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Ex-OU coach talks up Bielema's program

FAYETTEVILLE -- Addressing Wednesday's meeting of the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club at Mermaid's Restaurant, retired Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops stuck up for a coaching colleague, Arkansas' Bret Bielema.

The steady progress Bielema made -- from 3-9 in 2013 to 7-6 and 8-5 the next two seasons -- took a slide in the 7-6 season of 2016, when Arkansas lost to Missouri and Virginia Tech after leading at halftime. It continues with a 2-3 start including 0-3 against two Southeastern Conference teams, Texas A&M and South Carolina, and the Big 12's TCU.

Losing 48-22 as twp-point favorite over South Carolina has ignominiously zoomed Bielema to the top of the various Coaches Hot Seat websites on the internet.

Well, Stoops recalled of the last team he coached, his 2016 Sooners started 1-2 and finished 11-2 capped by whipping Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.

"We lost to Houston and Ohio State and everybody said, 'The sky is falling in Norman, Oklahoma," Stoops said. "We can't do anything and we'll be lucky to be .500 and we go on the longest winning streak in college football last week. (The 4-1 Sooners under new coach Lincoln Riley were upset last week by Iowa State.) So give it time. I think coach Bielema is an excellent coach and has a lot of good coaches around him."

Bielema and Stoops have some common roots as University of Iowa players, though not in the same time span, under retired coach Hayden Fry and each, again at different times, coached at Kansas State under Bill Snyder.

Mark Stoops, one of Bob Stoops' brothers and the head coach at Kentucky, and Bielema coached together at K-State under Snyder.

"I know Bret very well," Stoops told media immediately after his address to the audience. "He's close friends with my youngest brother, Mark. Bret's a lot younger than me but we've been around a lot of different functions together and are good friends. I believe in him. He's an excellent coach so I hope they can finish the year strong."

What's his message to Arkansas fans for hope this situation can be turned around?

"Just that things can be turned around," Stoops said. "I've said to this group we started 1-2 a year ago and ended up winning the Sugar Bowl and ended up fifth in the country. So, you know, you've just got to have some patience and keep improving through the season and understand, too, when you lose some key people in some key spots it makes it harder and tougher on you but you keep trying to recover and they will."

Hard to see an immediate Arkansas turnaround with Saturday night's game against top-ranked Alabama looming. Kickoff is 6:15 p.m. on ESPN at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

However, though not the 30-point underdog that Arkansas has been deemed Saturday, Stoops' 2013 Sooners were definite underdogs when they stunned Nick Saban's Crimson Tide, 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl.

"The key to our game with Alabama was our ability to throw the football," Stoops said. "We threw the football really well in that game and made a lot of plays through the passing game. And then other parts of the game were strong enough to hold up and we were able to win it."

Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen threw an amazing 400 yards and three touchdowns against Alabama last year, but defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick picked off three passes and Alabama prevailed 49-30, the 10th consecutive time that Saban's Tide beat Arkansas.

Allen went into Wednesday night's practice hoping to increase his activity from Tuesday's limited workout after missing the fourth quarter of the South Carolina game with an injury to his throwing shoulder.

Sports on 10/12/2017

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