A Three Year Trend: Which Way is this Ship Headed Anyway?

It is no secret that Coach Bielema’s record at Arkansas is abysmal. He is 25-26 (10-22) in four years. Now those that believe constantly posting Bielema’s career record article is disingenuous to the big picture would prefer that the results of the past three years be touted. While I don’t agree with that line of thinking I decided that I would dig deep into what is really going on in the past three years.

His record is 22-17 (10-14). His SEC winning percentage is 41.7% Care to guess Danny Ford’s SEC winning percentage? 39%. Congrats. We won’t count your first 8 SEC games and you still barely edge out Danny Ford.

Now when Bielema was hired, what was Bielema’s calling card? Teams that play hard, play smart, don’t turn it over, physical offensive lines, a power running game, and a stout defense. Is this right? That is how I remember the hire being sold. So how does that translate?

  1. Playing hard and playing smart — On multiple occasions this year it appeared that this team quit. The Hogs were incredibly fragile. Bo Mattingly mentioned that since 2013 Arkansas has 8 losses in games in which they had a ten point lead. This year, at the first sign of adversity, sans TCU, this team wilted. Can you remember a team that embarrassed you this much? How do we measure ‘playing smart’? I suggest penalties.

    1. In 2014 Arkansas was penalized 44.7 yards per game, averaging 5.2 penalties a game.
    2. In 2015 Arkansas was penalized 36.7 yards per game, averaging 4.2 penalties a game.
    3. In 2016 Arkansas was penalized 52.3 yards per game, averaging 6.2 penalties a game.

Obvious improvement last year, but this year’s team was the most penalized of the three years. I am trying not to be a prisoner of the moment, but Jeremy Sprinkle and Drew Morgan’s recent actions cause one to take pause and question the intelligence on The Hill.

  1. Turnovers — In 2014 and 2015 Arkansas was (+) 7 in turnover margin. This year the Hogs were (-) 4.

  2. Physical offensive lines, a power running game - This has to be the biggest disappointment, no? I mean, when you think Bielema you think OL dominance. Body by Herb could not be more overhyped. I can only think of Robb Smith who deserves his job less than Ben Herbert. How many games did we get pushed around this year? The defining moment of the season for me, will be the goal line against aTm. What a failure. But what about the trend. This year was just a blip on the radar, right?

    1. In 2014 Arkansas averaged 5.09 yards per carry, 218 rushing yards per game.
    2. In 2015 Arkansas averaged 5.01 yards per carry, 197.31 rushing yards per game.
    3. In 2016 Arkansas averaged 4.13 yards per carry, 164.23 yards per game.
  3. A stout defense —This has been discussed ad nauseam, but the trend over the past three years is eye opening.

    1. Rushing yards allowed:

      1. In 2014 Arkansas allowed 3.47 yards per carry, 114.62 yards per game
      2. In 2015 Arkansas allowed 3.76 yards per carry, 116.46 yards per game
      3. In 2016 Arkansas allowed 5.91 yards per carry, 205.46 yards per game
    2. Tackles for loss:

      1. In 2014 Arkansas averaged 6.23 TFL per game
      2. In 2015 Arkansas averaged 5.31 TFL per game
      3. In 2016 Arkansas averaged 4.54 TFL per game
    3. Interceptions:

      1. In 2014 Arkansas had 12 interceptions
      2. In 2015 Arkansas had 11 interceptions
      3. In 2016 Arkansas had 10 interceptions
  4. Miscellaneous stats that I find interesting—The trend here is, well, not good.

    1. Kick Return Yards

      1. In 2014 Arkansas averaged 25.71 yards per kick return
      2. In 2015 Arkansas averaged 20.58 yards per kick return
      3. In 2016 Arkansas averaged 18.59 yards per kick return
    2. 3rd Down Conversions

      1. In 2014 Arkansas converted 46.81%, opponents 39.56%
      2. In 2015 Arkansas converted 46.88%, opponents 44.12%
      3. In 2016 Arkansas converted 39.77%, opponents 44.85%
    3. 4th Down Conversions

      1. In 2014 Arkansas converted 63.16%, opponents 22.22%
      2. In 2015 Arkansas converted 57.14%, opponents 45%
      3. In 2016 Arkansas converted 55.56%, opponents 61.54%

So to recap, as more and more players that Bret Bielema recruited see the field, we have become more penalized, lost the turnover battle, have allowed drastically more yards per carry while getting less yards per carry ourselves, and getting less tackles for loss. Our 3rd down and 4th down conversion percentages are dropping while opponents are increasing and we are getting worse field position on kickoffs.

So my question is this. To those who believe that Bret Bielema is the right guy for the job, what are you basing this on? What has he done at Arkansas that gives you optimism? What will he sell when he is at the Hot Springs Razorback Club this summer? A standout recruiting class? Come on now. I haven’t been following it closely, but I will go ahead and guess it will finish ranked somewhere between 23rd and 33rd nationally, 8th and 12th in the SEC. We will hear about how he has recruited speed and the guys that fit his system, however if I am not mistaken, I believe I read that half of our current commits to do not have offers from other SEC schools. I am not sure if that is true. I sure hope it isn’t.

So you tell me. Which way is this ship headed?

*** Disclaimer: All stats taken from cfbstats.com

Thanks for doing the research. The trend in a number of key stats is negative which is not what one would expect from a program being rebuilt successfully.

As unfavorable as the trend is, it will only have meaning for those who have questions about the leadership of the program.

Indeed - I look forward to responses from folks that feel things are headed in the right direction.

Me too. Let me add, I don’t think CBB is a bad football coach. Plenty of good football coaches turn out to be bad fits at places. Rich Rodriguez was a great coach at West Virginia, awful at Michigan, jury is out at Arizona. Mike Leach was great at Texas Tech, so-so results at Wazzu. Charlie Strong, Lou Holtz, etc.

Maybe CBB is just a bad fit at Arkansas. Maybe Arkansas needs an X and O guru (i.e Petrino) or a dynamite recruiter/CEO who surrounds himself with fantastic coordinators (i.e. Dabo)? It seems to me that CBB is a pretty good coach and an adequate recruiter. Thus far the results have been underwhelming IMO and I don’t like the statistical trends.

I’m looking for someone to sell me on optimism.

I think we need an x and o guru. Arkansas due to a variety of factors will never have the talent several SEC schools have at their disposal. The next coach must be someone with the proven ability to scheme it up with best of them to at least partially mitigate talent disadvantages.

Arkansas will never consistently compete for conference titles but it’s been proven 9 and 10 win regular seasons can happen on occasion with the right coach. In my judgment this coach will never achieve that at Arkansas.