Monday, February 23, 2015

From the Bench

Seediness of College Recruiting Seeps Into High Schools in Arkansas

Robert Shields

Coaching legend Bobby Bowden once blamed his demise on recruiting services. To some degree, he started to rely on them too heavily instead of his own due diligence. After all, how could all these services be wrong with their estimations on a kid’s abilities? If Rob Shields Prep Services says a child is four stars along with all the other services, they must be right.

Anyone who pays even a little attention to these recruiting reports and websites knows these rankings are not exactly a science and that there is a lot of groupthink when it comes to rating recruits.

On National Signing Day (NSD to recruitniks), it just seems to keep getting worse. A few years ago, there was the player the Razorbacks were trying to sign, yet his mother ran off with his signing papers. It’s just turned into a nasty business. The nasty business this year raised its ugly head at North Little Rock High School (LR 1, NWA 0).

It seems the youth today all think they are starring in their own reality show. All they want is followers. These highly prized kids are being taught self-confidence, which is great, but with no humility. These athletes are getting so much attention just for being good in a sport (which can make a coach and university millions) that it ends up building ego, arrogance, and a lack of self-discipline, which never hold up well to adversity. How can you think these kids will ever be normal when being met by a helicopter and fed food like a rock star upon his demand? These kids are being fed a false reality by grownups. It’s not even marginally real and it won’t be that way once he steps foot on campus as a student.

I don’t even get these in home visits where creepy coaches go read to the siblings of the prized recruits, pet the dog, and yuck it up on the back deck with family. Once your kid signs, this isn’t going to happen anymore. It’s a farce. It’s a business transaction cloaked to look like a church social. Maybe after all the hand wringing, Cam Newton’s father had it right.

I get excited for recruiting about as much as 7-on-7 summer football. Yet once a year I have to write a column on it as some fans wring their hands over lost kids and others rejoice over getting Johnny My-Head-is-Too-Big. A few years ago, the big get on recruiting day was Dorial Green Beckham who even had his own acronym in DGB. He ended up at Missouri. Then left that school for another.

This year the big get was a receiver from North Little Rock. He committed to the Razorbacks earlier in the year. By January, he is announcing to the world through Twitter that he had decommitted from the Razorbacks. I knew at that moment this was not a Bret Bielema type of player.

Word started breaking about bad news at North Little Rock a week or more before NSD. Then in the days after NSD, it hit the fan when North Little Rock High School had self-reported to the Arkansas Activities Association that it had recruited a player illegally. The North Little Rock coach, Brad Bolding, is engrossed in a termination proceeding now. North Little Rock forfeited its basketball games and football games the receiver participated in. This included the state championship won by the Charging Wildcats in basketball.

Many have been whispering for some time what was going on in North Little Rock as great players at other local schools were transferring there to play football. Now, we know a lot more.

The seediness of college recruiting has really started to seep into high school athletics. These shenanigans have gone on for some time, but I think it has arrived in earnest.

Often, the private schools like Shiloh Christian and Pulaski Academy were blamed for recruiting. Now we know no place is immune, not even the public school systems in the state.

This will get worse and you can figure if it’s in high school at this level then it’s already occurring at lower levels of sports as adults leverage children for their own benefit.



Send your recruiting solutions to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, February 16, 2015

From the Bench

Bielema Setting Blueprint for Developing Program Through Recruiting

Robert Shields

Winning cures all ills in the college football world. It does with me, too.

The current Razorback-football recruiting class looks good, and that would not have been possible without the team closing out the season in such a positive fashion by winning three of its last four including a big bowl win over archrival Texas.

Razorback coach Bret Bielema has his own philosophy of building his teams from the line out. It’s a sound philosophy considering the game is mostly played in the trenches, especially in the SEC. In this class and previous recruiting classes, Bielema is trying hard to build a competitive offensive and defensive line.

That philosophy is a stark contrast from the previous coach who started the team with his quarterback and then built around that lone player with great receivers and skill positions.

Bielema brought a Big Ten philosophy with him to the Ozarks. It’s not a unique formula as Alabama found its guy in Michigan State’s Nick Saban, who had a momentary layover at LSU. The Big Ten was about grind-it-out trench warfare football, and that idea combined with the better skill positions melds well with the SEC and results in victories.

Where Bielema differs from Saban is the depth of recruiting in which he can field his team. With the winning legacy he has established in Tuscaloosa, Saban has been able to get about any player he desires. His only limiting factor is that he can only sign 25, and that is how the Razorbacks end up with such a great player from Alabama like a Darius Philon.

Bielema has around 10 to 12 players a year from Arkansas who have the potential to play in the SEC. This leaves him about 15 deficient of filling his signing class each year. It’s also far from certain if Bielema can even get the top player each year in the state.

Each year, Bielema has to fill in his class with about five players from Texas, five from Florida, and the other five from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to be successful. The class this year pretty much followed that formula.

Given those facts, Bielema is not going to out-recruit his contemporaries in the conference or consistently have top-five recruiting classes. He also cannot afford many busts in his recruiting. He doesn’t have the luxury of missing this year and it being no big deal because he will just sign more four and five star recruits at the position next year. Instead, Bielema has to develop many three-star players into four and five star ability.

Because of those parameters, Bielema has to vet players a lot more thoroughly than other coaches, especially on the social and academic spectrum. And he does just that. I don’t think the Program has ever had a coach that vets players to the depth that he does.

Bielema wants players who are coachable and not drama queens like some past players and their parents. There is definitely a correlation between kids who have higher academic ability and are coachable. Just because a player has all the ability in the world does not mean that he is controllable and willing to learn from his coach. For some very talented players, it takes time for them to realize they need to listen to their college coach -- and some never do.

I think the type of player Bielema is recruiting is a type of player who wants to learn. They are the type of players who is in the classroom more than on Twitter, and the type of player who is going to spend the extra hours in the film room when it’s not required.

They are the type of players that will not be distraction in the locker room or practice field. They will not be discipline problems or head cases. Bielema does not have time for those shenanigans and tomfooleries as he has his work cut out for him as it is.

You can tell by the type of suspension Bielema has handed out, he has no tolerance for fools but will allow you a second chance if you deserve one.

This is Bielema’s formula to beat you with his more developed and more disciplined players, and by the end of last season, we were all starting to see a glimpse of what that would look like.




Send your recruiting philosophies to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, February 09, 2015

From the Bench

Memories of Dean Smith Trigger the Glory Years of Razorback Basketball

Robert Shields

The passing of Dean Smith hit me more than I expected. Many of my basketball memories are tied to Smith, and I was very saddened to learn of his death over the weekend.

I grew up watching Smith coach. In the college basketball world after John Wooden, he was the giant of the game, perhaps bigger than even his former student, Michael Jordan.

I fondly remember Smith’s first national championship against Georgetown when Fred Brown threw the ball away to James Worthy to dash the Hoyas’ opportunity to win the game. The freshman Jordan hit the game winner moments before and everyone was floored that Dean Smith would set a play for a freshman in such a crucial situation.

I had the fortunate opportunity to see Smith coach in the 1990 NCAA tournament when North Carolina met the Razorbacks at Reunion Arena in Dallas, which was then known as Barnhill South. The Razorbacks had three great sophomores in Lee Mayberry, Todd Day, and Oliver Miller. I would be remiss, though, not to mention senior Lenzie Howell, who was the glue of that team, and Truck Bowers, a fire hydrant of a guard.

The super-power Tar Heels slimly led at the half. I will always remember being downstairs in the concourse talking with the Tar Heel fans who were so arrogant in thinking the game was over. I warned them that Todd Day, who had early foul trouble, sat almost the entire first half and was going to torch them in the second half as they had no one to match up with him. They pretended to not even know who he was.

The second half was a blow out for the Razorbacks. Day ignited the team, and the Razorback faithful in almost every trip down court would rise to its feet raising their hands in the three-point signal in anticipation. It was the only time in my life that I ever saw Dean Smith throw his hands up in futility and quit coaching as he sat down realizing his fate.

This Razorback team went on to the NCAA Final Four, but lost in the semifinals to a great Duke team that featured Christian Laettner, Thomas Hill, Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill. Duke would eventually get blown out by UNLV.

One year later in the regular season of 1991, the Razorbacks got their chance at UNLV in Barnhill Arena. It was one of the most-anticipated Razorback games in history as UNLV was undefeated and No. 1 in the nation and the Razorbacks were No. 2. It was a lot of money at the time, but I bought a student ticket for $75 to see the game.

UNLV decided in the first half to run with the Hogs, which was a mistake, and the Razorbacks went into the locker room with a four-point lead. Fans were bouncing around a blow-up shark in an effort to get under the skin of Coach Jerry Tarkanian. He only laughed.

Tark the Shark realized he had the talent to slow it down and beat the Razorbacks in the half court. The Rebels talent included Plastic Man Stacy Augmon, Greg Ackles, George Anthony, Anderson Hunt, and Larry Johnson -- all of whom players were drafted into the NBA. In the half court, the Rebels defense took over and slowed the Razorback fast break to win the game. Todd Day and Larry Johnson got in a struggle that resulted in the now-famous quote in Razorback lore where Larry Johnson tells Nolan Richardson that he needs to go get “some men.” Nolan takes that advice and gets Corliss Williamson, Corey Beck, Scotty Thurman, Dwight Stewart, Clint McDaniel, and Tank Robinson to win the national championship.

Nolan left the court as the winner over most of the legendary coaches at the time -- including Coach K at Duke, Lute Olson at Arizona, Larry Brown at Kansas, and even Dean Smith at UNC.

In 1993, a very young Razorback team took the Tar Heels to the wire. The Razorbacks had the phenomenal freshmen in Thurman and Williamson. In the most crucial possession of the game with under a minute to play, Donald Williams for North Carolina beat a young Cory Beck on a back cut and then went on to lead UNC to the national championship over Michigan and became the tournament MVP.

In 1994, the Razorbacks would get payback to Duke and player of the year Grant Hill in the NCAA national title game. The game was tight and with under a minute the Razorbacks had the ball on the inbound. The ball was inbounded to Dwight Stewart who fumbled it but pitched it over to Scotty Thurman who launched his trademark rainbow three-pointer over the outstretched hands of Antonio Lang. Today the legendary call of Jim Nantz is still in my head, “One on the shot clock, Thurman beat it, Ohhhhh, he’s got it.”

The Razorbacks would right the 1993 loss to North Carolina in the Final Four in 1995 in the semifinal game. UNC was loaded with talent with Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, Donald Williams, and Dante Calabria. Again, Dean Smith was outcoached by Nolan as the Razorbacks ended up winning easily sending the Razorbacks to the national title game for the second time. The Razorbacks for the first time in 12 games had to wear the visiting red in the title game against UCLA, and the Bruins snapped the Razorbacks’ 11-game NCAA tournament winning streak.

It was an amazing run for the Razorbacks from 1990 through 1995. And somehow in all that Razorback history, Dean Smith was very much a part of it.

His passing leaves me a little sad and longing for a time when college basketball just seemed like a better sport than it is today.



Send your Dean Smith memories to fromthebench@yahoo.com.


Monday, February 02, 2015

From the Bench

North Little Rock Receiver More Likely to be Razorback Under Petrino

Robert Shields

The upcoming spring practice for Razorback football will be one of the most anticipated for fans in while. With the Razorback offense basically returning intact and the infusion of younger new talent, fans will naturally be excited.

But my gut tells me that K.J. Hill from North Little Rock will not be part of it.

The moment I saw that he had decommitted from the UofA, I knew he was not coming. Besides just those tweeted words saying as much, I also know that is not the type of character that Bret Bielema recruits.

Hill may go on to be one of the greatest receivers to ever come out of Arkansas, but it won’t be happening at Fayetteville. I guess there is always the chance that at the last minute Hill changes his mind and other events happen and he ends up a Razorback. I could see Bobby Petrino being more likely to take back a kid who decommits on Twitter, but not Bielema.

I don’t see Bielema being interested in a high-profile player tweeting out his life events when it’s not something positive. It’s antithetical to who Bielema is. Plus, even though Bielema needs a big-play wide receiver, let’s face it, it’s a position that is not first on the ground-and-pound coach’s mind.

If it were Petrino, he would be getting five K.J. Hills in each class. Bielema has shown a greater interest in guys that block and tackle, which is why the offensive line gets to ride in first class on the plane.

Yet, there will be lots of pressure on Bielema to finish recruiting Hill since he is the No. 1 recruit in the state. Bielema does not come off to me as a person who cares a lot about outside pressure, yet he is human and we all can submit to the right pressure.

There will be those who will point out that Bielema let Hill get away if he goes on to an illustrious career. So Bielema, if no other reason, has to sign Hill to prove he has closed the fence around the state and nobody can come in and pick out the best players.

As we head toward signing day, the numbers are being squeezed as Bielema already has a very full recruiting class and the spots that remain open are becoming few while the number of kids wanting them is large.

If K.J. Hill changes his mind and commits again to the UofA, he will probably have a spot. Yet, at the same time, I have my doubt how hard Bielema will fight to keep him.



Send your recruiting news to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, January 19, 2015

From the Bench

Put All Your Money on Eight Wins for Razorback Football Next Season

Robert Shields

When Missouri and Texas A&M entered the SEC, I projected that A&M would fare better in the long run but Missouri would do better in the short run. This wasn’t a hard guess as the SEC East was down and still is, which has helped Missouri win two SEC East division titles. During those two years, Missouri only beat one SEC team that had a winning conference record.

I think now that starts to change. Arkansas, which represented the bottom of the SEC West, took Missouri to the wire at Columbia. Next year, the Tigers must give the Hogs the return trip. The Razorbacks are going to be better, and the SEC is going to start to improve with Tennessee and Florida.

The proclamations that the SEC is dead are premature, and, in fact, the conference finished 7-5 in bowl games, essentially still better than every other major conference except the Pac-12. The SEC still had more bowl wins than any other major conference. To regain its lofty throne, though, better defense is going to have to be played in the SEC.

While the Big Ten that had its day in the sun, the SEC still went 2-2 against them with Missouri killing Minnesota and Tennessee smashing Iowa. The two games the SEC lost to the Big Ten were games the SEC should have won as Auburn should have beaten Wisconsin but instead blew it in overtime and Alabama just had too many turnovers and mistakes against a good Ohio State team and lost by a touchdown.

After Ohio State won the national title in the first college football playoff game for the big schools, make no mistake the NCAA does play favorites. Oregon had players for the title game suspended by the NCAA and for good reason. But, I only have to roll back four years to the Sugar Bowl where Ohio State players should have been suspended and the NCAA allowed them to play in the game.

I can say for certain the Razorbacks would have killed the Buckeyes without those players, though that may have sped up Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle accident a year earlier.

Ohio State would be later punished and put on probation for cheating and have to forfeit the game to the Razorbacks. I know technically the Buckeyes had to vacate the game, but to me that’s a forfeit and should be reflected as such in the records and media guides. Jim Tressel, the Ohio State coach, was fired and basically put on the NCAA do not hire list.

It did my heart good that the ESPN crawl at the bottom had Ohio State 0-10 against the SEC with the note that Ohio State had to vacate the last Sugar Bowl. Unfortunately for Alabama, it now holds the record as the first SEC team to lose to Ohio State.

In the end this year, the Razorbacks may have had the best defense in the SEC as it already had the league’s leading tackler in Martrell Spaight. Robb Smith rode the defense’s success to a pay raise and an extension as the Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator. He deserved it.

But for next season, don’t be surprised if at the beginning there might be a drop off on the defense. It’s difficult to replace guys like Spaight, Trey Flowers, and Darius Philon. So, if there is a drop off, it’s not that Smith all of a sudden can’t coach, he’s just going to have to rebuild. I have not seen them, but the word is that backup linebackers Randy Ramsey and Khalia Hackett are extremely fast. We will see if Smith can work his wonders with them.

The Razorbacks were 6-6 in the regular season. On average, the belief is that the most teams can usually improve from the previous year is three more wins in a season. The Razorback accomplished that feat this year by going from 3-9 to 6-6. If that pattern holds, the Razorbacks could win nine games next year. The team could have won 10 this year if it would have won the four games it was leading in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi State, and Missouri.

The Razorbacks will have the opportunity to win three of those games next year. The problem is that the two SEC wins this year against LSU and Ole Miss will be on the road next year. So for now until my two-a-days prediction comes out in August, my early gut feeling is that the team can win four in the conference to be 8-4 overall in 2015.

As a side note, the college pick ‘em tournament that I participate in called Poolsville, which I have written about on a few occasions in the past, was won by legendary Arkansas sportswriter, Harry King, who was also voted the Arkansas sportswriter of the year. When asked which one he relished the most, he said hands down winning Poolsville. Interestingly, the win that put him on top was picking Ohio State over Alabama.



Send your very early preseason predictions to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, January 12, 2015

From the Bench

Annual Report Card: Bielema’s Grade Improved But Still Average

Robert Shields

It’s report card time as I have dealt out grades to Razorback football coaches for more than 15 years. I know Jeff Long is waiting for this before he can complete Bret Bielema’s annual review, so let’s get on with it.

The last Razorback football coach who got an overall “A” had the headline “Petrino Gets ‘A’ Despite Bad Conduct,” and that headline came even before the motorcycle accident.

We now see in his second season if Bret Bielema can make the grade -- because he did not last season.

Last year, Bielema got a lot of bad grades and I received lots of hate mail. I guess they wanted me to give him an A after losing every SEC game and finishing 3-9. Let’s see what a 7-6 season brings.


Player Development: A
(Last season: F)

Everyone got better. The defense -- with a lot of the same players from last season -- may have ended up as the best defense in the SEC as other conference teams decided to go the route of other conferences and not play defense.

Linebacker Martrell Spaight led the SEC in tackles, which just does not happen for a Razorback player. Spaight, Darius Philon, and Trey Flowers formed what some ended up referring to as the Bermuda Triangle.

The secondary also improved, and the offensive line improved markably. Brandon Allen at quarterback improbably improved to the point that he ended up being the Texas Bowl MVP. Everyone just got better.


Fundamentals: B
(Last season: F)

This follows player development. The tackling this season was superb. Some other areas, though, still need some work. The offensive line, even though it played well, had problems at times against some teams they shouldn’t have such as Missouri.

The receivers still dropped too many balls. Untimely penalties early in the season also hurt the team. And lastly, there were fumbles and interceptions at inopportune times. The fundamentals were improved throughout the season over last year, but there is still room for improvement. I have little doubt it will be get better next season.


Play Calling: C+
(Last season: F)

This grade may be high. Jim Chaney as the offensive coordinator was under heat for a good portion of the season by some fans who think he threw the ball too much with this quarterback and this receiver set.

Conversely, the Razorbacks’ third-down conversion percentage was good, which sometimes came on pass plays. In the end, though, Chaney is no longer calling the plays.

Had they been caught, dropped balls would have made the play calling seem a lot better. It was disconcerting that the coach decided to punt several times when picking up the first down could have led to a victory when around the opponent’s 35-yard line in tight games.

The team was notorious for scoring and driving early in the game, which means pregame planning was solid. Yet, inevitably, the team slowed down in the second half and too often the offense stagnated.


Image: B
(Last season: F)

This could have been higher, but early in the offseason comments on a California player and then being chastised by their AD was not good. But after that point, the coach shut up and only talked about his Razorbacks.

There were no comments about coming to beat Alabama, hashtags, arguing with Wisconsin fans, or pace-of-play issues. Bielema stuck to his knitting and talked about football and his players. The team’s image from that point started taking off even when his team was losing.


Success: C+
(Last season: F)

When you set the record for the most consecutive losses in Razorback history, you get an F as he did last season even though fans took me to task on that measure.

For a Razorback fan, this was about as good of a 7-6 season as one can have. Beating Texas in the bowl game and shutting out LSU and Ole Miss was very satisfying.

Even though during the season the team extended its record-setting SEC losing streak to 17, the way the team finished made fans feel better. You can project better things for this team, but that’s not how grades work.

You get graded for what you did, and 7-6 is still 7-6.


Game Management: C
(New category)

This is a new category for the coach in my report card. This category existed before and it’s being added back because this is the one area that has to be improved for the team to improve its overall record.

Over his last two seasons as the Razorback football coach, Bielema is 0-7 in games that went down to the wire. In 2013, the games were against Rutgers, Mississippi State, and LSU where the Razorbacks were leading in the fourth quarter and let the games slip away.

This pattern was repeated in 2014 with Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi State, and Missouri where the games slipped away in the fourth quarter. The team has learned now how to win, though, so maybe next year they win their share of close games.


Management of the Athletic Director: A+
(Last season: A+)

When you get the athletic director to cry about you and say that you made football fun again in the midst of the school’s longest losing streak, you are gold.


Hiring Assistant Coaches: Incomplete
(Last season: A)

You can consider this an A if you want. His staff is solid and he does not have to really replace a lot of coaches. He lost Randy Shannon and so he needs to find a linebacker coach, but he has not done that nor has he had time to consider possible new offensive coordinators so the grade for hiring assistants for this year is unknown.

The hiring of Steve Loney to review film as a consultant was brilliant. He has earned his pay as the game plan for teams has been spot on and I believe he has helped contribute to it.


Leadership/Discipline: A
(Last season: B)

Bielema dealt with the Korliss Marshall situation as best as he could by dismissing him but caring enough to help Marshall find his next destination. His players are not hitting the police blotter, which is not the case for other SEC schools. He suspended two players before the bowl game and has made it clear that you will do it his way.


Overall grade: B-
(Last season: F-)

When you are 7-6, it probably deserves a C, but I am going to weight the last half of the year heavier than the first half. They won three out of their last four. The win over the Texas Longhorns cannot be undervalued. It was huge. The shutout of two ranked SEC teams was also great. That is the kind of finish that gets even Broyles off your back.

Coach Bielema, please have this report card signed by your athletic department guardian and returned to me by email or Twitter by national signing day.



Send your report card to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, January 05, 2015

From the Bench

Razorbacks Were Pride of the SEC in Bowl Season

Robert Shields

A week after the absolute curb stomping that the Arkansas Razorbacks put on the historic rival Texas Longhorns, the glow of the victory still shines.

Before the bowl season, it would have been hard to imagine that a Razorback team that was 2-6 in the conference and dead last in the SEC West would end up being the pride of the SEC in bowl games.

The Razorback defense, which was stifling in most of the second half of the season, absolutely wrecked the Longhorns, holding them to the lowest offensive total of any team this season. Brandon Allen grew slyer with each game and in the end was the most valuable player of the prestigious Texas Bowl.

The win meant a lot to the Razorback football program because beating Texas is important no matter what today’s kids think. It was a lot better to finish 7-6 than 6-7. Charlie Strong at Texas has a much harder offseason ahead than does Bret Bielema. For those who were not Bielemers, the Texas game moved many into that category.

With the win, Bielema helped change the complexion and projection of this team. After a 17-game conference losing streak, it would be easy for fans and maybe even the players to start to question the strategy of what they were doing. But instead, the coaches and players stuck to their knitting.

Many were skeptics that the Paleolithic offense would work in the SEC, and at first it did not. But Bielema stayed the course, and by the end of the season the team had its identity and Bielema had the opportunity to define the team.

The team would be physical and by the end it was. The team would play defense and by the end it did. The team would run the ball no matter what and it did. It would not abandon these pillars even if everything else was falling apart and every other team was doing something differently.

By the end, Bielema and the team were able to provide some validity to the “see, it will work” philosophy. This can work in the SEC and it can happen at Fayetteville.

The SEC finished a lack luster 7-5 in bowl games, but that’s still good compared to some other conferences. Yet, it was maybe one of the worst bowl seasons for the SEC in a decade, maybe two or even three.

One can argue that the SEC should have won three that it lost. LSU blew many opportunities against Notre Dame to send it down to the last play. Auburn never should have ended up in overtime against Wisconsin. And lastly, Alabama should not have had three interceptions and lost to a game Ohio State team.

But in the end, they all lost so instead of the conference being a robust 10-2 it’s a paltry 7-5 by past conference standards. Way to go, Auburn.

And for the first time for today’s youth, the SEC will not be in a championship game. Oddly, the SEC East, considered the soft side of the conference, went a 5-0 in bowl games while the SEC West went 2-5. In defense of the SEC West, they had to play up, but it’s not an excuse as SEC teams are supposed to win against out-of-conference teams.

By playing up, I mean a three-loss Ole Miss team had to play the best from the Big 12 in their champion TCU. Mississippi State had to play ACC runner-up Georgia Tech. And lastly, a three-loss Auburn team had to play the Big Ten runner-up in Wisconsin. Alabama drew red-hot Big Ten champion Ohio State, and lastly LSU was slotted in against Notre Dame.

In other words, the SEC West was playing the very best in the country. So, they were going to be tough games, and it should not have come as a shock that many of those games went down to the wire. In the past, the SEC traditionally wins these games in the fourth quarter because they are supposed to be the teams with the most depth.

The shocking part about the SEC losses in the bowl games was the lack of defense. SEC teams were destroyed and their defenses looked like Swiss cheese. Many of these fine SEC teams gave up more than 40 points in a game, and that is just not SEC football.

The hallmark of the SEC is great defense. The SEC has big, strong, fast defenses that wreck other team’s offenses. SEC teams then run the ball on the other team’s skinny opposing defenses and crush them.

Instead this season, you saw SEC teams embrace the spread all the more and become more enamored with the pass like a Big 12 team where those kinds offenses often cannibalize their defense. When Ole Miss and TCU met with offenses that were somewhat similar where the quarterback takes a shotgun snap every play, we got to see which team was more prolific at it.

At the end of this season, the Arkansas Razorbacks looked like the most traditional SEC team as they played great defense and stubbornly ran the ball.

Who would have thought that by the end of the season Arkansas would look more like Alabama than Alabama.




Send your season rewind to fromthebench@yahoo.com

Monday, December 22, 2014

From the Bench

Listen Up, Youngins, Texas is the Team We Hate the Most

Robert Shields

With the coming showdown with archrival Texas in the appropriately named Texas Bowl, it provides a great time to look back in history. Maybe for the younger generation the rivalry against Texas is something from yesteryear like cassette tapes and Atari.

For the kids out there in this category, all I can say is that you grew up without really understanding a rivalry.

Back in the day, the best part of the Razorback football season was known as Texas Week. It was a big deal for everyone on campus and across the state. I fondly remember the parties in the days leading up to the game.

Like it or not, and yes I know the feeling is not reciprocated, but Texas is THE rival for Arkansas, and all these years in the SEC has done little to change that other than for the kids who have grown up not experiencing such a special part of Razorback history.

So with those memories in mind, here are the most memorable Texas games to me from back in the day. I realize if you are older that the games from 1962, 1964, 1965, and 1969 games will hold a special place in your memory for better or worse. While I’m older than the youngins, I’m just not that old to have experienced those games.

My top-five memories from the Texas rivalry:

No. 5 – 1985
This game really hurt me. The Razorbacks, for once, were clearly the better team. The game was played in Fayetteville and the Razorbacks were ranked No. 4 and Texas was not ranked. Like usual, it was a defensive game. The crowd was raucous as it was the first game played in the newly expanded stadium with luxury boxes. The Razorback defense lead by David Bazzel kept Texas out of the end zone all game, yet the Longhorns kicked five field goals. The Razorback offense got into the end zone twice but still lost 15-13. To add insult to injury the Razorbacks missed three field goals that were all very makeable. The following week, I kicked field goals in the dark from where they were missed in Razorback Stadium. Turns out I might have missed a few also.

No. 4 – 2003
It was the Razorbacks’ first return visit to Austin after leaving the Southwest Conference. The attitude going into the game was different, though, because the Razorbacks were now SEC hardened. No longer was there just Texas, but the Hogs were battled tested against the likes of Alabama, Florida, LSU, and Georgia. Texas was ranked No. 5, and the Razorbacks were unranked. It didn’t matter, and as hard as Texas tried, the Hogs with Matt Jones handily beat them 38-28.

No. 3 – 2000
This Cotton Bowl was the first meeting of the two teams since the Razorback left the SWC. The Razorbacks were ranked No. 24 and Texas was higher at No. 14. Cedric Cobbs caught a dump pass from Clint Stoerner and raced into the end zone as the Razorbacks blew out the Longhorns 27-6 in Dallas. It was a great way to finish out the 1999 regular season as the Hogs had also avenged their 1998 Tennessee loss a few weeks earlier.

No. 2 – 1981
For many, this will be the most remembered game. It’s hard to forget a 42-11 beat down of the Longhorns. Texas was ranked No. 1 and Arkansas was unranked, which made it all the more sweet. Texas landed in Fort Smith and legend has it that they arrived late traveling over a foggy and nasty Highway 71. On the field, it was never a game. The Hogs scored early and often.

I was just a young kid in high school visiting my brother in college. I had a ticket to the game and sold it, which at the time seemed like all the money in the world. So I watched the game in Yocum Hall with a bunch of college guys drinking beer thinking that was the life. The weather was nasty, but I remember a lot of the college guys all saying let’s go down to the stadium when the gates open after half. Many did just that and got the opportunity to storm the field and take down the goal post. I remember the goal post not actually being taken to the ground but just bent over.

Dickson Street became a throng of people celebrating, and even a car was turned over. I remember several fire alarms going off in Yocum that night into the wee hours. It was crazy to say in a word. It was and still is only the third victory over Texas in Fayetteville in the long history of the rivalry.

No. 1 – 1979
This is my fondest memory as I went to the game with my father. We sat in the press box at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. It was my first visit to the luxury seating. Well-known lawyer Herschel Friday sat on one side of me. I was a little kid and didn’t know him from Adam even after my dad told me who he was.

Texas was ranked No. 2 and Arkansas was No. 10. Most of my childhood, I never knew what it was like to beat Texas. During the ‘70s, the Razorbacks did not have much luck against the Longhorns. The Hogs lost every game between 1971 and 1979. I guess today’s kids feel the same way about Alabama.

Arkansas scored first with a lightning-fast freshman named Gary Anderson who took the ball wide and outsprinted the Texas defense. As usual with Texas, the game was a defensive showdown. A Little Rock Parkview kid playing tight end, Darryl Mason, caught a touchdown pass for the Razorbacks moving them out to a 17-7 lead. Again, Texas fought back late.

The Texas quarterback got lucky as Texas always did and he hit their tall rangy receiver, Lawrence Sampleton, in the helmet (personally, I think it got stuck in his face mask) and he ended up scrambling in for the touchdown to cut the Razorback lead to 17-14. Texas got the ball back and made one last drive.

The tension in the stadium was high as you could feel that one more time a win over the Longhorns was going to slip away. But instead, the defense held forcing Texas to kick a field goal. Their very dependable kicker, “Good Foot” Goodson, lined up for the kick. It was sickening that the game would end in a tie. (Back then, kids, there was no overtime and coaches went for ties all the time, and it felt like a loss if you were winning the game before the tie.)

I wish my memory was good enough to remember if it was left or right or short, but regardless it was no good. The crowd went onto the field when the game was over. It was really the only memory of mine where fans stormed the field in Little Rock.

It was a magical feeling and cars were honking their horns all over the city. I remember the trip back to the car with my father walking up Harrison Street toward Lee Avenue. That is what the Razorback experience is all about, and I will never forget it.




Send your favorite Razorback Texas memory to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, December 15, 2014

From the Bench

The Year that Was Not for Predicting College Football Games

Robert Shields

The Arkansas Razorbacks 6-6 finish was probably not a huge surprise as many had them picked to finish with that record including this scribe. The surprise for me came in how they got to 6-6.

I did not see this team reaching the six-win bowl eligibility plateau through the route of beating LSU and Ole Miss. The victory over LSU was one of the finer Razorback wins of this decade to snap that 17-game SEC losing streak. The fans stormed the field for only the third time in history at Fayetteville.

I expected the 6-6 record to have some very ugly losses in the mix. Although one could argue the Auburn and Georgia games might fit that category, I do not. In both games, the Razorbacks were up for the challenge and fought hard. After spotting Georgia 38 points, the Hogs rallied, and that simply would not have occurred in the previous two seasons. There was not a 52-0 beat down this year.

At the beginning of the season, I made light about Bo Mattingly on his radio show mentioning Martrell Spaight doing yoga as though it was going to help his play. Spaight finished the season as the SEC’s leading tackler. He was a monster on the field, so if it was due to yoga, others on the team need to consider it.

Also at the beginning of the season, I posed the question as many did as to which area of the team would see the most improvement -- quarterback play or the defense. I guessed it would be the defense since it was wretched the last two seasons. But I have to admit that I never anticipated the defense improving as much as it did. The defense was the reason the team won six games.

I guaranteed a victory over LSU in my column the week before the game, but it was one of the few games that I had a feeling for this season.

If imitation is a the highest form of flattery, this is where my column takes a page out of the script of Razorback legendary writer Harry King, who writes a column once a year before the season starts about the college pick ‘em pool that we play in.

The name of it is called Poolsville and roughly 150 participate in the game each year with people ranging from sports writers, previous Heisman voters, a seminarian, successful lawyers, my wife, and even someone undeserving as me.

The winner is awarded the prestigious Ramon Escobar Trophy and many would tell you they would easily trade the large monetary reward that comes with winning if they could just get the trophy. The award is named after a bruising running back who played for Holy Souls in the brutal Central Arkansas Parochial League.

Poolsville quirkily has crowned its own college football national championship named “Slabby” for more than a decade. It’s a 75-pound stone tablet that is offered to the winning school, which can keep Slabby for one year if it completes what is referred to as the Frank Broyles Feat of Strength.

The athletic director of the winning school has to carry Slabby 10 feet to its resting spot. Though no AD to this date as accepted the challenge, I have no doubt Frank Broyles even to this day would easily complete the task.

Three times I was on the wrong side of the national championship game that kept me from winning it all. In the 2005 season, I had USC over Texas. I think my screaming “NO!” still reverberates around the universe when Vince Young danced into the end zone to beat the Trojans.

In the 2012, I had Notre Dame. I was spared the close game as Alabama destroyed the Irish. Last season, I picked Auburn like everyone in the pool. But had I picked Florida State, I would have carried home my own trophy. It’s the reason many refer to the game as “Cruelsville.”

This year I had one of my best starts ever in the game, but unfortunately the game is not a sprint – it’s definitely a marathon. Slowly, the season slipped away from me as close game after close game I was on the wrong side of the outcome.

I watched Georgia lose to South Carolina by a chain link. Many learned from that game that the football does not have to touch the stick, but just clear the last link. The Bulldogs did not. I watched Clemson fumble its game away against Florida State and send the game into overtime (bonus points, ouch!).

I witnessed a ref call a pick foul on Notre Dame against Florida State and have never seen that foul called again the rest of the season. I witnessed a replay official wipe out a game-winning touchdown by Laquon Treadwell of Ole Miss against Auburn and decide it was a fumble.

A couple of weeks later, I watched a replay official reverse an Alabama fumble at the goal line against Mississippi State and make it a touchdown that ended up being the difference in the game. And I don’t even need to mention the replay official reversals in the Razorback game against Missouri.

In every case and many other close games, I was on the wrong side. I finished the regular season with a dismal record.

Alas, year after year, I am reminded of my failure in Poolsville as a Ramon Escobar Trophy wearing a pink tulle skirt is prominently displayed on my mantle. And that trophy does not belong to me. It belongs to my wife, a past champion of Poolsville, who will never let me forget it.



Help me in the pool by sending your bowl pick suggestions to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, December 08, 2014

From the Bench

Texas Bowl is Must Win for Bielema and Fans

Robert Shields

The Razorbacks officially found out that they were going to a bowl on Sunday for the first time since Petrino ran the motorbike off the road. The 6-6 record was enough to earn them a trip to the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl in Houston on Dec. 29 against the Texas Longhorns. It’s a fitting game.

This provides Bret Bielema and the team another chance to redeem themselves after the bitter loss to the Missouri Tigers, who were sent back down to earth against Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

For two years, Missouri has backed into the SEC Championship game playing in the weakened SEC East. In reality, Missouri is probably the sixth best team in the SEC and some might consider that generous.

They had the luck of the draw this year getting the two worst SEC West teams on their schedule. I back up my claim that Missouri is soft by the fact that over the last two years they have only beaten one SEC team that had a winning conference record.

Many Razorback fans were disappointed in the loss at Columbia and how it all went down. For a week, the radio call-in shows rehashed the fact that Brandon Allen was hurt. In hindsight, it was easy to see after losing that Austin Allen should have been given a chance because what was there to lose?

That final loss of the regular season left a bad after taste, but the team has a chance to erase it in the bowl game. Ending on a winning note would wipe out the memory of that final loss, but a bowl loss will in some way negate some of the gains the team made this year.

With a win, the Razorbacks are 7-6 and on the winning side of .500. If they lose, the opposite happens with the fact that they would be 6-7 and will finish a third season with a losing record.

Bielema needs the bowl win as bowl wins make Razorback fans happy as the Razorbacks have not always been stellar in bowl games. Also, the win helps Bielema as his own bowl record is not robust at 2-4.

Lastly, one has to hope that Bielema understands the importance of this bowl game. The rivalry against the Longhorns is legendary and it still resonates with a large portion of the fan base today. The teams played in the game of the century in 1969 that was dubbed the Big Shootout.

In some ways it seems all the more appropriate to play this game with the passing of James Street a little more than a year ago. The 15-14 loss in 1969 is still burned into the memory of the fan base, and a win against Texas will erase a lot of the losses this year.

When you beat your rival, it makes the season, especially in a bowl game. Like it or not, Texas is Arkansas’ main rival even if that is not reciprocated.

It goes without saying, but a loss to the Longhorns would be unacceptable.

-

Long’s Playoff Committee Gets it Wrong

And now my thoughts on the college football playoff. The Jeff Long led selection committee looked silly in the end mostly because of the weekly rankings, which were meaningless. They had to backtrack after moving TCU up to No. 3 the previous week, but on selection day they dropped them all the way to sixth, down three spots even after TCU easily won its game.

It’s schizophrenic to say the least. They would have been better off not releasing polls for most of the year and only released the six teams at the end. That way nobody would have known where Baylor, TCU, and Ohio State were placed throughout the year in the selection committee’s mind.

But without that charade, ESPN would not have gotten to hold the idiotic and meaningless rankings show each week as though it was something important when it was the exact opposite.

Instead, it looks like they rewarded Ohio State for one game blowing out an unprepared Wisconsin team that was also beaten by the fifth-best team in the SEC West in LSU when the Tigers did not have a quarterback.

The Big Ten looked terrible all year. The conference lost all its key matchups. Michigan got drilled by a bad Notre Dame team. TCU beat Minnesota. LSU beat Wisconsin. Oregon killed Michigan State. And most importantly, Ohio State lost to a terrible Virginia Tech team.

In the end, TCU got rewarded with a game against Ole Miss in their bowl game, which is a game TCU may very well lose as Ole Miss is very good and was the lone team to beat the two best teams in the SEC in Alabama and Mississippi State.

Also, what does it mean if TCU beat Ole Miss (the one team that Alabama did not beat) in its bowl game, and Alabama wins the playoff? It’s easy to assume Alabama would crush TCU, but TCU uses close to the same crazy offense that Oklahoma used last year to crush Alabama.

The AP had Baylor No. 4, not Ohio State, at the end of the season. But ESPN got the matchups that it would want to televise. An Ohio State and Alabama matchup brings more viewers than a game with TCU or Baylor. In the end, isn’t it always about the money and thus the big name money teams? If it was the Texas Longhorns instead of TCU, do you think they fall to sixth?



Send your playoff solutions to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, December 01, 2014

From the Bench

Conservative Play Calling Led to Demise More Than Sticking With Quarterback

Robert Shields

After back-to-back weeks of excellent play at home, the Arkansas Razorbacks took the show on the road to Columbia, Missouri, and endured a bitter loss to finish 6-6 for the season – right where many fans had them back in August.

The team’s struggles followed the same path as did their injured quarterback, Brandon Allen. As he got tighter and tighter trying to fight through the pain, the team played the same.

The path of losing to Missouri started in the second quarter just as the Razorbacks were on the verge of putting a beat down on them with a 14-3 lead. The Razorbacks started a drive that ended in a Jonathan Williams fumble. But the defense came right out and answered forcing Missouri into an interception by a Razorback defender, D.J. Dean.

The Razorbacks started the drive with penalties, but continued to the Missouri 42. With a fourth and 5, the Razorbacks took an intentional delay of game and punted the ball to the Missouri 7. Missouri was bailed out on a review that turned a fumble into an incomplete pass. With Missouri keeping the possession, they began a long drive that ended in a field goal leaving them down just one score at the half.

This was a sign of things to come as Missouri proved it could have long drives on the Razorback defense. On the day, Missouri finished with 80 offensive plays, which were 14 more than the Razorbacks.

In the end, the trajectory of the game was the same as the games against Texas A&M, Alabama, and Mississippi State. Fans were hoping for something different but got the continued growth of the team as a consolation.

The day after the game, Gary Pinkel was on ESPN and was asked about making the SEC Championship Game two years in a row. He said it’s a tough league that has a lot of fourth-quarter wins and that games are seldom blowouts.

In the previous two weeks, the Razorbacks have pretty much won in blowout fashion, but Bret Bielema has struggled in fourth-quarter wins. In his sixth attempt with a lead going into the fourth quarter, he lost. I blame it on the conservative play calling that looks like you are playing not to lose but, guess what, you lose.

The first touchdown for the Razorbacks came on a dump-down pass to Williams, who then went the distance. This play was never really seen again the rest of the game. It’s the type of play that stops a constant run-blitzing defense that Missouri threw at the Razorbacks all day.

The Razorbacks had two chances to take back control of the game at the end of the third quarter with the Hogs still winning 14-6. The Razorbacks reached the Missouri 31-yard line, and after a third and three and an incomplete pass, the offensive staff thought the best way to get the first down was a direct snap to Kody Walker, which went nowhere.

This speaks volumes when you think that your best chance of picking up the first down was pulling your quarterback and snapping it to a little-used running back.

The next occasion to regain control of the game was the next series when the Razorbacks reached the Missouri 34 and with a fourth and 6 the coaches decided to punt. The conservative decision of playing field position with the idea the defense would hold on was a losing bet.

Instead, Missouri took the ball at their own 2 and then drove 98 yards for the tying touchdown. Missouri was driving all day, and it was only a matter of time for them to break through as the defense was on the field so long.

As Pinkel pointed out, in the SEC games are won in the fourth quarter. Seldom are you allowed to go in to turtle mode hoping the rain and thunder will pass you by. When your record stands at 6-5, you roll the dice and go for it at your opponent’s 34.

The conservative play calling will keep games close, but it’s going to make it difficult to win at the end.

The controversy coming out of the game was if Bielema should have pulled Brandon Allen and replaced him with brother Austin Allen. After the struggles at the end of the second quarter, there was an opportunity to test the waters. By the time the Razorbacks got to the last drive, it was too late.

It was Brandon Allen’s game to win or lose, and he was actually moving the team into position for a possible game-tying touchdown. The Alex Collins fumble brought the debate to an end.

I would be remiss to not mention the replay review calls that went against the Razorbacks. I have railed against replay for years. I hate it. It’s destroying the game. Were the replay calls right or wrong? This is exactly my point. Some things are just so close and are judgment calls no matter what.

With replay, we have just replaced the judgment of guys on the field who are the closest to the action with guys who are way upstairs in a both looking at weird angles that can have depth-perception problems and slow motion that distorts what might have really happened.

So today we sit around and debate if the replay official got it right. I say put it back down on the field with the officials who typically have the best view and are closest to it. It will never be clear cut and you’re now having guys trying to make such a determination while removed from the field.

The standard is supposed to be that the evidence is indisputable, but who’s the judge of that?



Send why you love replay to fromthebench@yahoo.com.


Monday, November 24, 2014

From the Bench

Tough Learning Curve Now Reaping Success for Razorback Coach and Team

Robert Shields

The question I asked last week was: Will the beating of LSU become a cornerstone upon which another brick could be laid?

The answer Saturday was yes.

The Razorbacks not only placed the brick, they ran the rebar right through Ole Miss.

In doing so, the team became bowl eligible only needing one more win to prove me wrong with my preseason prediction of 6-6. (Look it up, Internet.)

This Razorback team is not the same one that started the season, and credit can go to Coach Bret Bielema. The team has gotten better throughout the season, and that is coaching.

The team has grown, but not only the team, so has the coach. Bielema said several times during the losing streak that the team “would win when they earn it.” We will never know, but maybe in some small part, he was also talking about himself as a coach.

He has earned the last two SEC victories in smashing fashion.

In the post-game press conference, Bielema said, “Maybe I have also grown as a coach.” He pointed out that when they won the toss this time they deferred it to the second half, which is a practice done by most SEC coaches and a good sign that maybe Bielema is not completely obstinate and set in his ways.

Bielema was determined early in the game when the score was 10-0 and the team was at the goal line that they were going to go for it on fourth down. A field goal would have been defeating. After a penalty gave the Razorbacks new life and another chance on fourth down, the team went at it again and scored to make it 17-0. The game was over at that point.

In other games, Bielema has been more conservative and might have taken the field goal. There were fourth-down chances in the Texas A&M, Alabama, and Mississippi State games that if the Razorbacks would have gone for them and made it, the outcome of those games might have been very different.

And if the Razorbacks would have won those games, they would have been leading the SEC West only needing to beat Missouri to get into the SEC Championship game. The Razorbacks would be 6-2 in the SEC West with the tiebreaker over Alabama and Mississippi State.

Amazingly, the Razorbacks could have or should have beaten two of the teams that will be in the four-team college football playoff.

Regardless, this team’s turnaround has been through the defense. After accomplishing what had never been done before with an unranked team shutting out a ranked team on back-to-back weekends, this defense is making it easy for the offense to play within itself.

The credit for the defense also largely goes to Bielema. After an absolute sickening defensive effort over the last two years, Bielema changed out his defensive coaching staff almost completely save for Randy Shannon. Give Shannon some credits also as the linebackers have come light years and may be the best group of Razorback linebackers to take the field since David Bazzel played.

Coordinator Robb Smith has taken over the defense and has turned them into a pack of “piranhas” to use Bret Bielema’s word. Others will certainly come after him now, and the Razorbacks need to tie him down.

Also, some credit goes to Steve Loney who has been working in the shadows. Bielema took a page from Nick Saban, as he said in a recent press conference, and hired him as a consultant. Bielema’s old friend has broken down film on Razorbacks opponents two weeks out. This has been money well spent.

The defense now understands what other teams are doing and adjusts accordingly. Give Smith credit for being able to implement what the consultant is effectively seeing on film. Some guys are just good at seeing what other teams are doing and even more importantly, why they are doing it.

The work of the consultant breaking down film is also paying dividends on the offensive side. It’s no small coincidence the Razorback offense is killing people in the first quarter. This is due to good research by the consultant and enables Bielema and his staff to implement a better game plan. It usually takes other team’s defenses a half to catch up to what Arkansas is doing.

Gone are the days of Bielema talking about hurry-up offenses or coming here to beat Alabama. All he talks about now is doing things the right way.

This goes back to his speech given at the Little Rock Touchdown Club about his own personal story of building a fence. His dad instructed him and his brother how to do it properly. They started cutting corners on how many and how to put the nails into the posts. The fence failed. He said this taught him to do it the right way.

Bielema is learning how to do it the right way in the SEC, and now he’s adapted with great success. This is a sign of a great coach.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Bielema is still learning. He’s only 44, still a very young coach. He has only been a head coach for eight years. And, he’s only in his second year in the SEC, one of the most competitive leagues in the world in any sport.

Every team in the SEC West is bowl eligible, and every team the Hogs have faced in the SEC have been ranked No. 17 or higher. That is a tough learning curve for any new coach. But if the current trend holds, Bielema seems to be getting up to speed fast.



Send your favorite jokes about Mississippi to fromthebench@yahoo.com.


Monday, November 17, 2014

From the Bench

Cornerstone Laid With LSU Win, Now on to the Next Brick

Robert Shields

The Internet exploded Saturday night with imagery of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ victory over LSU as fans and players were exalted. Maybe it was all a little melodramatic, but who can blame the fans and players for being excited about ending a 17-game SEC losing streak and celebrating my guarantee from last week that Arkansas would beat LSU.

The Razorbacks played with a certain urgency as though their lives depended on it, and LSU could not answer with the same tenacity. For the first time this season, the Razorbacks could see the fear in their enemy’s eyes and not the other way around. It was exhilarating and carried players and fans onto the field in celebration at the end.

The question was raised, should the fans have stormed and celebrated in such fashion. The answer is a resounding yes. The Program was in a place that it had never been before. The football team was in uncharted territory, and two years ago to even think that the team could end up in the midst of a 17-game losing streak would have been implausible.

This was the wrong kind of history to make, but if you were present then you were part of it and can say, “I was there when the 17 game conference losing streak ended.”

Over the last two years, Razorback fans have endured humiliating losses and absolute heartbreak in losses that should not occur at home in Fayetteville. The supernova explosion of emotion that erupted on the field as the clock ticked down was warranted. It was historic.

The players, enduring heartbreaking losses during the streak, did not give up. It would have been so easy after losing to No. 1 Mississippi State to say just forget it and mail the rest of the season in. Instead, they went back to work.

This has been a team that has been belittled by many -- even its own fans -- as the players were often denigrated or abandoned. Steve Spurrier said the Razorbacks would have to recruit their way out of this mess after putting a 52-7 beat down on the Hogs last season. Even the media delved out its share of piling on the players as they often referred to the players left by Bobby Petrino as being untalented.

In the end, fans will miss Petrino guys like Trey Flower, Darius Philon, Jonathan Williams, and others who did nothing but pour their guts out week after week with constantly changing coaching staffs.

Give Bret Bielema credit, he never gave up on them when other coaches would have, and the team repaid the favor to him by never giving up on him. When talking about some of those guys, Bielema has gotten emotional. He knows what they have had to put up with. Bielema gets paid millions win or lose, but those players only got misery.

The players surely had to feel that they hoped nobody would forget the price they paid over the last couple of years sticking with the program. They received a resounding answer to that question on Saturday night.

On a very cold night, in the middle of deer season, with a team that is struggling and stands 4-5 overall, and 0-5 in the conference, the Razorback fans arrived with an announced crowd of about 70,000. I’m not sure that would happen anywhere else.

The fans wanted this win for this team and showed their support in grand fashion. Maybe if for no other reason, they knew this group of players deserved it, win or lose, as they have never quit this season.

If you want to feel happy for one person, let that be Brandon Allen. The kid has suffered through the vast majority of those losses. He has been the piƱata for fans who have been disgruntled during this losing streak. Now he has the monkey off his back as does his coach, and maybe now they can play to win instead of feeling the pressure of ending this streak.

The football Program that has been mired in muck trying to build its foundation has maybe finally laid its cornerstone with this victory over LSU. Just as a losing streak starts with its first loss, so does a winning streak with its first win. This week we get to find out if the cornerstone that was placed Saturday night sinks back into the mud or if the next brick is laid.

A few weeks back, I wrote that the fan base was becoming divided with those who saw the close losses an improvement by fire that would turn this team into gold and others who just saw the losses. Winning cures all ills with football, and as of Saturday night, all was right with the world as thirsty Razorbacks got to once again drink from the fountain of victory and it tasted oh so sweet.

It’s not every day that you get to win with 265 yards of offense. Yet, that was the viciousness the Razorback defense countered with making it easy on the offense. The question this week will be if they can do it again.

Otherwise, the win seems hollower where a cornerstone is more of substance.



Send your drunken escapades after the game to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, November 10, 2014

From the Bench

Guaranteed Win Against LSU Could Launch Three-Game Winning Streak

Robert Shields

Since I started writing this column more than 17 years ago, I have made four guarantees. And if you are keeping count, my record is 3-1 on those guarantees.

It’s been years since I have made a guarantee in this space, but I am going out on a limb with another one this week -- I guarantee an Arkansas Razorback win over LSU this Saturday in Fayetteville.

Do I believe it? No. But some things have to be based on faith, and I have faith that the 17-game SEC losing streak is coming to an end and it happens this weekend.

In the past, I usually give reasoning as to why I guarantee a Razorback win. Not this time -- it’s just based on pure Razorback faith. The losing streak has to end at some point, and being a one-time statistician I believe in the law of averages, which I remind everyone is not a theory of averages but a law.

I also believe in a benevolent creator. I have to believe at some point Brandon Allen is showed mercy and given a victory in the SEC. Do I believe that God above cares about football? Again, no. But do I think he hears the agony of those below? Yes.

Allen has had his truck torched, his property egged, and has probably received enough hate mail to get the FBI to open a terroristic threatening file. He has been criticized to no end. When you are the quarterback, the wins and losses can weigh heavily and he has been losing.

Even one of Allen’s biggest supporters in Bo Mattingly from “Sports Talk with Bo” has started to show some doubt this past week after the Mississippi State loss. This was the same Bo Mattingly who last year predicted that Allen would be as good as Connor Shaw by the time he leaves the UofA. South Carolina fans and Steve Spurrier are probably thinking Shaw was pretty good right now and would like to have him back.

Much like Hagar at the well whose cries were heard, I have to believe the creator above knows Allen’s pain. Allen will be vindicated this weekend.

And after the win over LSU, the Razorbacks may launch themselves into a three-game winning streak to finish the season 7-5. This is not a guarantee, but you can feel the Razorbacks just need that one win to get the ball rolling.

If by some way the Razorbacks win their next three games, they will end up with a 3-5 SEC record playing in the most difficult conference division in the country. And many will point out that the Razorbacks were just a few plays away from actually being 6-2 in the SEC as they could have and maybe should have beaten Texas A&M, Alabama, and Mississippi State.

So for this feel-good ending to happen, the Razorbacks have to win this weekend against LSU. So, it will happen. I guarantee it.


Send your hallelujahs to fromthebench@yahoo.com