Bielema Keeping Team Confidence In Check After Blowout Win
Bret Bielema isn't quite ready to make any declarations about his Arkansas team.
Still, the new Razorbacks coach knows the confidence gained from a season-opening win over Louisiana-Lafayette could go a long way for a team that went 4-8 last season and was picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference West Division this year.
Arkansas (1-0) made the most of its first game under Bielema on Saturday, outgaining a Ragin' Caguns team that has finished 9-4 in each of the last two seasons 522-274 in total yardage.
It was a physical performance that had little resemblance to the finesse style of play the Razorbacks had been known for over the last five seasons, both under former coach Bobby Petrino and last season's interim coach, John L. Smith.
Also different was the convincing manner of the win, particularly for a team that had only one truly dominating victory last season -- a 49-7 rout of a Kentucky team that was winless in the SEC.
Bielema didn't notice a change in Arkansas' confidence level the day following the win over Louisiana-Lafayette, but he did have a clear message to pass along just in case the Razorbacks started looking ahead.
"What I guarded them against is all of the sudden everybody thinks you're not the bottom of the cellar anymore and all that jazz," Bielema said. "But I think one of the things we have to do as coaches in constantly remind our guys that you're only as good as your last play.
"I do think that was a good team that we beat, but on the same account, we've got an SEC schedule waiting on us."
Arkansas doesn't begin SEC play until it opens with No. 7 Texas A&M on Sept. 28, its fifth game of the season. That's the start of a difficult four-game stretch that includes trips to No. 10 Florida and No. 1 Alabama, along with a home game against No. 6 South Carolina.
The looming gauntlet, along with the rest of the SEC schedule, has Bielema remaining guarded after the opening win -- even though the Razorbacks gained 292 yards rushing and have clearly bought into their new coach's physical identity.
"I think we're a work in progress," Bielema said. "The No. 1 thing I loved about Saturday night is sitting back and reflecting on the game is just to know what we had been preaching and talking about and beating into them definitely came out."
This week, the Razorbacks host FCS opponent Samford in Little Rock. The game is one of two "home" games Arkansas plays each season in War Memorial Stadium, but Bielema made it clear on Monday that the trip makes it anything but.
"To be quite honest, I know that it is a home game on our schedule, but we as coaches and players have to treat it as a road game," Bielema said.
Regardless of where the game is, the Razorbacks enter the contest well aware that the Bulldogs (1-0) opened their season with a 31-21 win over Georgia State last week.
Bielema isn't about to let them overlook anyone at this point, not after last season imploded following a stunning overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe in the second game of the season -- in Little Rock.
Despite the caution, the former Wisconsin coach will have plenty of positives to reinforce this week from its opening win.
And while it was the offensive success that stole the headlines, thanks to 230 yards passing from sophomore quarterback Brandon Allen and a combined 282 yards rushing from running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, it was the second-half defensive effort that also had Bielema excited moving forward.
The Razorbacks built a 20-7 halftime lead on Saturday, doing so despite putting little pressure on Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway. In the second half, however, Arkansas' defensive line took control, accounting for four sacks and providing the perfect complement to the team's power running game.
It was exactly the kind of script Bielema had written for his Arkansas debut.
"I always said if you can smile during another man's misery, that's a good thing," Bielema said. "And I don't think Louisiana-Lafayette was really enjoying that second half. I think our guys were. I think that's a really good thing."