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Arkansas Football 2013 Season Review: Born to Run

Arkansas experienced a second straight lost year, but this one might have given hints about the future Bret Bielema sees for his program. Second in a series of team-by-team reviews of the 2013 season

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

There were only a handful of places where Arkansas placed in the Top 25 in the nation statistically in the woeful 2013 campaign, which ended with a nine-game losing streak and an 0-8 mark in SEC play. And that statistic points to the fact that, despite any offensive coordinator hirings or indications to the contrary, Bret Bielema seems to want his Arkansas teams to resemble the power-running squads of his Wisconsin days.

The Razorbacks ranked 21st in the nation in rushing yardage per game, churning out 208.7 ypg. (If you were wondering where else Arkansas ranked in the Top 25: fewest penalties per game, fewest penalty yards per game and net punting, presumably because they had a great deal of practice at the latter.) That reflects an enormous dedication to the run for a team that lost six games by double digits, including back-to-back games against South Carolina and Alabama that Arkansas lost 104-7 while running the ball a combined 61 times and attempting 38 passes. (Oddly, in the prior two games, which Arkansas lost "just" 75-43, they passed 79 times and ran 59.)

In fact, Bielema has led a complete reversal of the run-pass numbers from the Bobby Petrino Era (as, indeed, Bobby Petrino did after the Houston Nutt Era). In 2011, Petrino's last year at the helm, the Hogs passed the ball 471 times and ran it 412 times. Under interim head coach John L. Smith, who operated mostly with Petrino holdovers given the odd situation, the Razorbacks were even more pass-happy in a relative since, attempting 459 passes to 367 rushes. In 2013, the Hogs ran the ball a jaw-dropping 474 times while trying just 301 passes.

To put that in percentage terms: Petrino's last team passed the ball 53.3 percent of the time, which seems lower than you might think, and did so while winning most of its games. Bielema's first team ran the ball 38.8 percent of time, and it lost all but three of its games. (For comparison's sake, Bielema's last Wisconsin team passed 31.7 percent of the time in games he coached.) That would seem to be the start of a complete philosophical change.

Part of it was just good football sense. The quarterback play was erratic at best, with Arkansas quarterbacks completing 49.8 percent of their passes on the season. Meanwhile, Alex Collins -- who faced no small degree of trouble just to play football at Arkansas -- ended up being much of what Arkansas wanted him to be. Collins ran for 1,026 yards on 190 carries, averaging 5.4 yards a play and 85.5 yards a game. He was the top freshman running back in the country. Overall, the team gained 5.3 yards every time it ran the ball -- which means, given the way the passing game was going, leaning on the ground game was a logical response.

Given all that, it might take a while to determine whether Bielema is really going to keep pounding the ball the way his teams did in Wisconsin. And so what if he does? It would be hard to argue with the results based on one season, given that the Badgers won three straight Rose Bowl berths while he was in Madison.

But even so, Arkansas is going to need more success from its quarterbacks. There were some encouraging signs of improvement in the latter part of the season; the Hogs completed at least 56.2 percent of their passes in the last three games of the year, the only SEC games where they broke even. Those three games also marked Arkansas' three smallest margins of defeat in the conference. One can't help thinking there's a correlation.