Ole Miss takes on Arkansas Saturday morning at 11:21 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Special thanks to Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
PA: What’s it like covering Bret Bielema. It seems like he says whatever is on his mind.
Tom: That’s about right. He’s a gregarious, chatty, friendly sort. I’m hoping the SEC grind doesn’t wear the playful edges off of him. He doesn’t take tough questions as grumpily as Bobby Petrino or as weirdly as John L. Smith. He’s a Yogi Berra type who mixes metaphors and sometimes uses the wrong word, but one that is very close to what he means, in some of his references.
PA: What was the reaction among Arkansas fans to hiring a guy who had been so long at Wisconsin up in the Midwest to come to the SEC?
Tom: They unquestionably like his track record and what a Bielema team in full stride looks like. The question is, how long will it take to establish that at Arkansas?
PA: With so many Bobby Petrino players on this team why has Arkansas seemed to be so unproductive in the passing game? Has that been Bielema’s commitment to run the ball or talent or injuries?
Tom: The best receivers of the Petrino era are long gone and there was a continuous exodus of solid ones while he was here. If the Hogs just had Marquel Wade (dismissed) and Mekale McKay (transferred) they would have two electrifying playmakers. Instead, they’re a very common lot of 6-2 and under guys who lack jets.
PA: Is there a common theme to Arkansas’ turnovers? Minus-12 in SEC games.
Tom: he biggest problem is they’re not forcing any takeaways, or as defensive coordinator Chris Ash put it, they’re not violent enough. The Hogs have one SEC takeaway: a bungled South Carolina handoff. A couple of fumbles have come from receiver Keon Hatcher, and some of the interceptions are simply the product of youngish players still working through the kinks of a new offense. The schedule, with five consecutive games against ranked SEC opponents, followed by once-ranked Ole Miss, has done a transitioning team no favors.
PA: What is the support level for this group right now? Are fans indifferent or believing in better things at the end of this season?
Tom: Clearly fans were unhappy and grumbling about the combined 104-7 maulings by South Carolina and Alabama, particularly the 52 unanswered by the Gamecocks at home. Arkansas fans, however, do realize that Bielema inherited a down roster, a slow defense, a criminal schedule, and he’s changing the offensive culture. They’d like to be very competitive down the stretch and a win or two would help point toward the future.
PA: Talk about the young guys a little bit. What makes Alex Collins such a productive player so early, and how have the freshmen performed on the offensive line?
Tom: Collins has a bright, engaging personality to begin with, and on the field his best assets are lightning jump cuts, great vision and patience to wait out blocks. He’s got a great burst through gaps and his juking is wonderfully instinctive. What he lacks is fifth gear, the ability to out-run the last defender, a la a Knile Davis. The young guards Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland might well wind up at tackle. They’re raw and making mistakes here and there, but having a strong season learning the ropes. Defensively, true freshman linebacker Brooks Ellis (51) made his first start last week at the Mike and should play plenty of snaps on Saturday. Hogs coaches think they might have finally identified a long-term solution at MLB.