One-on-One With Bruce James: Hogs Still Have Bowl Chance


This week, the Pressbox Roundtable takes a week off while featured columnist Jim Harris goes one-on-one with Bruce James, the opinionated former Razorback defensive end great.  They talk about the Hogs reaching the midpoint of this season, the South Carolina game, and the troubles besetting Gamecocks All-American Jadeveon Clowney.

Jim Harris: Well, Bruce the last time we visited was in preseason, and what I distinctly remember is you were saying that your sources were telling you Auburn would be a lot better this season. I guess you’re right again.

Bruce: I don’t take credit, I’m just the messenger.

Harris: Well, let’s talk about the Hogs, because I know you’ve watched them closely. You said in the summer you didn’t expect a whole lot from this season simply based on the talent returning. What do you see so far with the Razorbacks at this halfway point?

Bruce: I really think that you can see a lot of effort and you see progression in the game against Florida, when they really stepped up and held Florida’s rushing attack down. Offensively, they are way better than I anticipated. Brandon Allen has shown — except when he was hurt and out — that he is more mature as a quarterback. He hasn’t had the opportunity in the past to really play against the SEC quality defenses. Frankly I think think the Razorbacks are way ahead of where I thought they would be at this point under Bret Bielema.

Harris: You pretty well said they would be 3-3 and this point …

Bruce: I said early on they would win 4 or 5 ball games, probably 5 ball games. Every game has pretty much gone what you expected. We played pretty doggone good football against Texas A&M and we had a shot to beat Rutgers and let it get away.

There hasn’t been any surprises to me as far as wins and losses.

Harris: It would seem like all this knowledge about what the Hogs had coming back was available to everyone and most people expected a tough season. Yet now, I’m detecting a lot of disappointment in the players, coaches and in the results when I read message board and listen to the talk shows. Why do you think that is.

Bruce: In all due respect, most fans know very little about football. They think if they played high school or junior high football that they know everything about the college game. They do poorly in studying the Arkansas opponents. It’s always been this way in this state. If Arkansas wins a game or two, then they are world-beaters, and if they lose a game or two, the coaches need to be fired. I don’t read message boards or listen to call-in shows because it’s comical to me they think they can come up with the solutions that would work in place of the guy they are paying $3 million to coach.

Harris: You are part of a call-in show, or at least a two-hour segment on talk radio with The Buzz every Tuesday. What about those callers, what do you detect from them as far as what they feel about the Hogs these days.

Bruce: The people that call in to our show, most of them understand I am going to call it as I see it, objectively, and I’m not painting a picture of the optimist. I’m going to say what I see. If you don’t want to hear it that way, you’re not going to call in or listen to what I say. The people I’ve talked to or my callers, understand the opponents a little bit of who we play, they know you have to have the talent and that we’re lacking in some key positions, particularly on the defense and at wide receiver on offense. I said from day 1, be patient this is not going to be an easy process. Judge this guy [Bret Bielema] in his third year.

Harris: You follow recruiting throughout the South as well as anybody in Arkansas. How did the previous coach, who favored a passing game, leave Arkansas so weak at receiver? Are you surprised?

Bruce: It seems like to me Bobby Petrino gave 69 scholarships to different receivers through his years here. I’ve never seen so many receivers taken in recruiting classes like we did. To not having a game-breaker, yes, it’s surprising …. I personally believe there were a lot of football players brought in by the previous coach that were not SEC quality. That’s on both sides of the ball.

Harris: Can this team still make it to bowl eligibility over these last six games?

Bruce: Yes, they can win enough but they are going to have to win a couple of games they are not supposed to. To do that they are going to have to play mistake-free football and win the kicking game, and that’s every phase of it — kickoffs, covering kickoffs, punts, covering punts, playing field position. We obviously have a very good field goal kicker [Zach Hocker]. By playing the style they want to play, by playing ball control and field position and playing the clock, we have the opportunity to beat some teams we’re not supposed to beat.

Harris: Do you see that beginning this week with South Carolina?

Bruce: It very well could begin this weekend. Homecoming is the perfect time to sort of redeem yourself after being hit in the mouth and not able to respond in the second half, like what happened at Florida.You swung and hit them in the mouth and they swung back and hit you in the mouth and you didn’t respond. Bielema has to find the mentally tough people to put in place to make that happen, and right now we don’t have a lot of mental toughness. That was exemplified last year. The previous coaching staff was out to confuse you, use smoke and mirrors, get someone out of position and score on you and outscore you. That’s what I’ve called it before, mamby-pamby football. It’s not being in a spot where it’s fourth and 3 and we’re running over right tackle and you’re not going to stop us. That’s mental toughness. Mental toughness is when you can go out and stop anybody from getting a first down and you can go out and get a first down when you have to , and they have to believe that.

Harris: What would be your biggest concern about the South Carolina game?

Bruce: The [Arkansas] secondary. Both of these guys [South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson] can throw the ball very well, especially the starting quarterback [Shaw] and he can scramble. When you have a scrambling quarterback, you’re going to have people wide open in the secondary and I think we’re poor in the secondary. We have so much room for the opponent to do things. Will our linebackers be able to cover the tight end? Offensively my concern would be, will we continue to give up the big play, a pick-six or a fumble at the wrong time.

Harris: You were an all-America defensive end in college. What do you see going on with South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney this year?

Bruce: I think Clowney is probably … he’s a fabulous football player that just has gotten so much press. He’s also probably getting a little advice about not getting hurt. You can’t play the game aggressively worrying about getting hurt. He’s unbelievable with his ability to disrupt a ball game because he forces a defensive coordinator to adjust to him and they have to build a game plan around him. I like the way he plays. He’s not a guy he’s projected to be now he’s certainly not lazy, but I think he’s concerned about something that could affect his big contract to come. I didn’t expect people to run at him and he’s constantly double teamed and sometimes triple teamed. It’s difficult for him to make big plays now but it also sets up other people on their defense to make big plays because of him, because the offense is overcompensating in blocking him.

Harris: Did Spurrier handle Clowney’s not playing last week the wrong way at first?

Bruce: Yeah, I think he did. And I think he recognized his mistake. He’s one of those guys that’s super charged all the time, a Will Muschamp kind of guy where his emotions get involve. When he corrected himself and said he overreacted some, he was correct. Clowney’s response was first class. What a classy young man when he said ‘That’s coach Spurrier, he’s competitive, he didn’t mean that.’ That explained the relationship between Clowney and Spurrier, that it’s good. And it was good Spurrier retracted it, and Clowney handled it quite well.

Harris: Before we wrap up, I want to ask you about James Street, the great Texas quarterback from the 1969 Arkansas-Texas game. He died suddenly last week and I know you attended his funeral. You guys had become friends in recent years. You probably got closer to James Street in the past few years than you did in that 1969 game (laughing).

Bruce: That’s probably true (laughing).

I got to know James Street for approximately seven years. Ironically it was at his funeral that I found myself just amazed what he really was about and meant to so many different people. So many different walks of life. Just about every social-economical background, from the elitist to the handicapped to not as fortunate, and he touched all of them. I can honestly say, getting to know James Street and to learn what he had done with his life after he had made some horrible, horrible choices early on and had gone to rehab, to turn his life around and do some many things for some many people … he made the people from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high and made them all feel special.

He had never told me he had a twin sister, and it was eerie how much they were alike. His five sons were there, I met them. They told me, most shocking to me, that they had no idea he had won every game he started at Texas. He never talked about his career with them. Two of his five sons had never seen the Big Shootout. Seeing what he accomplished and what he wanted to do was just a special thing.

Bruce James will be a guest of honor at a showing of the documentary “The Big Shootout” along with several former Texas players featured in the film on Friday, Oct. 18, at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. at The Arlington Hotel. James can be heard weekly on Tuesday from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. on KABZ-FM, 103.7, with Tommy Smith, David Bazzel and Roger Scott.

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