Oddly, the Razorbacks’ 32-point loss to Alabama did not seem to sway fans on either side of whether Bret Bielema is the right man for the Arkansas job.
Bielema believers contend that despite falling behind 24-0 on the road against No. 1 in the country, Arkansas competed to the end, unlike at South Carolina.
Those who called for Bielema’s firing after the debacle vs. South Carolina remain vehement, arguing Alabama was on cruise control much of the night.
From there, the somewhat sad conclusion is that 41-9 was expected and acceptable — not bad enough to discourage one side or sufficient to encourage the other.
In fact, a friend with years in sports journalism, said that not once last week did he talk with anyone who thought the Razorbacks had a chance against Alabama. Same here.
By the way, the idea that Alabama has five-star athletes at every position is preposterous. There are a limited number of such prospects annually, Alabama has signed only 12 in the last five recruiting classes, and I am confident some are in the NFL. More importantly, Alabama signed about 100 four-star athletes vs. 29 for Arkansas during the same period.
In Tuscaloosa, against the nation’s best rushing defense, Devwah Whaley, Chase Hayden, and David Williams carried 17 time for 33 yards — losing numbers for an offense built to run first and throw off play action. Still experimenting with the offensive line, Frank Ragnow and Johnny Gibson manned new positions while Brian Wallace and Zach Rogers made their first start of the season.
The inability to run and the 24-point deficit resulted in 42 passes by Cole Kelley who did not appear intimidated by the opponent or the crowd in his first start.
Still, an effective running game is a must for Arkansas to beat Auburn on Saturday.
Meanwhile, referencing Bielema’s job security triggers a comparison with Tennessee coach Butch Jones since both were hired in December 2012 and Jones is likely to be canned unless the Vols beat Alabama this week. The apparent last straw for Jones occurred Saturday when Tennessee’s freshman quarterback threw incomplete from the South Carolina 2 on the final two plays of a 15-9 loss that extended the Vols’ streak to 10 quarters without a touchdown.
Most Arkansas fans let Bielema slide on his first-year record, so, since 2014, Jones’ record is 28-17, 12-15 in the SEC and Bielema’s is 24-21, 10-17.
Both were 5-3 in the SEC in 2015, the only time either team bettered .500 in conference play on their watch. In fairness to Bielema, Arkansas competes in the SEC’s stronger division.
One person’s opinion of the current hot-seat status of others in the SEC West:
——Warmer, Gus Malzahn, Auburn. Prior to the season, Malzahn’s job was supposedly in jeopardy. A 5-1 start and Top 10 ranking quieted the talk, but Clemson’s loss to Syracuse Friday night diminished the value of Auburn’s close loss to the defending national champion. Saturday night, Auburn led LSU 20-0, totaled 64 yards in the second half, and lost 27-23.
Jarrett Stidham, whose quarterback rating was 192 or better in three straight SEC games, was 9-of-26. Stidham is not an option quarterback and LSU concluded that Kerryon Johnson was not going to throw when taking snaps in the wildcat formation.
With Georgia and Alabama still ahead, Auburn can douse any flames around Malzahn. A loss Saturday is another story.
——Cooler, Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M. Freshman quarterback Kellen Mond completed long passes to set up two fourth-quarter field goals and the Aggies won by two at Florida. The previous week, they competed better than any team this season against Alabama.
——Ice cold, Ed Orgeron, LSU. Following a loss to Troy in Baton Rouge, the talk centered on Orgeron’s poor record at Ole Miss. After a meeting between the head coach, his coordinators, and the athletics director, the Tigers won at Florida and then rallied past Auburn. Consequently, fans are suddenly enthusiastic about Alabama on Nov. 11.
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: email@example.com