FAYETTEVILLE — Forget any kind of pressure cooker environment for Bret Bielema’s debut Saturday as Arkansas Razorback coach.
This was convection oven.
The heat index registered at 121 degrees by the 3 p.m. kickoff.
One colleague noted it was a late-arriving crowd. Or an early toasted crowd.
Sure, everybody was in whatever shade they could find, including those in the open-air press box, where the covered upper regions were very popular.
On press row, it felt like when you first entered a sauna. There is usually plenty of hot air in a press box. This was natural.
You could fry bacon on the sidewalks.
Water and refills were free in Reynolds Razorback Stadium — about the only thing they didn’t charge for.
Bret Bielema’s coaching career for the Razorbacks began with as high of temperature as he has raised hopes for Razorback fans.
You could tell early this was a big deal to Louisiana-Lafayette. When the players first walked into the stadium, several were taking pictures and posing for some with their cameras.
The Cajuns didn’t seem fazed by the moment. But, as it became slightly overcast as the game progressed, the Hogs turned up the heat.
They were physical and efficient.
Efficiency in the heat transformed into a cool effort.
The Razorback offense was nicely in tune in the 34-14 victory,
The defense made enough plays, got pressure and raised questions but answered a few against a decent offense with an experienced dual-threat quarterback. When the defense settled in, it caused some problems. It will run to the ball and be physical.
But the Hogs were never out of control.
Many fans, particularly on the sunny side of the stands, left for more shady (and possibly more lubricated areas) with UA leading 20-7 at the half. More departed at the end of three quarters.
A lingering question was why Bielema wore a turtleneck and long-sleeved windbreaker on a sweltering afternoon. Windbreakers, whatever the weather, are his game-day attire.
Fashion didn’t matter. The solid, dominating victory gave Hog fans hope and restored some faith.
Bielema’s honeymoon year officially began in a tropical setting.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd)