A new day has arrived in Arkansas.
Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema only needed one game to show the Razorback Nation and the world of college football what’s in store under his watch in Fayetteville.
When Bielema left Wisconsin to take over the Razorbacks program, it seemed as if it would take awhile to put his footprint on the once-proud football program. That impression couldn’t have been any more wrong. It has seemingly taken all of nine months.
The former Badgers coach made it very evident on Saturday afternoon in his team’s 34-14 defeat of Louisiana-Lafayette that he is bringing his Big Ten smash-mouth power-running brand to the SEC this season.
Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney ran the rock 51 times for 292 yards, and controlled the football for over 37 minutes. The 51 rushes were the most in a game by the Hogs since their 50 rushing attempts in a game against Kentucky at Lexington in 2008, with most of the carries going to senior Michael Smith.
The Razorbacks established the running game and Bielema’s era at Arkansas with seven consecutive designed run plays to start the contest, but what they may have established the most was a dynamic duo to watch in year one under Bielema.
Sophomore Jonathan Williams and freshman Alex Collins combined to rush for 282 yards from scrimmage. Williams rushed 18 times for 151 with the game’s best highlight, a 75-yard scamper for a score. The highly coveted freshman Collins had 21 carries for 131 yards in the game.
They were the first duo to both reach 100 yards rushing since Darren McFadden and Felix Jones accomplished the feat in 2007 against South Carolina. Also, Collins became the first Arkansas freshman rusher to gain 100 yards since Pittsburgh Steelers‘ Jones against Missouri State in Fayetteville in 2005.
Both running backs have pushed each other through fall camp for more carries this season, but there is no doubt that these two have evolved Arkansas’s offense into a Rubik’s cube of their own skill sets in this first season of the running-oriented balanced offense.
Williams was the first Razorback to meet Bielema after his arrival in Fayetteville. The sophomore is a match made in heaven with the new offensive philosophy that was brought into Arkansas this winter. Williams is a powerful downhill runner who has that elusiveness that makes him threat on every snap of the ball.
The Allen, TX native brings some versatility as well, as he also possesses great pass-catching ability out of the backfield.
Collins, the top-rated recruit in Arkansas’s 2013 signing class, showed why he was considered by many as the best high school running back last season. He has that explosive style of putting on the jets, and has great ball-carrying tunnel vision for a true freshman.
He brings that quick burst into the game that could compliment Williams as a power back so well this season.
In Bielema’s seven seasons as Wisconsin’s head coach, he produced a 1,000-yard rusher every season, and a 1,5000-yard rusher four times. Wisconsin’s power-running game ranked in the mid-teens in the nation in the last five years, and had season averages between 200 and 245 yards per game.
If Bielema can establish that same running game with Williams and Collins, they could be one of the best running back duos in the country.
Better than McFadden and Jones? It’s hard to really say right now, but this tandem will already be the best that Bielema has ever coached in only one year’s time.