Monday, October 05, 2015

From the Bench

Same Approach From Bielema Will Be Needed for Chance Against Alabama

Robert Shields

Saturday’s Razorback game against the Tennessee Volunteers took an eerily similar trajectory to the other losses by Bret Bielema that came down to a single possession. With the Razorbacks leading 24-20, it appeared that bad luck would strike again while holding a lead in the fourth quarter. Dominating the second half and the clock, the Razorbacks went on a long drive. In similar fashion as other losses, the drive stalled and the Razorbacks settled for a field-goal attempt.

The field goal was blocked to serve as the momentum killer like so many of Bielema’s other losses. But the team did not quit or become paralyzed. The team got the ball back and mounted another drive and took it near the Volunteer goal line. Again, the drive stalled as it has become epidemic with this team failing in the red zone. The team looked to be opting again for a field-goal attempt, but instead the Razorbacks faked it and the Volunteers did not bite on it tackling the fake kicker.

The fake field goal was probably Bielema’s worst decision of the game only in the fact that he used a different kicker that telegraphed the fake because it was a different look that drew the attention of the Volunteers. If you’re going to go for it, use your offense instead of a fake kicker to make a tough running play in such tight quarters.

But again, the team did not quit or become paralyzed. In fact, it played harder. For the first time in a long time, the defense held an opposing team operating with four downs with the game on the line. The defense buckled down around midfield and made the Volunteers turn the ball over on downs.

Still facing time on the clock, the offense had to evaporate it. Facing a third and short, the offense powered forward with a banged up Alex Collins on a misdirection toss sweep. The play call was brilliant as Tennessee was expecting another hammering play between the tackles. From there with a new first down, the Razorbacks exhausted the clock.

After the back story, the difference in this game more than the other close losses by Bielema was that he did not play conservatively. He threw caution to the wind. He was not afraid to roll the dice on fourth down on a couple of occasions. Even if the misdirection toss sweep play did not work, he would have come back and gone for it on fourth down or that is what I would like to believe.

Even the bad fake field goal late in the fourth quarter was a positive in that he was not playing afraid to lose but playing instead to win. I believe this transferred over to the team. The team played to win by rolling the dice with each opportunity.

The game was a loser-leave-town match and as the television called it, the “Desperation Bowl.” A loss to Tennessee would have made a path back to a bowl game almost impossible with the remaining schedule. Fans can at least imagine a path now.

Winning breads momentum, and it did that in spades last year for the Razorbacks, so the team will at least carry the confidence of this road win into Tuscaloosa for the next game. Bielema has almost certainly pointed out that the team still holds its own fate in its hands with only one conference loss.

The Razorbacks still have an issue that surfaced at times in the Tennessee game on several plays including special teams -- the team is slow, which is a killer in the SEC. To combat this lack of speed, the Razorbacks will have to play more disciplined, or more busts in the kicking game are going to happen and cost them more games.

The poor play of special teams has always been an indication of a team not having depth. Special teams are typically made up of guys who are not seeing the field all the time and when another team is exploiting them, it’s a sign that the other team has better players waiting in the wings.

If you want some positives coming out of the game, Drew Morgan, Alex Collins, and Raleigh Williams keep getting better with every game and maybe their coach has also turned the corner with his new attitude of rolling the dice instead of punting away his team’s opportunities.

To have a chance at Alabama, the team and coach will have to play with the same caution-to-the-wind approach with a less-conservative attack acting upon every opportunity.

Send your Razorback football risk management plan to

Monday, September 28, 2015

From the Bench

Bielema Running Out of Excuses and Petrino Holdovers

Robert Shields

The conversation among Razorback fans this week will center on Bret Bielema’s inability to win a close game at Arkansas. There are nine examples now over his three seasons at the helm of the Razorback’s football team.

The latest cut came Saturday night in an overtime loss to Texas A&M that was very reminiscent of the overtime loss against Texas A&M last year. The Razorbacks had a good lead and then allowed A&M to score quickly.

A key penalty late in the game sealed the fate of the Razorbacks when the Hogs had a fourth down and roughly two yards, and it was flagged by a motion penalty moving the team back five yards and close to the A&M 40-yard line.

The unofficial survey of fans at the Hangout in Gulf Shores, Alabama, which is where I had the pleasure to watch the game, was that everyone knew the A&M comeback was about to begin the moment the flag was thrown.

Moved back to around the 40, Bret Bielema then sent on the punt team and sealed the fate of the Razorbacks one more time. As bizarre as it sounds with a fourth and seven, he needed to roll the dice and go for it.

But that is not what Bielema does, so he punted A&M back to their 15-yard line. On the exchange, the punt gained Arkansas 25 yards of field position against A&M’s offense.

This Razorback defense isn’t going to play any better at the 15 than at the 40. Bielema controlled the team’s fate at that moment, but to punt it back and expect a different result than what happened is an example of forgetting history or being too stubborn to change.

After the debacle of the defense last year against A&M, you would think that the memory would have stuck, but it did not. Instead, Arkansas punted its opportunity for victory to A&M and gave them new life just as they were on the verge of securing victory.

And worst of all, Bielema decided to punt it back with the obvious fact that this year’s defense is not even as good as last year’s.

When you are the underdog with a team that most consider inferior to your opponent, you can’t play it safe by the numbers. You have to take some chances when you have the opportunity to lock up a game, and in almost every close Razorback loss under Bret Bielema he was faced with a decision that typically resulted in giving the ball back to the other team and resting on the hope of his defense pulling it out.

With some Razorback fans, Bielema will start to own the mantle of being a loser. The facts are what they are right now -- and he needs to change those facts.

It should be noted that last year’s defense was composed of many of the better players that were Bobby Petrino holdovers. As a matter of fact, two of the injuries haunting this team with Jonathan Williams and Keon Hatcher, the best running back and receiver, are also Petrino players.

The reality is that many of Bielema’s recruits – and remember he has been heralded as the better recruiter as the sycophantic Razorback press keeps telling you he is recruiting better than any coach in the past – are not stepping up to fill the void of the Petrino players who are leaving.

The Razorback defense has been porous all over, but in particular the linebackers, who before the season started had the most question marks. One could wonder if AJ Turner or Otha Peters, both Petrino players, would have had an impact on this team and provided depth if still around.

Eventually, Bielema will run out of Petrino players and will only have his recruits to look to. And eventually, excuses (we are already getting there) will run out.

Bielema is running out of excuses with the fans who are being subjected to one bad loss after another and is just starting to look like, in the words of Donald Trump, a loser.

Bielema’s inability to seize the moment permeates throughout the team as the players are starting to reflect that same paralyzing characteristic.

Send your stories from the Hangout to

Monday, September 21, 2015

From the Bench

Razorback Football’s Unraveling Fueling Fan Divisiveness

Robert Shields

Like just about everyone else in Arkansas, my expectations for this Razorback football team were too high. But unlike the Razorback press clique that serves more as a public relations arm to pump up the program, I will say this -- I was wrong.

After being on my sugar high coming off the shutout wins against LSU and Ole Miss and then curb stomping Texas in the bowl game, I ignorantly thought that the Program was going in the right direction.

I look back now and can dismiss all three of those wins.

Ole Miss was in decline after losing its star receiver in the Auburn game, and the Hogs caught them at the right time. Ole Miss went on to get hammered by TCU in its bowl game.

Also looking back, LSU at that point in the season was mailing it in and the Hogs caught them on a dismal day. LSU would go out later and tank against Notre Dame.

Then we all now know that Texas is just plain terrible and probably will have another coaching change at the end of this season.

I wrote a column in August that predicted a Razorback win in the SEC championship game and a 12-win season. To some degree, it was a satire, but I did believe this would be a good team. I thought eight wins was a realistic expectation for any fan, and if they got some breaks 10 wins was definitely possible.

The Razorbacks could have won 10 games last season if it would have gotten the breaks in the four losses to A&M, Alabama, Mississippi State, and Missouri as the Hogs led at one time in all those games.

There lays my fallacy.

This year’s version of the Razorbacks is not the same as last year. I should not have believed the hype that players like Darius Philon, Martrell Spaight, and Trey Flowers could be replaced so easily. Or that the system was in place for Robb Smith. The Razorbacks could not replace those players on defense.

I also did not think the coaches would tinker with an offensive line that played really well last year. They did. They essentially only had to replace one player on the line. Instead, they got cute and started swapping players around all over the place.

Needless to say, the injuries have also mattered to very key personnel. The team is not as deep as other SEC teams.

After now explaining away my rare false hope of optimism for the Razorbacks, let me summarize it simply: This team is bad.

Mostly, it’s just slow and looks like a bad Big Ten team, which is what we all must have known Bret Bielema would bring except for the bad part. I had hoped that his Paleolithic offense would still work in this day and age, and maybe it will.

I would like to believe part of the fall this year is from the team having some lack of identity as it does not play smashmouth football as it did before. It was like the line took time off from pushing the seven-man sled. One of my favorite sayings about football is from John Madden. He always said he knew what type of team he would have by how his team pushed his seven-man sled in August.

Nothing in the Texas Tech game spoke more loudly when the Razorbacks reached around the 5-yard line and only needed 2 yards on third down to get a first down. Yet the decision was to throw the ball, which ended in an offensive pass-interference penalty.

The score was needed as the Razorbacks could have cut the lead to 35-31, but instead it stayed at 35-24. The Razorback woes in the red zone stem directly from its inability to run in tough yardage situations.

Now on to Texas A&M, and if the Razorbacks are going to salvage the season, there is no better opportunity than to start this weekend against the Aggies. It will switch the fan base’s attitude quickly if they can snap the three-game losing streak to A&M. A fourth loss in a row to the Aggies and a third for Bielema will not be a good result.

Over the last few weeks, the most curious thing to me besides the team losing is the fact that Jeff Long has gone silent. He has the opportunity to quell the fire of GSD II that erupted over the last week following the loss to Toledo that has laid bare the raw nerve of the issue.

Social media over this time has exploded with Razorback fans arguing with each other that playing in Little Rock was to blame for the Toledo loss only to wait another week to prove the other side wrong after the loss to Texas Tech in Fayetteville.

It’s not the venue. The team is bad and has been since after the 2011 season. The Razorback program has endured record losing streaks both in conference and overall during these years, and the reality is that the team loses everywhere.

If there was one concern for me of GSD II that erupted on social media was the fact that some seemed to have gained satisfaction or vindication by the Razorbacks losing the game to Texas Tech in Fayetteville in an almost, “I told you so,” mentality.

The state has always been united behind the Razorbacks, but blaming the loss and poor play in the Toledo game on the venue at War Memorial was divisive.

This is not something the team or the Program needs at this time, and maybe with the big bucks that Jeff Long is paid he will mend these fences quickly.

Send your game plan for A&M to

Monday, September 14, 2015

From the Bench

No Magic in War Memorial Stadium Since Petrino Crashed the Bike

Robert Shields

Since the motorcycle accident leading to the departure of Bobby Petrino, the Razorback football team has gone 1-5 in War Memorial Stadium. The one win was against hapless Samford, and the Hogs still had to battle into the fourth quarter to win the game.

In 2010, the Razorbacks played their last game against LSU in Little Rock and won the game, which led the team to its first and only BCS bowl. And it would be the last time the Hogs played the Tigers at War Memorial.

It was at that point I said it was time to move all the games to Fayetteville, a huge departure from my decades-old position of the importance of games in Little Rock. War Memorial has delivered countless memorable wins under Frank Broyles, Lou Holtz, Ken Hatfield, Houston Nutt, and Bobby Petrino. Bad coaches, however -- namely Jack Crowe, Danny Ford, and John L. Smith -- have lost in War Memorial.

During this 1-5 streak at War Memorial that started in 2012, two of the five losses have been in overtime. Essentially, the team has been unlucky in the Old Gray Lady. In one loss to Mississippi State, the Razorbacks were about to put the game on ice but fumbled the ball and game away on their way to score.

In the loss to Toledo, all the breaks went the Rockets way and nothing went well for the Hogs. To number the mistakes, the Razorbacks missed a field goal, had a punt return for a touchdown negated by penalty, had another run to the 1-inch line negated by penalty, threw an interception into the end zone negating a scoring drive, snapped the ball over the punter’s head and had the punt blocked, got to the 3-yard line with a first down two times and only came away with three points, and essentially doubled the offensive production of the Rockets but still lost the game.

I am probably leaving out many other things that just flat went wrong including even the unfolding of the Razorback flag at the beginning of the game.

This Razorback team looked poorly prepared against Toledo. The Rockets stuck steadfastly to their game plan and were the more-disciplined team, which is supposed to be a trademark of Bret Bielema. Instead, the Razorbacks looked out of sorts and blew every opportunity that was presented to them.

The penalties in the game were so costly and killed several drives. If the Hogs could not kill their drive with penalties, they found other ways such as dropping passes. On the few times they gained a few yards on the ground, the gain would then get wiped out with a holding call.

In some ways, the team on display Saturday looked similar to the team coached by John L Smith.

The penalties were performance based in which the Razorback players were beat by the Rockets and so resorted to cheating to create an advantage, which they should have had in the first place. Unfortunately, they were caught.

Oddly, the defense, which is the side of the ball that some believe is more the work in progress, did its job. They held Toledo, which was a high-powered offense last season, to roughly 300 yards. A defense is also doing its job when you hold the opponent to 16 points. Of those 16 points, one touchdown was not the defense’s fault as the blocked punt set up the Rockets deep in Razorback territory.

Starting in 2012 when the Razorbacks turned into one of the worst teams in the SEC, the Little Rock venue has not been kind. I am a believer that where you play a game does matter, especially in big games. When you are a great team like Alabama, it often does not matter where you play. You just win. It’s what makes them great teams.

When you’re a team living at the margin as the Hogs often do, where it’s played does matter -- except last Saturday. The Razorbacks would have lost that game against Toledo anywhere.

The only parcel of property that mattered was at the line of scrimmage, which the Razorbacks lost all day long and were constantly whipped at the point of attack.

When you abandon the game plan in the first quarter and Brandon Allen has to throw the ball 53 times, we all know how that game is probably going to end. Toledo owned the real estate on either side of the ball, which is going to doom a Bielema team every time.

If the Razorbacks are throwing the ball 53 times, then philosophically they have already lost the game as Bielema’s scheme is to beat you up front and not match you skill player against skill player as Petrino does. The Razorbacks don’t have the vastly superior skill people to beat you mano a mano. Bielema’s is a Paleolithic offense deadest on grinding you up in the trenches, but the opposite happened Saturday.

The Razorbacks actually sent an early message to Toledo on its first drive. The crossed midfield and had a fourth and short, and as Bielema has done so many times, he opted to punt. One, this let Toledo know that Arkansas could not run over them to get the short yardage. Two, playing safe often blows up on you as it did on that series as the snap on the punt went over the punter’s head anyway.

Until Bielema gets more comfortable going for it on fourth down when his book says punt, the Razorbacks will continue to lose close games. In close games, you have to take your opportunities when they are presented, and punting the ball back does not create an opportunity but instead gives the other team its opportunity.

If you remove Alex Collins’ lone touchdown run, Arkansas rushed 30 times for about 80 yards. That’s just called getting beat up front. The coaches have to be wondering to themselves if it was a bad idea to move Dan Skipper away from the left side and Sebastian Tretola. The offensive line is basically the same but for the loss of one player and the switch of Dan Skipper, but it has definitely regressed.

I would be remiss to not mention that overall the team looks slow. So not only is the team not winning at the point of attack, it’s even slow to get there. This was evident in the red zone. The Hogs have no speed to get to the outside. The loss of Jonathan Williams is being felt, and maybe even larger is the departure last season of Korliss Marshall, who was the type of player who could beat the defense to the pylon.

The Hogs have no one like Marshall right now when defenses bunch up in the middle. The coaches probably need to look at moving a Dominque Reed, Jojo Robinson, or Jared Cornelius to running back to give the Hogs some outside speed threat. This actually probably should have happened the moment Williams went down.

The coaches also have to be wondering now if taking off those practices in August was such a good idea. The team looks like it needed the extra hitting. Toledo was dominant up front as they looked more physical and ready for the fight. This manifested itself in many ways including Razorback players who were constantly getting injured during the game. Again, the team looked poorly prepared.

It was just one game and things can be turned around and changed for the better, but if this is the team that will show up all year, a path back to seven victories will be difficult.

If there is one knock on Bielema at Arkansas it is losing the close game. Bielema has faced eight close games in the fourth quarter since becoming the Razorbacks head coach and has lost all of them regardless of the venue whether at Rutgers, Mississippi State in Little Rock, LSU in Baton Rouge, A&M in Arlington, Alabama at Fayetteville, Mississippi State in Starkville, Missouri at Columbia, and now Toledo in Little Rock.

The loss to Toledo is unexplainable unless you believe the Little Rock magic is over for the Hogs, and maybe it is. Or maybe the stadium knows it’s over. Or maybe the worst of all, the coach cannot create magic on his own.

Send what game on the schedule you think the Hogs can win to

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

From the Bench

On to Toledo for One of Final Razorback Games in Little Rock

Robert Shields

When you beat another team by five touchdowns, it was a great game.

The checklist provided in last week’s column to help determine if the Razorbacks have a good team was punched in most categories including Brandon Allen getting to leave the game early for all the right reasons. Throwing four touchdown passes was a first half for Allen that he will probably never forget.

If you want a negative out of the game, the running game was… challenged. Make no mistake, UTEP came in with the game plan to stop the Razorback rushing attack and committed the people to stop it.

But if you want a subsequent positive, the Razorbacks sent a loud message that if you load up against the run, they can murder you through the air. The receivers looked dynamic and dangerous taking many passes the distance and showing a spark of speed that has been missing to make Bret Bielema’s offense more vibrant.

The loss of Jonathan Williams as expected is hurting the team. If Saturday is the status quo, Alex Collins heading into SEC play will have to carry the ball 25 times or more unless Raleigh Williams or Kody Walker becomes more productive.

It’s possible the reserve running backs will grow into their roles. Williams is young and has some learning to do, but if you want a positive coming from him he looks nails tough. He pushed hard on some plays to make sure he got positive yardage and some youngsters are not willing to do that.

The defense also has some work to do, but with the losses of Trey Flowers, Darius Philon, and Martrell Spaight that comes as no surprise. That does not mean the defense will not improve or end up better than last year.

The secondary play is better than last year, and the linebackers will improve with every game. Just like last year, the defense was not great at the start of the year, but by the end of the year it was the best in the SEC in my estimation.

Another positive, the kicking game has improved significantly over last year in other areas besides punting. We know nothing about the punter this year since he was essentially never really meaningfully needed during the game.

In the end, it was just the kind of game you wanted from your Razorbacks against an outmatched opponent, and just a few years ago this game may not have been a blowout.

So, on to Toledo in Little Rock.

Hopefully you will get the same kind of performance against a team the Razorbacks should be superior to. Don’t be surprised if Toledo takes the same tack trying to stop the Razorback running game and force the Hogs to beat them through the air. It’s the opposing team’s best bet, but after the beat down of UTEP, teams are going to have to pick their poison. Beating other teams in whichever way is given to them is something the Razorbacks have not been able to force in a long time.


Broyles Quote Was Prophetic
During Great Stadium Debate

Since the LSU game was moved out of Little Rock after the 2010 game, it has been time to move all the games to Fayetteville. I have written as much in this space several times after staunchly defending the games to stay in Little Rock the preceding decade.

As Frank Broyles once said, “things change.” And they have.

I have not written any Great Stadium Debate stuff in a long time. But I want to mention it now as this coming weekend is surely one of the very last games in War Memorial Stadium for Razorback football.

The only reason to keep a game in Little Rock now is to make the Fayetteville ticket package cheaper and thus easier to sell. Otherwise, does it make sense to load up the ticket package with back-to-back weekends of bad opponents in Fayetteville?

My fear back in 2000 and the years following when I railed on the Great Stadium Debate is that it would cause erosion of fan support. People are still Razorback fans in and around Little Rock, but the passion has changed.

Kids have grown up without the same exposure and their parents are less committed. I think we are seeing some of the effects of it now when he UofA cannot sell out games in Little Rock even with the smaller seating capacity. It really couldn’t even do it with Georgia last year.

Fans in and around Little Rock and into eastern Arkansas have simply found other things to do and realized they can live without it. Other things such as every game now being on television have also come into play.

The fans in Little Rock to a great extent would rather stay on the golf course tailgating than actually go to the game -- and that speak volumes.

There is also other antidotal evidence of the loss of total fan support. As I drink my Mountain Dew can that was purchased from Kroger, what I see on the back of it is the Baylor home football schedule. Maybe, this is just an oddity or Baylor thinks they can make some inroads into the market.

Also, a Central Arkansas radio station now carries the Missouri Tigers football games. Let me say that again, a Central Arkansas radio station is carrying an SEC rival’s football games.

Broyles sure called it.

Send your GSD thoughts to

Monday, August 31, 2015

From the Bench

Thanks to the West Texas Town of El Paso, We Will Learn Lots as the Season Unfurls

Robert Shields

Many years ago, fans could judge what kind of Razorback team they would have going into the Southwest Conference season by how they performed against the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes (which on a side note is probably one of the most misplaced mascot names in all of college football).

You knew what kind of Razorback team you had by the way they executed against the Hurricanes. Just like I remember when receiver Tracy Caldwell streaked into the end zone after a pass from Quinn Grovey to stomp the Hurricanes, I knew that Razorback team was going to be good.

This week, your Razorbacks face off against the modern-day version of Tulsa by playing the University of Texas at El Paso Miners (which is actually a mascot that is appropriately named). You will know more about your team after the game Saturday.

So what will be your signs for the potential of a good season coming out of the game?

1) Brandon Allen does not have to play the whole game for all the right reasons. He leaves early and survives any injuries in a game with little or no meaning except to get the win.

2) Brandon Allen has an efficient game with a completion percentage of around 60 percent or better would be good. UTEP has only a few returning defensive players and is having to rebuild its defense. The Razorback offense should be able to exploit it.

3) Alex Collins goes for more than 100 yards. It would be good if he has one long breakaway run that he takes to the house and does all this without fumbling to show good ball control to come.

4) Jeremy Sprinkle has a reception or two bringing to fruition the belief that the Razorbacks are talented at tight end. Arkansas has one of the best in the nation in Hunter Henry, but he needs someone to arrive that will augment his abilities. It makes the offense all the more dangerous when it has two choices, especially when Bielema goes with double tight ends.

5) One receiver besides Keon Hatcher steps up in the game such as Jo Jo Robinson, Kendrick Edwards, or Dominque Reed. It would be good if one shows up as a big-play threat to give all future opponents more things to worry about when facing the Razorbacks such as keeping the safeties keyed on receivers instead of focusing on stopping the running game.

6) The kicker putting a field goal through the uprights seamlessly at a long distance would be a huge plus. The lack of a reliable kicker early last season cost the Razorbacks at least two games.

7) The defense leads the charge and turns over the UTEP offense on more than one occasion leading to a route. A few three-and-outs would be a nice sign the defense is picking up where it left off last year.

8) The Razorback linebacking group leads the defense with tackles. It won’t be a good sign if the secondary is leading the way in tackles. UTEP had a solid rushing attack last year, and if the secondary has to come up constantly for run support because the linebackers are being blocked or out of position, it will not be a positive sign.

9) The offense avoids pre-snap penalties. The team getting them is a sign of being sloppy and not having the discipline that is supposed to be a Bielema trademark.

10) Kody Walker and Raleigh Williams fill the void of missing Jonathan Williams with both having positive yardage and no turnovers.

11) A solid return game with the coaches hopefully having found a good return man in the offseason. Conversely, the kicking team looks solid in the coverage game.

12) Lastly, not just Brandon Allen, but nobody on the team gets injured. It’s a bad way to start the season losing key players, and Jonathan Williams was enough. Sometimes injuries come from a lack of practice and preparation in the offseason before the first game as tackling to the ground is limited. It’s a double-edged sword for a coach. Do you hit more and risk injury or do you hedge your bet that the team will be prepared enough without the extra tackling? Bielema took some practices off. Did he choose wisely?

Send your hopes for the first game to

Monday, August 24, 2015

From the Bench

Five Thoughts on the Razorbacks as Preseason Winds Down

Robert Shields

Scott Faldon, the former sports editor the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith who Rick Schaeffer once claimed on Drive Time Sports never to have heard of, used to have a brilliant weekly feature called Faldon’s Five Thoughts before he took his talents to the world of marketing. In the spirit of Faldon, From the Bench offers five items surfacing as key issues for Razorback football as the preseason winds down. However, unlike Faldon’s feature, there will be no endorsement of gambling at the end by using a magic eight ball to make an erroneous prediction.

So without further adieu, here goes From the Bench’s Five Things:

1. Ricky Town

The big star quarterback formerly from USC has decided to ditch the drunken coach and dancing Song Girls to transfer to Arkansas. This was a big pick-up for Bret Bielema because the reality is that it’s highly unlikely in the normal recruiting process that Bielema could land a quarterback of this caliber. I’m sure while Bielema is trying to recruit quarterbacks they hear from other coaches that if they go to Arkansas all they are going to do is hand the ball off. Probably not a fair assessment, but the recruiting game is anything but fair.

In fairness to Bielema, it has also been difficult for any Razorback coach to land such a quarterback. Even the great Ryan Mallet initially did not come to Arkansas, he was a transfer. The greatest quarterback ever recruited by Arkansas (according to those recruiting rankings) was Mitch Mustain, who they almost lost to Notre Dame. Houston Nutt was fortunate he was in the Razorbacks’ backyard, and even then they had to hire the kid’s high-school coach to help land him.

2. Alex Collins

Alex Collins was one of Bielema’s biggest recruits in his first class. He is now a junior, and whether he wants it or not, the mantle of leadership is now thrust upon him. He is now faced with a new burden -- he is the new No. 1 back. He has to set the tempo and lead by example. He has to be the role model. It’s always easier being in the wings as the No. 2 guy, but it’s different when you are the go-to guy. Collins is now that guy. If he doesn’t step up to the task, the forecast is even worse with the loss of Williams.

3. Jonathan Williams

The loss of your No. 1 running back for any team is huge. It changes assignments. Williams was the top back for a reason. He also may have been the first player off this team taken by the NFL next year. Besides running the ball, he did other things well. He was a good blocker in the backfield. He is a team captain for a reason. He will be missed as everyone hopes he has a speedy and complete recovery.

4. Change of Pace

Many have tried to color the loss of Williams as “something good might come out of it.” They point to the fact that Kody Walker and Raleigh Williams are different types of backs compared to Collins. Yeah, that category is called “not as good.”

Walker is a larger bruising back who can get a tough yard. Raleigh Williams is more of a speed back. Some think this change of pace will be good for the offense and bad for opposing defenses because Jonathan Williams and Collins were very interchangeable, and to some degree that was very true.

But, people, if this was a plus, Bielema would have come with it regardless of Williams’ injury.

5. AP Poll

The Razorbacks start off the football season at No. 18. This is a fair spot for the Hogs considering they were never in the top 25 last season and had to snap its longest losing streak in school history. But what a difference the team was by the end of last year.

When the Razorbacks had a healthy Brandon Allen, they may have been the best team in the SEC. In the bowl season, the Razorbacks were the pride of the SEC after shellacking the Texas Longhorns and after so many SEC West teams struggled in their bowl games. (Thanks, Auburn, an overtime victory over Wisconsin would have made things look a little better.)

At the end of the season, the Razorbacks had the best defense in the SEC -- and the team that has the best defense in the SEC is usually the best team in the SEC.

Send your five thoughts to

Friday, August 21, 2015

From the Bench

Uncommon Quarterback May Lead Razorbacks to Uncommon Season

Robert Shields

I start this by saying that I am sorry to Brandon Allen.

The senior quarterback starts this football season as the centerpiece of the Razorback football team’s hopes for a fantastic season. The reality is that if he gets injured then the season will probably turn into something much different. I say this because Brandon Allen is, to borrow a word the football program loves using and now and has all over its website, uncommon.

The kid has endured a lot from his car being burned to being egged. He has endured the longest losing streak in Razorback football history and was part of a team that went a season without winning an SEC game. This was very uncommon territory for Razorback fans. In fact, it was completely uncharted territory.

Allen now labors under his fourth coach in about as many years -- Bobby Petrino, Taver Johnson in the spring after the motorcycle accident, John L. Smith, and now, finally, Bret Bielema. Not many could have survived that and become better. Through it all, he was nothing but magnanimous. This makes him uncommon.

I never criticized the kid. I was hard on the team back in 2013 and especially the coach. Although I did write one column saying that it was wrong to use the players as the scapegoat as there were much bigger problems, I never mentioned Allen by name.

Yet, in person, when people asked me what I thought about Allen, my answer was simple: “He has his limitations.” He did not have the physical presence of a Peyton Manning or Ryan Mallett. He was not as physically powerful as recent SEC quarterbacks such as a Dak Prescott or Nick Marshall.

One of the great Razorback quarterbacks that played in the SEC was Clint Stoerner, a one-time linebacker in his football career. Allen will never be mistaken for a linebacker. He’s an uncommon SEC quarterback.

Yet, he did accomplish what only a few Razorback quarterbacks have done in the modern era and that is beat Texas, which helps him join the ranks of guys like Ferguson, Scanlon, Stoerner, Taylor, and Jones to name a few. This also makes him uncommon.

He also has to play with his brother, the quarterback in waiting, who may have more athletic ability.

I’m not sure many Razorback quarterbacks have had to endure as much as he has. Some of the sports radio jockeys have also not been kind to him during his college career (the exception being Bo Mattingly who predicted that by the time Allen leaves Arkansas he would be a better quarterback than Connor Shaw at South Carolina). I can’t remember a quarterback taking such ridicule and keeping his job. It’s uncommon.

What Allen is –in a word, resilient. He has proven to be tough both mentally and physically. I don’t know of many quarterbacks who could have survived or played through the pain he did in the Missouri game last year.

Then he took that cheap shot from the Missouri player on Arkansas’ last drive that probably would have put most of us out. He got back up and staggered back to his teammates in obvious pain. Yet, he did not surrender. As a thanks, all most fans did was complain about his brother not getting the chance to play instead.

What he also is? Quick. He is quick of foot and of mind. He often has that little step that gets him out of a lot of trouble. He is intuitive and as every game passes this become sharper. It goes without saying transitioning from a Petrino offense to a Bielema offense is the difference between night and day philosophically. Not many could be that adaptable, which again makes him uncommon.

With all that said, and with a healthy uncommon quarterback, maybe the Razorback will have a very uncommon season.

Send your apology to Brandon Allen to

Monday, August 10, 2015

From the Bench

Preseason Predictions Say Bielema Wins SEC in Third Season With Razorbacks

Robert Shields

With less than a month before the Razorbacks kickoff the 2015 football season, the expectations continue to grow. As is typical this time of year from the callers on the sports radio shows, the team’s record gets better and better the closer we get to kickoff of the first game. So with that in mind, I turn on the crystal ball and let the preseason predictions roll on Bret Bielema’s third season to see what is really going to happen game by game this season.

Sept. 5 – UTEP in Fayetteville
The Razorbacks get through two-a-days intact and reports from preseason say that the newcomers developed quickly. The Razorbacks open the season by fumbling the ball on its opening drive and UTEP goes up early 7-0. But it’s the last time the Miners score that day. The Razorbacks score on their next five possessions and go on to win 49-7. UTEP mascot Paydirt Pete is spotted at Bottom’s Up after the game and is revealed by police to be Mike Price.

Sept. 12 -- Toledo in Little Rock
The day is hot and the War Memorial golf course is packed with many speculating it’s one of the last times to engage in tailgating on it. The defense struggles and the game is closer than it should be at the half as the Hogs are tied 14-14. The third quarter remains tight, but then in the fourth quarter the Razorbacks go on back-to-back time consuming drives to put the game away. Bielema wears the windbreaker throughout the game and rumors break the next day he had to be given an IV afterward thanks to a heat index of 130? Razorbacks win 31-21.

Sept. 19 -- Texas Tech in Fayetteville
After the beat down the Razorbacks put on the Red Raiders last season, many are expecting a repeat performance. They are not left disappointed as the defense comes up with three interceptions and five sacks. The Razorbacks also rush for more than 400 yards, and the kicker puts one through the uprights from 55 yards. Everyone has a fun night on Dickson Street as the Razorback celebrate a 45-21 win – even Kliff Kingsbury who misses the team flight home after “getting lost” on sorority row.

Sept. 26 -- Texas A&M in Arlington
After losing three in a row including an overtime loss the previous season where they let a big fourth quarter lead evaporate, the Razorbacks want this victory over the Aggies. It doesn’t come easy. The new defensive coordinator for the Aggies has them ready to stop the rushing attack of the Razorbacks and it turns into a defensive struggle. The score is 17-17 in the fourth quarter when Brandon Allen completes a couple of passes to get a drive going. On a busted play inside the Aggie 20-yard line, he scrambles for the go-ahead touchdown. The Razorback defense in the last minute has to defend its end zone as the Aggies are throwing. Four consecutive incompletes later, the Razorbacks storm the field celebrating a 24-17 victory. A special message from Jerry Jones telling A&M to “suck it” runs on the big screen afterward by accident.

Oct.3 -- Tennessee in Knoxville
The Razorbacks have reached No. 12 in the polls, but most prognosticators have the Razorback on the road as an underdog in this game. The Razorbacks have success early in the game running the ball. Alex Collins breaks a long run and the Razorbacks go up 21-10 at the half. The yards get tougher in the second half, but Jonathan Williams is up to the task as the Razorbacks try to control the clock and keep Volunteer quarterback Joshua Dobbs on the sideline. The Razorbacks’ last drive stalls as they cling to a 28-24 lead. Similar to the A&M game, the defense is backed up against its end zone defending it for the win. On third down, Dobbs throws into traffic and D.J. Dean intercepts it to end the game. As the clock runs out, Clint Stoerner appears out of nowhere and runs around the field to the end zone as he is being chased by police and Smokey X.

Oct. 10 -- Alabama in Tuscaloosa
It’s the Razorbacks third game in a row on the road. ESPN College GameDay is in Tuscaloosa as it is a matchup of Top 10 teams and a game to decide who will lead the SEC West. The Alabama quarterback struggles early. The Razorback running game has mixed success as it turns into a low-scoring game. The score is tied at 14 late in the fourth quarter. Dominique Reed has been mixing it up all day with the Alabama defensive back. On a fourth and one around midfield, Bielema decides to go for it. Reed fakes the block, but then breaks free and beats the defender down the field. Brandon Allen makes the easy toss and Reed goes the remaining distance for the win. Razorbacks win 21-14.

Oct. 24 -- Auburn in Fayetteville
The Razorbacks return home for the first time in more than a month. The team has climbed all the way to No. 5. Surprisingly, the game is not close. Auburn has difficulty stopping the Razorback rushing attack, and the Razorbacks control the game throughout. Arkansas wins 38-28. Throughout the game, a maniacal Houston Nutt is spotted piloting a plane over the stadium with a banner that reads “Gus Bus My A…”

Oct. 31 -- Tennessee-Martin in Fayetteville
It’s homecoming and Halloween all in one. The team comes out in surprise uniforms with orange and black trim. A strange moon rises in the sky, but those are the only memorable things about the game as it turns sloppy. The Razorbacks have a season high three turnovers. Still, the Razorbacks roll 42-14. Brandon Allen throws for more than 300 yards and ESPN puts him in their Heisman watch. To increase revenue, each member of the homecoming court is sponsored by Act II Popcorn.

Nov. 7 -- Ole Miss in Oxford
Many speculate with the Razorbacks now ranked at No. 3 that this is a trap game. It turns out to be exactly that as the game goes into overtime. Ole Miss scores on its first possession. Then the Razorback offense stalls on its first possession of overtime. On fourth down at the 20-yard line, Brandon Allen misses a wide open Keon Hatcher. The Ole Miss fans storm the field. It’s a heartbreaking loss. It’s Bielema’s third overtime loss as the Razorback head coach, and on Arkansas call-in radio shows fans complain about the offense not being dynamic enough for overtime. Forrest City Joe calls for a new plan in the athletic department to address this issue. Hogs lose 28-21.

Nov. 14 -- LSU in Baton Rouge
Les Miles is on the hot seat as the Tigers have already lost two games in the season and trail the Razorbacks and Alabama for the lead in the SEC West. The LSU defense is up for the challenge, but the Tiger offense struggles. The Razorbacks shake off the first-half hangover from the previous week’s emotional loss. In the fourth quarter, Keon Hatcher takes a misdirection toss sweep and breaks for a long run to the Tigers’ goal line. With time running out, the coaches call a running play and Jonathan Williams ploughs into the end zone for the 27-21 win. Bazzel leads the players in carrying the Boot to midfield and they all do the “stank leg” around it.

Nov. 21 -- Mississippi State in Fayetteville
The Bulldogs have no answer for the Razorback rushing attack as the offense clicks on all cylinders. After three losses in a row to Mississippi State, the Razorbacks make it look easy this time with a 41-21 win. Alcohol consumption in the luxury suites is said to reach a record high as fans with enough money to buy the privilege to drink at football games celebrate the victory.

Nov.27 -- Missouri in Fayetteville
The Razorbacks recall the fourth-quarter collapse to the Tigers in the previous season, and it doesn’t happen again at Fayetteville. Bitterly cold weather is predicted for the game. At halftime, snow starts to fall and fans start to leave. The Razorbacks smash the Missouri defense, and the Tiger defense looks exhausted. It’s senior day and when Brandon Allen leaves the game he is greeted by a loud standing ovation. The Razorbacks win 56-24 and take whatever fake rivalry trophy has been created.

Dec. 5 -- Georgia in SEC Championship Game
Why is this game always played in Atlanta? It’s the question asked by every Razorback fan as it seems unfair when other places are available such as New Orleans and Arlington that are all closer to SEC West schools and not in Georgia’s backyard. The Razorbacks struggle to control Nick Chubb, but Brandon Allen has his best game as a Razorback as he again throws for more than 300 yards. Jared Collins has a game-changing pick six that turns the tide. Razorbacks win 36-35.

Now the questions begin. Does a 12-1 Razorback team make it into the college football playoff to face off against Ohio State? Some scenarios can’t play out in a crystal ball.

Send your predictions to

Monday, August 03, 2015

From the Bench

Razorback Foundation Should Move to Help Players Find Life After Football

Robert Shields

The Razorback Foundation has been exceptional at stockpiling money, coming up with buyouts to fire coaches, and helping you get enough parking passes to cover all the vehicles in your season-ticket plan, but what if it could follow the lead of some other colleges and do something that actually helped the players who put the product on the field?

I ask this after reading Sync Weekly’s article this past week on former Razorback football players. The story mostly focused on the great running back trio from 1999 of Cedric Cobbs, Fred Talley, and Chrys Chukwuma.

All had aspirations to be successful NFL players, but NFL success, if the college player even gets the chance, is fleeting. Then after a short stint trying to make it in the pros, they have to figure out what they’re going to do the rest of their lives.

Colleges do a poor job preparing these kids for life after football. Often these kids are led toward degrees that will never help them in the long run but will achieve the college’s goal of keeping them eligible. The hard reality is that many of these players may be better suited learning a trade than pursuing a kinesiology degree.

With all the talk of paying college players, I firmly believe it would just be money squandered and many of these kids would still end up in the same place in life after football, which in some cases we’ve seen has meant jail.

The article mentioned that Alabama and Nebraska have non-profit organizations to help former players find their way after a life of football. Instead of paying players, it would be money better spent setting up such an organization that actually has the player’s best interest in mind.

It’s a great opportunity right now for the University of Arkansas to become the third school to have such an organization. It also might not be a bad recruiting tool. Many kids can’t think that far ahead and lack perspective, but some of their parents will see the value of a school that is thinking ahead for them.

The Razorback Foundation is currently in the position of having to go find a new leader, and maybe it’s time at this crossroads to also find a person with a broader vision to lead an organization that helps players with life after football.


Preseason Hype Growing Expectations

August is here and that means the beginning of preseason football. Several months ago, I wrote that the Texas A&M game was the most important one on the Razorbacks’ schedule. I am revising that as each day goes by my expectations for the coming season keep growing.

I think the A&M game is a win. This means that I expect that the Razorbacks will be 4-0 heading to Knoxville to play the Volunteers on Oct. 3. The game against Tennessee will set the path to either a good or great season. How do I think that game will play out? You will have to wait until next week when I give my annual game-by-game prediction.


Ohio State Has Another Easy Road to Playoffs

Many pundits are picking Ohio State to repeat as the national champion in the second year of the college football playoff. Ohio State caught lightning in a bottle last year. They are a very talented team so they have the ability to do that from time to time.

Last year, the pieces just came together. It helped them immensely that they ended up with their third-string quarterback for their playoff games. He was a superior athlete, but nobody had any film on him. Alabama essentially had to play him cold. It was also an Alabama defense that was young and depleted.

Then the quarterback caught an Oregon team that had no receivers in the championship game, and it mattered. Next season there will be film on Cardale Jones, and I expect teams will defend him better much like they did Johnny Manziel from his first to his second season playing in the SEC.

The problem, though, and most of the prognosticators know this, is that Ohio State will play nobody until they reach the championship playoff games.

Send your preseason predictions to