With Arkansas tied 14-14 with No. 16 Mississippi State at halftime, the Razorbacks coaches decided during the break to be aggressive on the next 4th-and-short opportunity whenever it arose.
That opportunity came at a critical time in the fourth quarter. And it didn’t go Arkansas’ way.
With the game tied at 21-21, the Hogs had 4th-and-2 from their own 44 with 3:18 to go in the game. Instead of punting and forcing Mississippi State to drive further for a potential game-winning field goal, Bret Bielema and his staff wanted to stay true to their halftime vow.
They did. And the play-action pass call fell incomplete. Nine plays later, Mississippi State scored a game-winning touchdown for a 28-21 win.
“We made the decision at halftime that the next critical down, short yardage down that we were going to go for it,” Bielema said via HawgSports.com. “We said the night before — last night that we were going to do everything we can to win this game. We’re going to do everything we can to keep swinging and keep fighting and obviously that was an example of it.”
The play, Bielema said, was a play-action version of a run the Hogs had success with twice previously in the first half. Obviously, the team felt it could capitalize on Mississippi State players biting on the run.
It’s hard not to look at the result of the play — and what happened after the play — as a perfect example of Bielema’s tenure with the Razorbacks. The loss dropped Arkansas to 4-7 on the season and out of bowl contention. And it moves Bielema’s record to 29-33 as the coach of the Razorbacks.
When Arkansas hired Bielema five years ago from Wisconsin, his arrival was considered a coup by athletic director Jeff Long. In seven seasons with the Badgers, Bielema had kept the team as a Big Ten power and was 68-24.
While Arkansas finished above .500 in each of the past three seasons, Bielema hasn’t won more than eight games in the competitive SEC West. And, despite the presence of Alabama, LSU and Auburn in the division, Arkansas fans want more — much like Texas A&M fans do.
Wednesday, Long was effectively fired from his job as athletic director, a move that’s only increased the speculation that’s swirled around Bielema’s future with the school since October.
If Arkansas moves on from Bielema — who referred to Long’s departure as “outside noise,” it’s in a bit of a dilemma. Typically athletic directors like to hire their own coaches. Unless Arkansas makes an unlikely move for a permanent athletic director within the next few days, a new athletic director would be inheriting a coach just hired previously.
And if it made the decision to find a new coach, it would join a crowded SEC field of schools looking for new coaches. Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee are all under the directon of interim coaches and will look for new coaches for 2018. And there’s no telling what will happen at A&M, even if the Aggies finish the season 8-5. Arkansas is far from being in an advantageous position if it wants to get a new coach.
We’ll see what happens over the next couple weeks.
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