Arkansas Football: Winning Is Going to Take Time Under Bret Bielema
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Look, we all knew when Arkansas Razorbacks Athletic Director Jeff Long tabbed Bret Bielema as the next head coach last December that it was going to be a process.
Bielema was bringing his physical and punishing style that won him three Big Ten titles at Wisconsin to the SEC. It was, and still is, a big transition from a pass-oriented offense under Bobby Petrino to a run-first scheme.
The Razorbacks look to have no confidence in what they are doing and it's resulting in some very lopsided losses. In the last two games against South Carolina and Alabama, Arkansas has been outscored 104-7.
The play has been ugly, mediocre, shoddy and whatever other adjective you'd like to use.
Bad quarterback play has slowed down a very talented running back duo in freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams. The defense has had plenty of problems, too, as teams are passing the ball at will and the rush defense has began to fall off.
All of the struggles have created unrest among the Razorback fan base. Many were expecting the Hogs to make a bowl, which seemed like a reasonable expectation. But, fans also should have known that Bielema wasn't going to walk onto campus and create a winner right away.
The cliche saying "patience is a virtue" couldn't be any more true in the case of the Arkansas football team.
Sure, the 3-5 record has been a bit disappointing, but it is not a surprise by any means. Bielema is working with a majority of players that were recruited by Petrino to fit his scheme. Don't forget people that the players had to learn a whole new system during the offseason and have only had eight games in this new scheme under their belts.
In the NFL, eight games would be enough time to get everything down, but that's not the case in college. It can take a full season before programs fully understand the ins and outs of a new playbook.
Under Petrino, Arkansas played far from a smash-mouth style. In fact, that was a big knock against his teams. During his tenure when the Hogs played physical squads like Alabama and LSU, they simply couldn't match the Crimson Tide or Tigers physicality and strength.
That is exactly what Bielema and the coaching staff are working to change and it's not going to change overnight.
Nowadays in the college game, patience is something that has been lost. Fans across the country expect new coaches to come in and start winning from the get-go. There's more pressure now on coaches to win right away than there ever has been.
The result? Coaches are being fired after just two, sometimes even one, season.
Is it fair? No. Is it enough time to bring in your personnel and build your own brand? Nope. But, that has become the nature of the business.
Long made the right hire when he stole Bielema, once a saint in the state of Wisconsin, from the Badgers. It's going to take time for him to build Arkansas into the strong, disciplined and physical team he had at Wisconsin.
As ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough noted, Bielema has had to play a lot of young guys after inheriting a very inexperienced roster and it showed against Alabama:
Against Alabama, Arkansas showed its youth as much as its lack of talent. The Razorbacks, who haven't finished with a top-15 recruiting class once since 2006, had more first-year starters and underclassmen on the field Saturday than most teams in the SEC. Two of its offensive linemen were true freshmen. Its brightest young star on defense, defensive lineman Darius Philon, was a redshirt freshman Alabama tried to grayshirt coming out of high school.
A young roster, new schemes and a daunting schedule have made for a very tough season. The Hogs have 23 underclassmen on the two-deep depth chart, including six that are starting. It's a process and even the players know that Arkansas is building for a better tomorrow.
"You've got to look toward the future," Williams said. "It's tough right now but we've got to keep working toward the future."
The future is also what fans need to look at.
Bielema has a number of talented young players to build around, including Collins, Philon, tight end Hunter Henry and offensive linemen Denver Kirkland, Reeve Koehler, who has missed his freshman year with an injury, and Dan Skipper.
Collins and Williams give Bielema's notorious ground-and-pound running game a bright future. Henry is going to be a special player for the Hogs and Kirkland, Koehler and Skipper provide a solid foundation on the O-line for the next few years.
Arkansas still has a long ways to go before seeing Bielema's vision for the program come to fruition. Many areas have to be addressed moving forward. The wide receiver position lacks playmakers and quarterback Brandon Allen has shown nothing that would say he's the answer on the road ahead, with many fans already declaring him a lost cause. The defense also lacks playmakers and depth, so Bielema will have to fill all of those holes through recruiting.
With a bevvy of young, inexperienced players and a whole new system for them and the veterans to wrap their heads around, growing pains should have been expected. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will the Arkansas program.
Bielema knows how to build a winning program. Be patient and give him and his staff time to get all the pieces in place and the results will follow.
For more Arkansas Razorbacks info, follow Bryan on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.
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