In the post-mortem following LSU’s boot-kicking 38-10 win Saturday night, Brett Bielema stomped all around one particular issue.
Without specifically mentioning it, he made it pretty clear Arkansas is short on talent when it comes to stopping the best teams in the SEC West.
“I thought we prepared very, very well,” he said later. “Probably been some of our best preparation from Sunday to Saturday.”
To decipher that bit of coach-speak, the Razorbacks simply didn’t have the talent to implement the planning. For coaches, that is the biggest head-scratcher they ever have to face.
It didn’t help the Tigers changed head coaches. For the past two years, LSU lost to Alabama, then proceeded to lose a few more in the hangover following that loss.
Les Miles was a lot of things good as a head coach. But he also tended to suffer the same emotional letdowns his players did.
Miles probably wasn’t fired because Alabama beat them every year. He was fired because that loss caused two or three losses.
Ed Orgeron wasn’t going to suffer the same fate.
“They were very motivated and played very well today,” Bielema said. “However they came about that I’ll leave that to them to comment.”
“We had heard all the stuff,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said after the game. “This is a new team, a new mindset. We do things different, we act different and you saw that tonight.”
As it usually does, talent proves itself in the final result.
Over the last four recruiting classes, Arkansas has placed sixth in the SEC West, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings. Ignore the national rankings. It only matters how well you recruit within your own conference division.
LSU has finished second.
The four teams Arkansas has lost to this year were higher. Ole Miss was fourth over that time frame and Arkansas won that game.
Next year might be different.
Rebels coach Hugh Freeze feels he’s now lost to Arkansas three straight years when his team had the better players and he wasn’t able to get them focused for any of those games.
The flip side to that is the Hogs have lost four years in a row to Mississippi State, this week’s opponent that more or less showed up and went through the motions against an Alabama team that may be among the best ever in college football.
All week long in Starkville, you got the impression Dan Mullen wasn’t going to let a loss to the Crimson Tide cost them the game against Arkansas. For whatever reason, Mullen and his staff have had a good read on Bielema the last three years.
What Bielema may be coming to the realization is that what he wants to accomplish at Arkansas isn’t possible without him making some adjustments in his thinking.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Nick Saban said two weeks ago that his philosophy has changed dramatically over the last four years. The evidence is a mobile quarterback that can make plays with his feet in addition to his arm.
The Crimson Tide are doing it this year without a superstar running back, a freshman quarterback that only makes plays and a defense that is built on speed.
Speed is becoming a necessity now to win in college football. Many of the players that made up his 2009 national championship team would not even be recruited by the Tide now.
Speed is the first ranking, size is second.
The lack of it is costing the Hogs.
“We definitely have to look at what we’re doing,” Bielema said.
With all of the NCAA restrictions on time coaches can keep players at practice, a lot of the work on fundamentals gets left out. To make up for that, coaches like Saban and Urban Meyer in particular have discovered that speed makes up for a lot of mistakes.
Never was that more evident for Arkansas than Saturday night when LSU running back Derrius Guice broke free on a 94-yard scoring run. Arkansas defensive back Santos Ramirez gave chase but the only thing he accomplished was watching Guice’s No. 5 get smaller as he ran away.
Bielema may not say it, but that should never happen.
At the worst, the defensive back should be able to get close enough to dive at his feet. Ramirez, who never gave up, simply couldn’t get close enough to do that.
In the areas Bielema can consistently get players from — Arkansas and Texas — the best available players are fast, but not big. They have played in a spread-type offense and the best quarterbacks are mobile quarterbacks.
It might be the direction Bielema may have to start considering.
Stepping back and looking at the big picture, he was just beaten by the guy who replaced the most recent SEC coach that refused to change from a straight-ahead approach.
Miles averaged 10 wins a year for 11 years. He was fired because of a lack of improvement (oh, you can argue particular specifics, but that’s the bottom line). The trendline was not good.
Bielema’s trend line is dropping this year. In the SEC, his win totals are 0-2-5 in his first three years. The best he can do this year are 4 wins.
In today’s world of college football, you know what you have in 3-4 years with a coach and his system. What you have at the end of year four is pretty much what you’ve got going forward unless there is a radical change in something.