It’s one of the few programs in college football that has two venues, but Arkansas fans recite their favorite chant in both. “Woo pig sooie” is a battle cry meaning "call on the hogs," but in 2013 the saying was ineffective. Not too long ago, Arkansas was competing with the upper echelon in the Southeastern Conference. Under head coach Houston Nutt, the Razorbacks notched a 10-win season in 2006 and eight victories the following year.
With players like Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, Arkansas’ recruiting power began to blossom. After a difficult first season, Bobby Petrino cracked success in 2009. Behind Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis and a talented receiver core, Arkansas finished at 8-5. In 2010 and 2011, the Razorbacks achieved back-to-back 10+ win seasons.
However, the success ride came to a halt in 2012. Injuries to Tyler Wilson and Petrino’s dismissal from the program hurt Arkansas. Under head coach John L. Smith, the Hogs finished at 4-8 and ousted him after his one season. Arkansas fans believe Bret Bielema is finally the right guy for the program; however, Bielema struggled in his first season getting the players to buy into his system, finishing at 3-9 in 2013.
In his tenure with Wisconsin (2006-12), Bielema was a star in the Big Ten. The Badgers had four 10+ win seasons and won three conference championships (2010-2012). Talented players like Scott Tolzien, Montee Ball, Russell Wilson and Nick Toon, guided Wisconsin to two 11-win seasons in 2010 and 2011. However, Bielema’s teams were never chock-full of All-Americans.
Regardless of having talented skill players, a winning mindset starts with the men in the trenches. Bielema placed nine offensive linemen in the National Football League, including Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, Joe Thomas, Kraig Urbik and Bill Nagy. In 2010, Carimi, Moffitt and Nagy led the Badgers offensive line after arriving on campus as three-star prospects. Behind this trio, Wisconsin’s run game flourished. John Clay rushed for 1,012 yards and 14 touchdowns. James White totaled 1,052 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. Montee Ball had 996 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
Russell Wilson receives a lot of credit, but it was Scott Tolzien who guided Wisconsin to its first BCS bowl game under Bielema. The chances of seeing a two-star recruit lead a program to the Rose Bowl are slim to none. Through Bielema’s teachings, Tolzien defeated those odds. In 2009, he led Wisconsin to the Champs Sports Bowl, defeating Miami 20-14.
As a senior, Tolzien’s maturation was full surface. He completed 73 percent of his passes for 2,459 yards and 16 touchdowns. Despite losing to TCU in the Rose Bowl, Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award and is now with the Green Bay Packers.
At Wisconsin, Bielema used a strong running game, great defensive efforts and play action passes as his tools for success. In 2007-08, Wisconsin’s defense was its trademark. Most of the Badgers wins came in close contests. Wisconsin’s offense picked up the pace in 2009. The Badgers outscored its opponents by 20+ points from 2009 to 2012.
Before Bielema’s arrival, Arkansas’s offense hit a downward spiral. After posting 30+ points per game in four seasons (2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011); the Razorbacks barely put up 20+ points per game in the last two seasons. Defensively, Arkansas has surrendered 20+ points per game from 2007-2013. Bielema brings an entirely different philosophy to the program and it will take time for his teams to fit his mold.
Arkansas will enter 2014 with one-third of its formula. Highly-touted running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams provided excitement for fans last season. The duo combined for eight rushing touchdowns. Collins rushed for 1,026 yards and Williams totaled 900 yards.
Quarterback Brandon Allen has to step up if Arkansas wants to right the ship. He passed for 1,552 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. Allen had issues with accuracy and ball placement last season after displaying a penchant for locking onto his primary receiver, which led to 10 interceptions and a 49.6% completion percentage. Allen is capable of being a successful quarterback in this system; he just needs to use the pieces around him and be smart with the football. Does he need to be Ryan Mallett under Bobby Petrino? No. But can he play like Scott Tolzien under Bret Bielema? Yes. And if he does, Arkansas may shock some teams as early as next year.
On the flip side, it’s difficult to win games when your defense is allowing 30.8 points per game like the Razorbacks did in 2012 and 2013. Trey Flowers recorded 5.0 sacks last season to lead the team. It will be up to Flowers, Darius Philon, DeMarcus Hodge, Taiwan Johnson and others to generate pressure on the quarterback and stuff the run. If there is one thing Bielema knows, it’s defense. He has always coached defense and was hand-picked by Barry Alvarez to take over the Wisconsin program for his work as defensive coordinator.
Believe it or not, the Razorbacks handled business this offseason. While you might not believe it if you are comparing the class to other SEC classes, this is the type of class Bielema will use to build his program. Arkansas brought in 24 commits, including five 4-star recruits. Unsurprisingly, the gem of the class comes along the offensive line with Brian Wallace. Bielema will continue to build his trenches and win with physicality. A former nose guard, Bielema knows how to coach ‘em up.
A scary thought: Bielema appears to be reeling in the recruits early in the 2015 class. The rule of thumb is to give a new coach three years before you judge him. After inheriting a roster so radically different than the rosters he assembled at Wisconsin, an adjustment period is imminent and may be longer than three years. However, if he can mold his Arkansas teams like he did his Wisconsin teams, while also elevating his recruiting, the sky is the limit. After all, that’s why he came to Fayetteville in the first place.
We invite you to join our 16,000+ fans for frequent updates and content releases. Submit your email below and follow us on Twitter