5 Reasons Auburn Should be Worried About Arkansas, Part 4

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Aug 31, 2013; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorback head coach Bret Bielema takes the field with his team before a game against the Louisiana Ragin

What was most interesting about hearing Bielema speak for the second time in two days was that his message did not change one bit. It did not matter if he was talking to a couple hundred college GAs – young guys just out of college, or a few thousand college coaches, including the legends of the game. Bielema’s message was constant.

He preached hard work, commitment, and doing things the right way, first and foremost, and then he shared more about the Wisconsin program specifically.

“One of the things I really feel strongly about as you move through your program,” Bielema told his peers. “I don’t care if it’s junior high, middle school, high school or whatever, you want to have an identity as a program. I love it when I’m in the off-season, or when I’m looking at the world of college football after the season is done, and coaches come out with this new philosophy. They come with a new way of doing things. They’ve brought in a new coordinator and they’re going to do things differently. I really believe that if you have a difficult time, that’s when you have to get back to what you believe in more than ever.”

Bielema knows the identity of his program, and he knows what he believes in. It hasn’t changed since that early December day in Dallas. He won’t change it now – even after a difficult year. In fact, he’ll believe in it more than ever.

The head Hog believes in running the football behind a big, strong offensive line.

“In Wisconsin, we have big people,” Bielema said later that day. “You can go to the store and there’s a guy who is 6’6” handing out milk. You know what I mean? There are big people in Wisconsin, so there are going to be big kids.

Dec 1, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bret Bielema holds up the Big Ten championship trophy after defeating the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

“Big people produce big people. So what it comes down to is we have to run the football.”

And they do. There are big people in Arkansas too, and if Bielema needs more, he’ll find them elsewhere. The head coach went to Arvada, Colorado to find a 6-foot-10, 315-pound behemoth named Dan Skipper, who I believe will go on to earn All-SEC honors at some point before he leaves Fayetteville for the NFL.

Bielema went to Miami, Florida and brought back the 6-foot-5, 348-pound Denver Kirkland. Both players started all eight SEC games for the Razorbacks last season. This year, the coach went to Minnesota – where big people also grow – to sign Frank Ragnow, to Missouri to land Brian Wallace, and all the way to San Bernardino, California for junior college prospect Sebastian Tretola.

In addition to beefing up the offensive line, Bielema noted, he believes strongly in winning the time of possession battle. Of course, in recent years, time of possession has gone out of style with the emergence of the HUNH and other up-tempo attacks. Today, there is much less emphasis placed on holding the football. However, it has been a successful philosophy for Bielema coached teams in the past, and believe it or not – it’s a big reason Arkansas is a threat to Auburn in the season opener.

“One belief we have always had since I’ve been at Wisconsin as an assistant and moving ourselves through, we’ll always be one or two in the Big Ten in time of possession. We’re not a quick score unit. For us to win football games, we need to win the time of possession. There’s no doubt about that. It’s not too hard to figure out. They aren’t going to score if they don’t have the ball.”

Bielema’s time of possession goal actually falls in line with what many hurry-up coaches hope to accomplish with their fast paced systems – to manage the game offensively. Bielema wants his offense to control the pace of play, which is exactly what coaches like Gus Malzahn want to do with theirs. The strategies differ, but the end goal is the same. And Bielema’s offensive philosophy can win in the SEC.

“To get first down after first down after first down, it’s more demoralizing than the big play because you are executing at a rate where your opponent can’t defeat you,” Bielema later explained in an interview with Paul Markgraff in This is AFCA, the official magazine of the American Football Coaches Association.

More from Auburn Football

When the two teams meet at Jordan-Hare Stadium on August 30, if the Auburn Tigers don’t have the ball, they won’t be able to score. And Bret Bielema will do his best to keep the football away from the high-powered Tigers. The Razorbacks had the same strategy last year, and if they had done a better job holding onto the football, the results could have been very different.

The same will be true this year. If the Hogs control the pace of play, control the clock, and don’t lose control of the football, they’ll have a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.

He doesn’t always make a great impression with the media, but Bret Bielema is well respected in the coaching community. A room full of young college coaches, and then a building full of veterans, were all hanging on Bielema’s every word in January 2011 in Dallas. They were ready to follow him. I’ve never been in a locker room with Bret Bielema, but I’ve seen him with a crowd of his peers – and he is impressive. I have to think he impresses his players as well.

A lot may have changed since that January day three years ago, but Bret Bielema’s football philosophy is not one of them. He believes in football fundamentals and toughness. He wants his teams to work hard, be disciplined, and execute his vision. And if they do, the Razorbacks will have a chance to win. Even against Auburn in 2014.