allen leading a 75-yard drive in seven plays, mostly through the air, that cut it to 14-7 on a 24-yard pass to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.
Arkansas’ defense followed with a stop, but then the Tide’s aggressive defense forced a fumble by Allen on a passing play that Tim Williams picked up and ran in from 23 yards out and it was 21-7 with 12:25 to go in the second quarter.
At that point it was over for all intents and purposes.
Later, it was spin control, which is always expected. Bielema talked about problems setting the edge.
“Just an old-school defensive thing,” he said later, explaining it. “On every play you’ve got to have contain, cut back, reverse. At different times it might be a defensive end, it might be a backer in support, it might be a DB in support, and what we don’t want to do is set an edge but also widen it so that there’s a gap up inside.”
We’ve seen this before. The problems with edge control led to Texas A&M running repeatedly down the middle of the field. Alabama saw the same thing on film and proceeded to tweak it and do the same thing.
“There was a play where we did have the edge set, but a gap between two of our defenders, and that’s a problem within itself, as well,” Bielema said.
And it’s not all physical.
“A little bit of that is attitude, but I think we have to make a special hard look at ourselves defensively,” he said. “If we’re asking guys to do that that can’t physically do it, and if that’s the case, obviously we’ve got to change up the look.”
Based on that, the guess here is the look will get changed.
With the Hogs’ solid interior linemen, teams aren’t going to try and block straight ahead. The run may appear to be a straight-ahead run, but the blocking gets those linemen moving and the running back knifes into the natural holes it leaves.
Linebackers have to fill that and, well, that ain’t happening. Good tackles are usually the result of good positioning. It’s not really complicated … if you’re not in position, you can’t make the tackle.
While the Hogs’ linebackers are young men of good character, there aren’t any All-Americans back there.
TCU showed the flaw, Texas A&M exploited it and Alabama wore it out.
How it’s handled is the interesting question, and it won’t get easier.
“Sundays are never good after a loss,” Bielema said. “They’re just not a real fun day because coaches got to take ownership in how their kids performed, me as a head coach obviously, and then make some corrections and adjustments, and then change the personnel if we need to, change some schemes, and get ready to jump into Ole Miss.”
As he said, though, next is Ole Miss and the Rebels coaches can be excused for giggling a little when they see the film on the Alabama game.
While the Hogs have some strong points, their defense past the front four isn’t one of them.
And Bielema knows the talent isn’t there to really do anything about it unless Ole Miss is as benevolent as they were a couple of years ago in a 30-0 whitewashing.
But the odds are long on that one happening again.