FAYETTEVILLE — In the ashes of Arkansas dismaying last Saturday a 73,000-plus sold-out Reynolds Razorback Stadium losing, 28-7 to TCU, Coach Bret Bielema vowed changes before his Razorbacks play again.
The Razorbacks have a bye week plus next week to ready for their Sept. 23 SEC opener against the Texas A&M Aggies at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Kickoff has been set for 11 a.m. and the game will be broadcast by ESPN.
Bielema promised a new place-kicker, a streamlined wide receivers rotation, a complete offensive reevaluation and a defense finishing what it started when the Razorbacks next play.
Even acknowledging that Coach Gary Patterson’s now No. 20 up from 23rd ranked Horned Frogs are an experienced quick team both sides of the ball, Bielema never expected a three-touchdowns thrashing fraught with deja vu mistakes.
“Embarrassing,” Bielema repeated postgame in reference to place-kicker Cole Hedlund missing chip shot 23 and 20-yard field goal attempts after an offense, embarrassed by repeated red zone failures last year, bogged down upon achieving first and 10 at the TCU 11 late in the first quarter and first and goal at the TCU 3 late in the third quarter.
Even the defense, not giving up the big play like last year’s sieve but 10 of 14 times unable to prevent the Frogs from converting third down to first down, “embarrassed” itself, Bielema said.
TCU scored fourth-quarter touchdowns with 2:18 and 2:04 left spreading a 14-7 game into a 28-7 rout.
“Obviously defensively we played our tails off for three and a half quarters and then everybody gets their daubers down and feeling sorry for themselves,” Bielema said. “Those last two scores were just embarrassing.”
Casting aside the season-opening 49-7 rout Aug. 31 in Little Rock over the Florida A&M Rattlers of the lower tier (Football Championship Subdivision, the Razorbacks have been outscored 66-0 in the second halves of their last three games. They include the 28-24 and 35-24 losses closing the 2016 season outscored 17-0 and 35-0 in the second halves against Missouri and Virginia Tech and now TCU’s 14-0 second half.
“Since last January we really emphasized the way to finish games,” Bielema said Saturday. “That’s the not the group that I’ve been working with for the last six months. It’s definitely something that will be at the forefront of every conversation the next two weeks.”
Hedlund, as coveted a kicker coming out of high school in the country before redshirting as a freshman in 2014, started the 2015 and 2016 as Arkansas’ place-kicker but got supplanted by walk-ons both years.
This time Bielema virtually fired the junior on postgame radio.
“We’ll go for it every time or we have to find a new kicker,” Bielema said. “I’m done with this.”
Shortly thereafter to media, Bielema said, “We definitely have to find another option in regards to not going down that path again.”
Walk-ons Connor Limpert of Allen, Texas, the left-footed sophomore into his second season as Arkansas’ kickoff man, and freshman Blake Mazza of Plano, Texas are the options now despite Hedlund outperforming both in practice.
“What you see in practice is what you believe is going to happen,” Bielema said. “We have a kicker that was 95 percent all fall camp and the first two weeks of the season and then misses two kicks, especially the second one. It was a PAT (in length).”
Limpert had just been concentrating on kickoffs but for now gets his foot in the place-kicking door with Mazza.
“Obviously something is going to have to change,” Bielema said.
Unless his offense does better staying on the field and his defense does better job getting its opposition off the field, TCU controlled the ball 33:52 to Arkansas’ 26:08, defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads must play all defenders that are ready to play.
Starting junior linebacker Dre Greenlaw of Fayetteville must have played about the entire game making a game-leading 17 tackles.
However on the offensive side, Bielema believes too many receivers practice for enough sufficiently to be prepped for the games.
“ On critical downs we’re dropping balls,” Bielema said. “We’re not finishing routes and we’re allowing our quarterback to get hit a little too much.”
The line inevitably gets blamed when quarterback Austin Allen gets hit but that’s on receivers, too, Bielema said.
“I think guys weren’t separating ourselves,” Bielema said. “We’re trying to work too many people. We need to just concentrate on here’s our five wide receivers. These guys are going to play in the game. Decide who they are and get them the reps.”