By David Brandt
The Associated Press
HOOVER, Ala. — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema brought some fire to Southeastern Conference Media Days on Wednesday, saying his deliberate style of play is “normal American football” and that the new trend of hurry-up offenses makes players tired and can lead to more injuries.
The first-year coach, who was hired away from Wisconsin during the offseason, responded to first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who earlier in the day said that he first thought criticisms of hurry-up offenses were “a joke.”
Bielema countered that he wasn’t a comedian and passionately defended his position, saying college football has changed rules when trying to improve safety.
“All I know is this: there are times when an offensive player and a defensive player are on the field for an extended amount of time without a break,” Bielema said. “You cannot tell me that a player after play five is the same player that he is after play 15.”
When an offense is running a hurry-up, no-huddle, it makes it much more difficult for the defense to substitute. It’s a tactic that is successfully used by several of the league’s newer coaches, including Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze and Malzahn.
Arkansas and Auburn play on Nov. 2.
Bielema is trying to revive a program still reeling from the Bobby Petrino debacle in 2012. The Razorbacks had a 4-8 record last season and likely won’t be expected to do much this season, either.
“I do excel in situations where people think very, very little of us,” Bielema said. “For those of you that want to, vote us lower. I mean that with all my heart. Then just sit back and watch.”
Bielema’s passionate personality has already won over his players, including center Travis Swanson, who is on the Rimington Trophy watch list. The Razorbacks return four starters on offense and eight on defense.
“He’s definitely not afraid to tell you what he thinks,” Swanson said. “He’s not afraid to stand up for himself or his team, which is good for us.”
Swanson said he doesn’t mind if the Razorbacks are viewed as underdogs.
“We’re not waiting three years to be successful. We’re going to be successful this year,” Swanson said. “A lot of teams are looking at us as having an underdog type of role, which we’re embracing, but with the success we’ve had in spring ball and summer and the foundation we’ll lay down in fall camp, I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people.”