Bret Bielema has had some big wins in his three-plus years since taking over at Arkansas, but it’s been a program that’s had a penchant for slow starts to the season. Saturday’s win at TCU left me thinking Bielema’s bunch has turned the corner.
The 41-38 win for the Razorbacks is their third consecutive over a ranked opponent on the road dating back to last season. Even more impressively, it snapped the 14-game home winning streak TCU had coming in.
The stat that sticks out the most in the Razorbacks’ big victory was the zero in their turnover column. Not bad for a team with only five returning starters on offense or when you consider QB Austin Allen was making his first career road start.
"Last year was last year,” Bielema told FOX Sports Sunday afternoon after being asked what questions he got answered about his team this week. "Our QB’s film was really impressive to watch today. That (game-tying) 2-minute drive was the moment where he took it to another level. He was really locked in. Our O-line with three new starters also took a big step forward.”
Allen went 17-of-29 for 223 yards with three TD passes, and he also ran for a fourth when he bulldozed his way into the end zone from five yards out.
That O-line faced a big challenge in that they were not only playing a talented team on the road but were facing TCU’s Gary Patterson, who is as creative a defensive mind as there is in college football. Bielema harps on his “Code Red” mantra, stressing about the focus it requires to thrive in tough environments. Arkansas committed only five penalties. TCU had nine in the double OT game.
The Hogs have some very underrated weapons for Allen to rely on. They have a talented stable of running backs led by Rawleigh Williams, who piled up 137 yards against TCU; size on the outside; and a budding star in 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.
Bielema says he’s coached seven tight ends who are on active NFL rosters, and it sure sounds like this senior will become the eighth soon. “He’s gonna be really tough to handle for defenses,” Bielema said, adding that Sprinkle has huge hands and is more of a vertical threat than some of his other star tight ends have been.
Even though the Razorbacks weren’t loaded with playing experience heading into the TCU game, Bielema felt his team was primed to take another step forward because of the success and goals they were achieving off the field, which he said is the greatest indicator of development. In his three seasons, Arkansas leads the SEC with 100 student-athletes on the Academic Honor Roll, and their 40 honorees in 2015 who achieved a GPA of 3.0 or higher is the most by one school since he joined the league. [That’s more than double the most players his predecessor Bobby Petrino’s program ever achieved.]
Bielema also pointed out he tweaked the Razorbacks’ practice schedule towards attaining his players’ goal for the season — "Start Fast. Finish Strong."
“We’re scripting to have a fast start. We go good-on-good (first-team guys against first-team guys) at the beginning of every practice,” he said. "We used to ease into it. Now, we’re taking a different philosophy.”
Bielema, never one to be shy, also has been pretty direct with his team about his own goals.
“I didn’t come here to just win six or seven or eight games,” he said. “I came here to win the SEC championship.”
After the Hogs play Texas State this Saturday, we’ll find out a lot more about them. They have No. 17 Texas A&M, No. 1 Alabama and No. 19 Ole Miss all in the next month.
LSU finds a new quarterback
After two three-and-outs Saturday, LSU pulled Brandon Harris and replaced him with Danny Etling, who promptly was greeted with robust cheers and then led the Tigers to three straight TD drives. The Tigers proceeded to blow out FCS Jacksonville State, but in reality Etling’s stat line looked pretty similar to a Harris stat line: 6-of-14, 100 yards, one TD and one INT, yet the vibe around Tiger Stadium seemed to be like the new LSU quarterback was Purdue’s best QB product since Drew Brees.
Western Kentucky’s LT dominates vs. Alabama
Taywan Taylor isn’t the only freak athlete at WKU that’s turning heads. Forrest Lamp has been the Hilltoppers’ starting left tackle since his freshman season and he’s clocked a 4.85 40 to go with a 4.34 shuttle and 33 reps of 225 pounds on the bench. This weekend, Lamp showed he could handle himself against college football’s best. According to Pro Football Focus, Lamp stoned Alabama’s edge rusher on 39 of his 40 pass blocking attempts, only allowing one quarterback hit all day.
What is going on with Clemson’s offense?
Five three-and-outs by Clemson Saturday against Troy. Didn’t expect to see that from what most of us figured would be the most potent offense in the country this year. Curious to see how soon the Tigers break out of their slow start to 2016. They rank No. 102 in the nation in yards per play (4.99).
Georgia’s OL has a long way to go
I was less surprised that CMU knocked off Oklahoma State than I was that Georgia barely escaped 26-24 against Nicholls, a 52-point underdog that last year faced two FBS programs in Colorado and ULM — both losing programs last season — and lost by a combined 95-0 and went 3-8 in 2015. The Dawgs’ O-line needs major improvement if it’s gonna handle the defensive fronts of Florida and Tennessee.
A positive Baylor story
When Jim Grobe talks about the great kids he has at Baylor, senior CB Ryan Reid is a prime example of that. Reid graduated last May after overcoming many nights as a kid sleeping in cars and eating toast for dinner, he told me Friday.
Ask Reid if it bothers him that many people have painted Baylor players with a broad brush and he’ll tell you, “Once you go through stuff like that, it doesn’t matter,” he said. "I know who I am.”
After football, Reid plans to get his Masters in Health after watching his mom who is now a nurse’s assistant in the VA. “I feel like the medical field is where I need to be.”
Unfortunately, Reid suffered a high-ankle sprain early in Baylor’s win over SMU Saturday.
Grobe is a good fit in Waco
Speaking of Baylor, I spent 48 hours around the BU program for the SMU game this week and came away more convinced than ever that Jim Grobe is the ideal coach to navigate that program through this season. Grobe becoming the face of this program, especially from a media standpoint, has been a very good addition as the Bears navigate through a very chaotic season. From my experiences there this week, his professionalism, temperament and dignity are top-notch.
A wide receiver you need to know
I’m not sure any player I see in person this year will pass the eye-ball test as emphatically as SMU’s sophomore WR Courtland Sutton does. The 6-4, 220-pounder is someone college football fans need to get to know.
He was recruited by the old SMU staff as a safety before being moved to WR. As a redshirt freshman last fall, Sutton caught 49 catches for 862 yards and nine touchdowns. Head coach Chad Morris and his staff were at Clemson and saw Sammy Watkins have a sophomore slump and challenged Sutton to work hard to avoid that, and they say he has.
"He’s a special kid and he’s really a different player this year,” SMU OC Joe Craddock says. “He’s more comfortable in this scheme. He’s gotten faster and stronger. That’s scary."
Morris says Sutton, who probably runs in the mid-4.5s, is very similar to DeAndre Hopkins with great body control, huge hands and ball skills and that he’s even bigger than the NFL star. Actually much bigger. In two games this season, Sutton has 10 catches for 274 yards and four touchdowns.
Phillip Nelson resurfaces
ECU QB Phillip Nelson is 24-of-25 for 266 yards in the second half so far this season, and this is after it’d been almost three years since he’d played in a college game. Nelson started his career at Minnesota and was involved in an altercation outside a night club that left one man in critical condition. Nelson initially faced two felony charges but reached a plea agreement for misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service. His new team, the Pirates, defeated NC State Saturday to make it six in a row over ACC opponents.
Stat of the Week
Greg Schiano’s new D at Ohio State has scored three TDs this season and has yielded none — and that’s against programs that ranked No. 4 and No. 13 in offense last year. Not bad considering the Buckeyes lost three first-rounders off their defense from last year plus had three other defenders also drafted.
Stat of the Week, Take II
Virginia Tech has already lost nine fumbles (worst in the nation). The Hokies lost only seven in 13 games in 2015.
Stat of the Week, Take III
With their win over Wazzu, the Boise State Broncos are now 9-3 in their last 12 games against Pac-12 opponents. In their next game, they have a chance to make it 10-3 when they visit Corvallis to play Oregon State on Sept. 24.