SEC MD 1 Notebook: Razorbacks revamp to finish strong

Arkansas QB Austin Allen
Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen speaks during the Southeastern Conference's annual media gatheringMonday in Hoover, Ala. [AP Photo/Butch Dill]

In Bret Bielema’s first three seasons at Arkansas, the Razorbacks developed a trend of starting slow and finishing fast.
Heading into 2016, the focus was on starting fast.
The Hogs did — but then they failed to finish in what was a true reversal of form. The Hogs got off to a strong start, then collapsed in the end, losing four of their last six games.
The two losses at the end — to Missouri and Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl — were the most disturbing. Arkansas frittered away halftime leads of 24-7 and 24-0 in those respective games. The result was a disappointing final record of 7-6.
“Obviously, the end of last season was a unique situation for me,” Bielema said at SEC Media Days on Monday. “I felt at the end of the year we were getting better at moving in the right direction (in my first three years). And last year, our last two games were not highlights, especially the way they both ended.
“I knew we had to take a new look at things. We took an internal look at us coaching-wise. What we were asking them to do, how we were asking them to do it. Took an even stronger look at our personnel.”
The disappointing finish was largely attributed to a leaky defense. So, changes were made. Bielema hired a new defensive coordinator (Paul Rhoads) and the Razorbacks switched to a 3-4 defense in the spring.
“I feel really good about where we’re at,” Bielema said. “Our kids have been great. They’ve owned and embraced what we didn’t do well at the end of the year. Focused on what we can do well.
“We’re going to focus on winning games in the second half, not losing them, putting our best personnel on the field, no matter how that comes about, and then really trying to play and understand what it means to be at Arkansas and have that come through.”

Proud new papa
Bielema has always embraced his role as a father figure for his players. Now, he’s a real father. His wife, Jen, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a girl, on Saturday.
“I’m 48 hours into this baby. I can’t say I’m well versed,” he said. “I think it changes your perspective. I knew it always would. If my girl ends up playing football, we probably got a lot of problems. I’ll encourage her to do whatever, but playing football ain’t one of them.”

Thanks for the RB, Will
After losing star running back Rawleigh Williams to a career-ending neck injury in the spring, the Razorbacks were in serious need of help at tailback. It arrived with the addition of South Carolina graduate transfer David Williams.
“I knew I wanted somebody with little bit more maturity in the room,” Bielema said. “That presented an opportunity to talk to David. I reached out to the SEC office, asked the questions I needed to ask to have him transfer in, got great information from the SEC office.
“I give a lot of credit to Will (Muschamp) in South Carolina. They were very cooperative, didn’t try to put a block on him or what not. I think this young man was recruited by Coach Spurrier, brought in, and things didn’t go his way. He graduated on time and deserved an opportunity.
“It’s really a marriage made in heaven and a great addition to campus.”

Dressed to the nines
Star LSU tailback Derrius Guice turned a lot of heads wherever he went with his attire — a fancy new pink suit.
“I saw it on a mannequin and thought to myself, ‘This would look much better on me,’ ” Guise said.

Hoops, baseball replays
In his state of the SEC address, league commissioner Greg Sankey said the SEC has asked the NCAA permission to experiment with collaborative instant replay in basketball this year. The league also is seeking permission to expand the use of instant replay in baseball.
“We will now look to experiment in basketball, and our staff is working to implement that for conference play. So you won’t see that until it’s conference-versus-conference contests,” Sankey said. “We’re seeking permission from the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee to expand the use of instant replay in baseball.
“I want to be clear that’s not a collaborative process at this point. So it’s not centralized, but thanks to the work of our friends from ESPN, the SEC Network, and notably our campus production staffs, we’ve got a level of baseball coverage in this conference that’s unparalleled. And we can take advantage of that and maybe enhance the use of replay, at least that is our desire.”

A second open date?
There has been talk within the league of possibly going to a 14-week football season that would give each team two open dates.
“We have that on a bit of an ad-hoc basis depending on what the calendar permits,” Sankey said. “I want to be clear about the perspective that came out of those conversations. There’s not opposition here to a 14-week season. There’s curiosity and interest.
“We’re interested in the 14-week schedule, but don’t want to see practice begin even earlier in the summer. It moves back this year a few days because of the health and safety changes introduced (recently by the NCAA).”

Realignment not on radar
Although there has been a buzz among the media and fans about a possible realignment of the divisions that would move Auburn to the East and Missouri to the West, Sankey said the league hasn’t even considered it.
“(It) has not been an agenda item (at the SEC spring meetings),” he said. “It is a conversation in most large press conferences in which I appear, and that’s the extent of the conversation.”