FAYETTEVILLE – Bret Bielema had a different demeanor when he took the podium to answer questions following Arkansas’ 48-22 loss at South Carolina last Saturday.
He wasn’t the angry head coach that met the media following the Hogs’ home loss to TCU, or the heartbroken Bielema fighting off tears while explaining his third overtime loss to Texas A&M.
On Saturday, Bielema just looked tired and not the least bit surprised by what he had just seen on the field.
Of course he wasn’t surprised.
His Arkansas teams are 0-16 when trailing at halftime and have been outscored 134-34 in the second half of their last five games against Power-5 opponents.
Those kinds of statistics give Hog fans very little optimism for the remainder of the season, especially with the Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2) visiting No. 1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0) on Saturday.
The most frustrating part for the fans is that Arkansas’ downward spiral comes in Bielema’s fifth year, and any positive momentum he had built in the 2014 season appears to be long gone.
It also comes at a time period in which the Hogs should be taking advantage of several positives surrounding the program.
LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and, to a lesser degree, Texas A&M, are all trending in the wrong direction lately.
The expansion of Razorback Stadium is impressive and will be completed just in time for the 2018 season.
The newly-released 2018 football schedule is Arkansas’ most favorable since the program joined the SEC in 1992, as the Hogs face a weak out-of-conference slate and don’t have a true road game between Sept. 23 and Nov. 17.
Throw in a 2019 in-state recruiting class that is expected to be one of Arkansas’ highest-rated in the Rivals.com era, and there are a lot of positives the Hogs could be capitalizing on these days.
Instead, they’re dangerously close to missing bowl eligibility in Bielema’s fifth year on the job.
Granted, injuries to some of the team’s best players, such as running back Rawleigh Williams, wide receiver Jared Cornelius and cornerback Ryan Pulley, have taken a toll on the Hogs.
Arkansas could also be without its starting quarterback when it takes on the Crimson Tide, as Austin Allen is questionable following a shoulder injury against the Gamecocks.
But as much as those injuries have hurt the Hogs, they’re no excuse for a soon-to-be 0-3 conference mark.
Having a fully healthy roster wouldn’t change the fact that Arkansas’ offense has completely lost its identity.
The same program that put its starting offensive line on the media guide cover two years ago now has the worst offensive line in the SEC. Arkansas has lost its ability to run the ball well enough to set up play-action passes, and Allen doesn’t get enough time to stand in the pocket and throw to a brand-new group of wide receivers.
Defensively, the new 3-4 scheme has had its moments, but few and far between.
The bottom line is Arkansas gives up 49 points-per-game against SEC opponents, an average that is likely to rise after facing an Alabama team that beat Ole Miss, 66-3, and Vanderbilt, 59-0.
The Hogs’ special teams haven’t exactly been very special, either.
It’s no secret that fans are running out of patience. Many, if not most, are already calling for a coaching change.
Bielema’s buyout – which remains at a staggering $15.4 million until January 1, 2018 – and the unwavering support from Athletics Director Jeff Long make it more likely that Bielema will return for a sixth season in 2018.
For the time being, the best case scenario for the Razorbacks would be to somehow turn things around and become bowl-eligible.
Just don’t expect that turnaround to begin this weekend.