Gus Malzahn vs. Bret Bielema Looking to Be SEC's Fiercest New Coaching Rivalry

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Gus Malzahn vs. Bret Bielema Looking to Be SEC's Fiercest New Coaching Rivalry
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Just call it a little gamesmanship.

Facing a fourth-and-three at the Auburn nine yard line Saturday night, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema dialed up a fake field goal out of the "swinging gate" formation—similar to the play that Auburn runs on extra points and that the first-year Razorbacks coach said was cut out of the game film Auburn sent to him earlier this week.

The Razorbacks converted, and immediately after that apparent jab at Gus Malzahn across the way, Auburn linebacker Anthony Swain took what seemed to be a dive—suddenly falling to the ground after looking to the sideline well after the play.

Immediately after what looked like a prod at Malzahn by Bielema, it seemed that Auburn was taking a shot at Arkansas and its slow-paced style of play, via the generalized notion that slower teams feign injuries to slow down uptempo teams like Auburn.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Both coaches denied that that's what took place in their respective postgame press conferences after Auburn's 35-17 win went final. Bielema told reporters that he didn't use the "swinging gate" play because of this week's controversy, while Malzahn said that Swain's injury wasn't an act, via Mike Szvetitz of the Opelika-Auburn News.

"He got hurt and (trainers) went and got him," Malzahn said. "That's all I know.

"We don't tell our kids to fake."

Either way, that didn't take anything away from the drama in Razorback Stadium on Saturday night.

A certain level of contempt had seemingly been brewing for months between Malzahn and Bielema, dating back to the two's open disagreements in coaching philosophy at SEC Media Days in July and Bielema's claims that the hurry-up exposes players to injury and that his pro-style offense is "normal American football."

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Add all that to Malzahn's long history with both his homestate of Arkansas—where he set records and became a legend as a high school coach—and the Razorbacks' program—where he spent a year as an offensive coordinator in 2006 before leaving unceremoniously—and Saturday night was just another chapter in what has become a budding rivalry in the SEC West.

While Malzahn and Bielema both claimed there was nothing behind their supposed acts of gamesmanship Saturday night, the pair's actions and war of words in the media will only draw more disdain between the two programs moving forward.

Saturday, it was Malzahn's offense that won the day over Bielema's "normal American football"—and Malzahn did it through a performance that was as old school and traditional as any.

The Tigers rolled up 233 rushing yards on the Arkansas defense and only attempted nine passes in the game. Junior running back Tre Mason shouldered the load for Auburn, finishing with 168 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries.

And in the end, Malzahn earned his first win from an opposing sideline in Fayetteville—in his home state and coaching against the team he has a lot of history with.

"Just to be completely honest, it's just about getting our eighth win," Malzahn said, via the Opelika-Auburn News. "I've got a lot of friends, a lot of family—this is a special place—but you separate that. You got a job to do."

And at the end of the day, Malzahn said he leaves the drama between Bielema and him on the field and in the media.

"I got a lot of respect for the guy," Malzahn said. "He's an excellent coach. And he's taking over a program—they're going to get better. And he'll get this thing going."

Either way—whether this feud is the real deal or a media fabrication—these two first-year head coaches have certainly made the Auburn-Arkansas game that much more interesting.

It's certainly one that'll be circled for both teams a year from now—in the 2014 season opener.

 

Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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