COLUMBIA, Mo. • Two Southeastern Conference teams went winless in league play last year. In different ways last Saturday, Arkansas and Kentucky signaled their bottom-feeder days are over.
The Razorbacks played the road-grading style at Texas Tech that second-year coach Bret Bielema has envisioned since he left Wisconsin for Fayetteville. Arkansas slapped Texas Tech around for 438 rushing yards in a 49-28 victory.
Kentucky, which hasn’t won a conference game since 2011, took Florida to three overtimes in Gainesville before costly mistakes caught up in a 36-30 loss.
Neither team looks like the pushovers of seasons past. In Bielema’s debut season last fall, Arkansas struggled to control the line of scrimmage against quality foes and couldn’t always run Bielema’s favored ball-control brand of offense, especially when falling behind early. They had no trouble in Lubbock as running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined for 327 rushing yards and six touchdowns, in 49 carries. The Hogs possessed the ball for more than 40 minutes.
Bielema stopped short of calling the road win a turning point for his program. Instead, he compared it to a 2010 Wisconsin win at Michigan, when the Badgers ran the ball on 29 consecutive plays and threw just one pass in the second half. (Rose Bowl-bound Wisconsin won that game by nearly the same score, 48-28.)
Otherwise, Bielema wasn’t interested in defining what could be remembered as a milestone win.
“There’s been games in my past when you accomplish something and then you move on, because that’s what coaches and players do,” he said. “As fans, as writers, maybe as administrators, you can kind of sit back and digest it during the week, but as coaches you just need to move forward.”
Bielema might want to hide his eyes before looking too far ahead. After hosting Northern Illinois on Saturday, Arkansas faces No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 3 Alabama and No. 13 Georgia in a four-week span.
As for Kentucky, the Wildcats didn’t take any solace in their blown opportunity at Florida — UK had lost 27 straight to the Gators — and the team’s response reflects the new standards second-year coach Mark Stoops has established.
“Our team was hurt by the loss, as they should be,” said Stoops, whose team turned the ball over three times and missed a 41-yard field goal in the third overtime. “We put a lot into it. We prepared hard. We went in with a strong mindset. We just didn’t get it done. That’s painful when you come so close.”
Stoops declined to comment on a controversial play in the first OT period when Florida threw a fourth-down touchdown pass after the game clock expired — at least, according to Stoops. The SEC later reviewed the play and said the officials were correct not to flag Florida for delay of game.
“There’s nothing I can say to that,” Stoops said. “I’m just going to get myself in trouble. … That’s one play, one circumstance in the game. We had many other opportunities to win that game.”
NO MERCY FROM SABAN
It’s mentor against apprentice Saturday in Tuscaloosa as Alabama’s Nick Saban meets his former coordinator, Florida coach Will Muschamp, who coached under Saban at Louisiana State and with the Miami Dolphins. That doesn’t mean Saban will take it easy on his old protege, whose job security isn’t the strongest these days.
“It’s never personal for me when it comes to the opponent,” Saban said. “I never try to make it personal. We compete against each other and we’re still friends. That’s the way it’s going to be. I never like to see anybody not be able to continue to do the things they worked hard to do for a long time. I personally think Will’s done a really good job. He was dealt a tough hand and got a lot of players hurt last year, which affected their season. And I think they have a really good team this year.”
EASY TO SECOND GUESS
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo made himself an easy target for second-guessing last weekend when he called a play-action pass on first and goal on a late drive at South Carolina —instead of giving star running back Todd Gurley a chance to slash through the Gamecocks.
On first down from the 4-yard line, quarterback Hutson Mason was flagged for intentional grounding as he tried to avoid a sack. Two plays later, Georgia missed a field goal and lost by three points.
Bulldogs coach Mark Richt, who for years called plays as Florida State’s offensive coordinator, deflected the criticism.
“I don’t blame (fans) for questioning what happens,” Richt said. “Most times if you could stop the game and take a poll of all the fans and say, ‘Hey, we’re about to call this play. What do you all think? We’re going to run it for this reason and that reason because we studied film all week.’ … Most people before the play would say, ‘Call that sucker. Let’s go.’ If it didn’t work they’d have some ownership of it. But all they have is hindsight. Well, gosh, anytime someone’s not successful they’ll wonder why and be critical.
“Earlier in the game we called a play-action pass and it went for a touchdown. Everyone cheered and thought it was great.”
GAME OF THE WEEK
Auburn at Kansas State, 6:30, tonight, ESPN
They’re separated by more than a quarter century, but still are considered two of the game’s great coaches. Just don’t count on Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, 48, to coach when he’s Bill Snyder’s age. The longtime K-State coach turns 75 next month.
“You know, this college football ages you in dog years,” Malzahn said. “The fact that Coach Snyder’s doing it, and he’s very, very successful at it, it’s very impressive.”
1. Texas A&M (3-0, 1-0)
2. Louisiana St. (3-0)
3. Auburn (2-0, 1-0)
4. Alabama (3-0)
5. Georgia (1-1, 0-1)
6. S. Carolina (2-1, 1-1)
7. Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0)
8. Missouri (3-0)
9. Mississippi St. (3-0)
10. Florida (2-0, 1-0)
11. Arkansas (2-1, 0-1)
12. Kentucky (2-1, 0-1)
13. Tennessee (2-1)
14. Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1)