The sound of the school fight song. The thousands of screaming fans supporting their team. The traditions, the pageantry and the pride of two teams battling it out on the gridiron on a Saturday. This is what college football is all about. After months of hibernation it is back and bigger than ever. So fans fire up those grills for your tailgates and put on your school colors because college football season is here! Every week I will breakdown and preview the best matchup the Big 12 has to offer and for this week’s pick, I will be previewing the Arkansas Razorbacks taking on the (15) TCU Horned Frogs. Coverage will begin at 7 ET on ESPN from Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.
What’s At Stake?
A Big 12/SEC matchup? Yes, please. Anytime these two conferences tango, there is more than just a football game at stake. There is conference pride on the line and this week 2 matchup will be chalk full of it. Not to mention it is always fun seeing two contrasting styles on the field, as Arkansas is heavy run powered offense and TCU is a fast paced air raid assault.
For Arkansas a win over their formal SWC foe TCU would help show their fan base that their football season actually starts in September, as the hogs have been slow starting under Brett Bielema over his short tenure. Also a victory here would help their confidence before heading off to SEC play and every win counts towards bowl eligibility.
For TCU they need to show that last weeks’ sloppy win over South Dakota State was just some first game jitters. The Horned Frogs are one of the Big 12’s title contenders and a win here would flex their muscles to show everyone that they can be in the mix. As always, when an SEC team comes to town the victories are much sweeter and the defeats are bitter.
Calling the signals for the Hogs will be first year starter QB Austin Allen. Allen had a mediocre performance in his first start against Louisiana Tech. Allen threw 2 TDs and 2 INTs and forced the ball into tight windows at times. I will say whenever he needed to make a play for his team he certainly didn’t disappoint. At Running back Rawleigh Wiliams (5’10,223 LBS) and Kody Walker (6’2,240) will be the ones carrying the rock. Williams is the bell cow of this backfield as he carried the ball 24 times last week and Walker only had 6 carries himself. Devwah Whaley is the next RB in line, but only saw limited action in his first game.
Any pro style offenses first check down off the play action is the TE positon and this is exactly what Arkansas likes to do under Bielema. TE Jeremy Sprinkle is the Razorbacks best target in the passing game at (6’6) and absolutely tore it up last year finishing with 6 TD grabs in a span of 7 games. The wide receiver group is led by senior Drew Morgan. He may not be the most athletic guy but he simply gets to job done for this team. Alongside Morgan will be Keon Hatcher and Domique Reed will be nice go to options as well. Hatcher would have been the number one receiver for this offense if a foot injury didn’t cut his season short in 2015. Up front the Hogs will start the same five after struggling a bit at times last week. The starting five include LT Dan Skipper, LG Hjalte Froholdt, C Frank Rangow, RG (former Texas transfer) Jake Raulerson and Colton Jackson at RT.
The biggest question for this offense is the offensive line. They looked lost at times whether it was missed assignments or simply missing their blocks up front, it didn’t look like an Arkansas line. It is absolutely crucial to get this straightened out if your offense is based on the run game. When you’re not a strong passing team, you have to run the ball to set up the pass, and when you can’t run, you simply can’t pass. Bottom line is what is normally Arkansas’s biggest strength is right now their glaring weakness.
Defensively the Horned Frogs are usually very tough and gritty. This year hopes to be the same for the TCU faithful as leading sack returner DE Josh Carraway and DE James McFarland look to terrorize quarterbacks this fall. Carraway was a first team all Big 12 selection in 2015 and McFarland was hurt last season. In the middle DT Aaron Curry and DT Joseph Broadnex will need to hold down their own in run game to fill up the gaps. This group tried to get a pass rush but look a bit gassed as the game went on against SDSU last week.
At linebacker I expect Ty Summers to get the nod at one of the linebacker spots this week after a sub par performance by this unit. Summers played well last season filling in and did enough to have a starting role for this season. Alongside him will be LB Travin Howard, who had a good sophomore season as a first time starter last year or Montrel Wilson.
In the back end TCU will feature CBs Ranthony Texada and Jeff Gladney. Texada was outstanding his freshman year in 2014 but was injured for almost all of last year while Gladney was redshirted in 2015. The run stopping SS Denzel Johnson is a threat in the box and his teammates WS Nick ORR and FS Niko Small look to handle more of the coverage duties so he can help stop the run. Orr is a new face for the secondary as he saw time at special teams last season when Small was a full time starter at multiple positions for the Frogs.
The biggest question for this defense is the secondary and the linebacker spots. Last week the defensive line did a nice job against the run but did it seemed like they ran out of gas from the pace of the SDSU offense. The most concerning thing for this side of the ball was the missed tackles particularly at linebacker. There were simply too many of them. The secondary gave up some plays but it was due to the lack of pass rush at times but there were some coverage breakdowns. These miscommunications in the back end better be fixed before heading off into Big 12 play.
There no doubt that Arkansas will pound the ball again and again. Their style of play lulls you to sleep and makes you pay when you do with the play action. They love to be the most physical to dominate and wear out defenses but they do have their flaws. The Hogs will try to destroy the wills of the TCU defense with the run game but I think the Frogs are well equipped up front to handle it. I expect TCU to load the box and dare Austin Allen to let it fly to test the rookie QB. Arkansas struggles up front can really hurt their offense and TCU takes advantage of it. Bottom line, Gary Patterson has made a name for himself with good defensive play and I expect them to get back on track this week.
Leading the charge for this air raid attack is QB Kenny Hill. After shaking the dust off and starting in his first game in almost two years, he looked very good. He threw for over 400 yards and had 5 total TDs last week in a win over SDSU. When things broke down he did a nice job buying time and finding his open man. Hill did have a few ball placement issues when trying to hit his receivers in stride but that is expected in his first game back. TCU will use a plethora of running backs in Kyle Hicks, Sewo Olonilua and Darius Anderson. Hicks is the main back in as far as carries are concerned and Olonilua is the short yardage guy. Anderson is the wild card of this backfield. He runs and looks like a wide receiver in the open space but has the skill set of a running back. These three should all see carries in this contest in some shape or form.
Of course being a true passing team we have to talk wide receivers. Speedster KaVontae Turpin had a nice game last week and even returned a punt for a touchdown. Also the former JUCO standout Taj Williams looks a legit go to option as well as he had 11 receptions for 158 yards and a touchdown to help out. Rounding out the wide receivers are Emmanuel Porter (6’4’), Jaelan Austin (6’6) and Ty Slanina. Porter and Austin are good red zone targets and can really use their size to their advantage while Slanina is more of an underneath possession wide out. Up front the Frogs have a five consisting of LT Joespeh Noteboom, LG Patrick Morris, C Austin Schlottmann, RG Matt Pryor and RT Aviante Collins. Noteboom and Schlottman are very solid in their respective posisitons, but the other three need to be ready to go against a good defensive line.
The biggest question for this offense is the quarterback and the two guard positions. Hill did have a great game last week but in his past he has struggled with consistency from week to week. If that problem has been solved, then TCU should have nothing to worry about. As far as the two guard positions go, Morris is a first year starter and Matt Pryor is a big body but struggles against quick, athletic interior defensive lineman. Other than that the Horned Frogs look to be in pretty good overall shape and should be one of the best offenses in the country as expected.
The Arkansas defense, much like their offense relies all around their big boys up front. Luckily for the Hogs they have an outstanding veteran defensive front. All four starters from 2015 are back and you have to start with the two defensive ends Tevin Beanum and Deatrich Wise Jr. Wise Jr. was a monster last year tallying 8 sacks and was a leader for this team. Inside Taiwan Johnson and Jeremiah Ledbetter are the two DTs for this 4-3 scheme. The linebacker group features OLB Khalia Hackett, MLB Brooks Ellis, and OLB Dre Greenlaw. It all starts with MLB Brooks ellis who is a tackling machine totaling for over a 100 tackles last season and Dre Greenlaw was one of the best freshman defensive players in the country in 2015. OLB Khalia Hackett is the new man of the linebackers, as he saw very little time last season.
The back end of the Razorbacks defense features 3 retuning starters. At corner Jared Collins and Henre’ Toliver bring experience and physicality playing the run or the pass. These are two tough corners for any offense to play against. The safety spots will consist of FS Josh Liddell and the SS position is up for grabs at this point. Santos Ramirez and De’Andre Coley are battling it out for the starting role but both are very young and inexperienced.
The biggest concern for this defense is the two safety positions. Against an offense like TCU, your secondary will be tested all game long. If this defense has trouble getting a pass rush up front, then this back end will be the ones paying for it. Whether it’s Lidell and Ramirez or Lidell and Santos, they will be crucial helping out the cornerbacks that are facing a tough matchup with a loaded wide receiver group from Fort Worth.
While Arkansas will be busy running the ball, TCU looks to do the opposite. They want to get their athletes in space and if they do watch out. The Arkansas defense is very good in their front seven but their question mark is in the back end. The Hogs are better suited for a heavy rushing attack offense than a spread passing attack. TCU will create the matchups on the outside that favor the offense and gets their deep wide receiver group going. KaVontae Turpin’s speed is a mismatch for any defense but keep an eye on Taj Williams who had a breakout performance last week. The Horned Frogs have so many big targets that even when they are covered they have a good chance of pulling the ball in. TCU will get their fair share of points this game but will struggle at times because of the Arkansas pass rush.
TCU Wins If…
TCU wins if they can keep Kenny Hill’s jersey clean and if the defensive tackling cleans up. Arkansas has two good pass rushers up front with Beanum and Wise Jr. RT Aviante Collins will have his hands full throughout the game with these two, wherever they line up. If they can keep hill from taking big shots, he will find the time to make the right throws. Defensively TCU has to tackle better. Arkansas will run the ball 70% of the time and when you miss tackles in the run game, you will definitely pay for it.
Arkansas Wins If…
Arkansas wins if they can control the clock on offense and if they can generate a pass rush. If the Hogs are able to limit the amount of TCU possessions and keep the ball out of that explosive offenses hands, they should be in great shape. If Arkansas can make the game slow down, they will have a good chance of being in this game until the very end. The best way to stop an offense is to not give them the ball. Defensively the Razorbacks need to get into Kenny Hill’s mind. Make him think as much as possible with little time. If they can get consistent pressure with four up font it will give more coverage help for the secondary while forcing Hill to get rid of the ball early.
TCU is able to make big plays when needed. When the going gets tough, Kenny Hill is able to buy time with his legs and find the open man. The Arkansas defense isn’t able to keep up with the pace of this quick offense and tire out in the second half. Arkansas will do their best to control the clock with the ground game, but TCU has the physicality to shut it down for the most part. The Frogs beat the Hogs 42-28 and go 2-0 on this early college football season.
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