FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema meets media before his Razorbacks practice Tuesday with a bye week progress report on his ambitions for his Razorbacks to be ranked No. 1 in an unofficial category after they next play Texas A&M in both teams’ SEC opener.
The Aggies,1-1 and this Saturday hosting Louisiana-Lafayette at A&M’s Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, and the this week idle Razorbacks, 1-1, clash on 11 a.m. Sept. 23 on ESPN at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
"I think the biggest thing is we have to be the most improved football team in the country from this next week until we play A&M," Bielema said after Arkansas’ last game.
That last game last Saturday, a 28-7 loss to the now up from No. 23 to No. 20 TCU Horned Frogs before a 73,000-plus sellout at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, leaves the Razorbacks in the dumpster position usually required to be considered among the most improved if their next game is a big one and they win it.
This Arkansas vs. Texas A&M doesn’t appear as big game as usual with the Hogs embarrassed last week and Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies first blowing a 44-10 third-quarter lead to lose 45-44 at UCLA, then last Saturday struggled tied, 14-14 with Nicholls State into the fourth quarter before prevailing 24-14, netting their beyond Nicholls State advantage not achieved until kicking a field goal with 18 seconds left.
Nevertheless with this the SEC opener for both teams and A&M always renowned for its talent if not always its season-long effectiveness, this is a big game.
"A&M is a team that’s very similar to the one we just played," Bielema said after TCU defeated his Hogs. "We must get a lot better."
Bielema went recruiting Monday, used by the Razorbacks as their NCAA mandated one day week off, then put the Hogs through Tuesday’s closed practice.
Presumably Tuesday’s practice involved fewer varsity and more scout team wide receivers. Paring the number of receivers prepared to be game ready became a Bielema objective after too many dropped passes and not enough receivers separation from the TCU defense which hampered senior quarterback Austin Allen, 9 of 23.
It also didn’t help that tight end Austin Cantrell caught what have been an Allen 2-yard touchdown pass situated just beyond the end zone out of bounds.
Other than Arkansas’ lone touchdown drive, when the line so opened holes for running back David Williams that the TCU defense bit on defending a fake power sweep to Williams leaving receiver Jonathan Williams open for Allen’s 49-yard Td pass, the Razorbacks’ running and passing games seldom complemented each other.
"We couldn’t consistently do anything on the ground and that really affected our play-action passing game and ability to find some receivers downfield," Bielema said during Saturday’s postgame. "I think we physically have to strain a lot harder. They have a lot smaller players that we wanted to lean on and put some weight on them to turn it into our type of game. I felt that momentum at times was swinging our way and then we’d do something to shoot ourselves in the foot."
The kicking game, not just Cole Hedlund’s two missed field goal chip shots after the Hogs offensively failed in the red zone, but a back to their own 10 holding penalty on the game’s opening kickoff and then fumbling away the kickoff between TCU’s two fourth-quarter touchdowns also shot Arkansas in the foot.
Compared to last season, including a 41-38 double overtime victory over TCU in Fort Worth, the Razorbacks for three and a half quarters played far better defense than most of last year’s games save the 31-10 rout of SEC East champion Florida.
Nevertheless, 10 times out of 14 on third down they couldn’t prevent TCU, 33:52 possession time to Arkansas’ 26:08, from playing the ball-control game upon Bielema 2013 arrival alleged to be Arkansas’ forte.
"Defensively on third down we have to get them out of rhythm," Bielema said.
And offensively find a third down rhythm of their own.
"It was one of the critical areas that we work on and concentrate and talk about," Bielema said. "Third down is a critical area for our offense and we never could seem to get it consistently. There was pressure."
Pressure on the offense game field last Saturday and now two weeks pressure on the practice field to cure what ails.