FOUR DOWNS: New-Look Arkansas Leaves ULL Guessing


1. Guessing Game

Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth said his team is confident as it prepares to play Arkansas in Razorback Stadium on Saturday afternoon. But Hudspeth and his staff have admittedly had trouble figuring out what to expect from the Hogs.

Arkansas’ new staff has brought in new philosophies on both sides of the ball, leaving UL-L playing a guessing game of sorts as it studies schemes.

“You hope you’re somewhere in the ballpark,” Hudspeth said. “But that’s the scary part of going into a game where you’ve got a totally new staff, new direction within the program. There’s always the uncertainty.

“You’ve just got to prepare for so many different things that’s hard to clue into the main things like you can midseason, when you’ve got some legitimate film from a team that’s been playing for six games.”

It probably wouldn’t be as challenging if Bielema brought most of his Wisconsin staff — and all of its ideas — with him. But there is new flavor on Bielema’s Arkansas staff, including former Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. The Razorbacks also have assistants like Randy Shannon, Joel Thomas and Michael Smith who have brought different ideas from other stops in their careers.

“I think we will surprise a lot of people,” Arkansas center Travis Swanson said about the gameplan for the opener. “We are going to zero in on what we know we can execute perfectly and kind of focus on those things leading into the game.”

Arkansas has had plenty of changes to key personnel as well. It includes skill positions like quarterback (Brandon Allen) and running back (Jonathan Williams).

So Hudspeth said it all adds to the challenge in preparing for Arkansas this week.

“To me, I can’t take anything from last year’s film,” Hudspeth said. “We haven’t even watched any of last year’s Arkansas film. Just a couple of snaps maybe to look at personnel. But as far as how they played scheme-wise, we haven’t even glanced at it. They’ll be totally different systems.”

2. No Different Feeling

Bielema will run out of the tunnel and stand on the Arkansas sideline for the first time in his career Saturday. But don’t count on the coach to get sentimental about it.

Bielema was asked if he anticipated any extra emotions Monday and said “it doesn’t really feel any different for me.”

“I really have no recollection, any game I’ve ever coached in, other than what’s going on in the game,” Bielema said. “A lot of people have asked me, ‘What do you think about?’ When I’m in the tunnel, I’m thinking about the coin toss. I’m thinking about if we win the toss, if we lose the toss. What’s our action?”

Arkansas fullback Kiero Small said Sunday night he’s sure his coach is looking forward to the first-game experience, though.

“Everyone’s excited about opening week around the country,” Small said. “College football is back and I think for Coach B to be able to run through the ‘A’ for real this time, and for me to be there as a captain, I’m real honored about that.”

3. ‘Our’ Philosophy

Bielema was asked how well he and Chaney had meshed with their philosophies on offense. He said there had been no problems, calling it “our philosophy.”

He also indicated there were no plans to get involved in play-calling on game day, saying he has simply provided a few “guiding principles” for the staff.

“I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but hopefully I’ve been pretty hands free with what he’s been able to mold,” Bielema said. “There might be just some little things that I feel strong about, whether it be a third-down play or a critical down situation that I might have a little bit of a strong input. Again, those will all be coming prior to the game. I’m not going to step in on game day and act like I know any call better than third and four than he does. That’s going to be his baby.”

Bielema said he has provided a few “guiding principles” for coaches on both sides of the ball for Chaney and defensive coordinator Chris Ash.

4. Team Goals

Bielema asked his team to drew up some team goals Sunday night. He left it up to players, but was impressed with some of their responses.

“One of the first things out of their mouths offensively was ‘no pre-snap penalties,’” Bielema said. “I mean, that’s something I’ve been saying since Day One. But for it to come out their mouth, it means everything to me.

“They talked about being a champion in adverse situations. That’s something that we talk about, harp about constantly.”

Arkansas’ plan now is to reach those goals beginning with Saturday’s game.

“I don’t think they’re just giving lip service,” Bielema said. “I think these kids know what we expect. I think they’re buying into it 100 times over. “

— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau