By Kyle Weber
Special to TideSports.com
HOOVER – Arkansas looks to get the Bret Bielema era back on track after a challenging 2016 season. Following a three-game winning streak to start the year, the Razorbacks lost six of their remaining 10 games, including a 3-5 record in SEC play.
The Razorbacks struggled drastically in the second half of games last season, being outscored by 100 points after halftime. Bielema talked about the importance of closing games better.
“We are focused on winning games in the second half, not losing them,” Bielema said Monday at SEC Media Days.
Arkansas returns 12 total starters, including six on offense and five on defense. Senior quarterback Austin Allen’s return gives the Razorbacks one of the most prolific passing attacks in the conference. Allen led the SEC in passing yards a season ago, throwing for 3,430 yards over the course of the season.
Arkansas defensive back Kevin Richardson, who missed the entire 2016 season with a pectoral tear, called Allen the best player in the country several times while being interviewed.
“He’s my guy, he competes every day,” Richardson said. “If I am watching film, he will step in and ask what we are doing. He takes the time to learn what defenses are doing. That’s what separates him from everyone else. That’s why I feel that’s the best quarterback in the country.”
The Razorbacks also return All-American offensive lineman Frank Ragnow. Pro Football Focus named Ragnow the nations best offensive lineman a season ago after not allowing a sack for the second straight season.
Ragnow will lead an offensive line that Bielema believes will be a team strength.
“We have six guys that have started SEC games on the offensive line,” Bielema said. “I feel really good about where this group is and I think they are going to prove some things this fall.”
Bielema and the rest of the coaching staff decided to make the switch to a 3-4 defense hoping to get faster with multiple defensive sets.
Arkansas will open the season against Florida A&M onThursday, Aug. 31, in Little Rock.
Head Coach: Bret Bielema
2016 Record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)
Returning Starters: 12
Toughest question Bielema faced: Coach, two years ago here you described a win over Texas as being borderline erotic. I was wondering, if you were able to beat A&M with the way things have gone in your series with them, how do you think you’d describe that?
Bielema’s reply: I know you guys are all looking for quotes. I don’t think I can go much further than that one. That was in a small-group session and that was before I had a child, so ill just leave it there. We’ve been so close, had a couple overtime games, things that we felt were going in the right way to have a chance to get a victory over A&M. I think our first SEC game would be a step in the right direction.
You need to know: Arkansas was dominated in the second half of games last season. After outscoring opponents by 87 points in the first half of games, the Razorbacks were outscored by 100 points in the second half. Reigning SEC leader in passing yards Austin Allen led the offense, which was the 18th ranked scoring offense in the first quarter, however they fell all the way to 123rd in the third quarter.
Best player quote: “He’s my guy, he competes everyday. He asks me after a play I make, if I make a play against him, what are you doing there? What coverage are you in? And I’ll explain it to him, and he will work to pick that thing apart. Play after play. If I am watching film, he will step in and ask what we are doing. He takes the time to learn what defenses are doing. That’s what sets him from everyone else. That’s why I feel that’s the best QB in the country.”
-Senior defensive back Kevin Richardson, on quarterback Austin Allen.