It’s always fun when we get to talk football with a fellow SB Nation blog, and Doc Harper was certainly no exception. He is one of the managing editors of the excellent Arkansas Fight, and was kind enough to spend a few minutes telling us a little more about the Razorbacks ahead of the first matchup between the Hogs and Frogs since 1991. With an all-time series record of 43-23-2, which includes 22 straight in favor of Arkansas, this rivalry revival should be a fun one for fans of the old SWC.
Arkansas, much like TCU, is replacing some big names on offense. Alex Collins was one of the most under the radar superstars at running back a season ago, and Brandon Allen was more than serviceable at QB. So how does the 2016 iteration of Arkansas offense compared to the power game of a season ago?
Stylistically, there's not much difference. It's still very much the power game that Bret Bielema is known for. The Hogs did lose some important pieces from last season as you mentioned, and the first game definitely suggested the offense isn't quite as potent as it was last year. Only scoring 21 points against Louisiana Tech was some cold water. That being said, the offense can be quite efficient. Brandon Allen's brother Austin is the new quarterback. Austin is said to throw a better deep ball than Brandon but didn't show that against Tech. He's also said to be more of a "gunslinger" but most feel he played pretty well in the opener. The receivers are all held over from last year and they're a very talented group. Jeremy Sprinkle is a candidate to win the Mackey Award at tight end. The running backs are young, and fans might have taken Alex Collins for granted a bit last year, but the new ones are talented. Rawleigh Williams had a solid game against Tech and got most of the carries. Whether or not Arkansas gives more reps to Kody Walker and Devwah Whaley is something to look for this week.
The Razorbacks have seemed to start slow out of the gate the last couple years, but wear out opponents as the season drags on. Is that a product of the style that they play, the schedule, or some secret super power possessed by Bielema? How many games do the Razorbacks need to win for the season to be considered a success?
That's the million dollar question fans have been discussing throughout the offseason. There are different elements to it. Last year, Arkansas suffered some pretty serious injuries early in the year and the right pieces to the passing game weren't really in place until midseason. They also committed an uncharacteristic number of penalties in the early games. Brandon Allen had a giant monkey on his back about coming through in the 4th quarter that he didn't get rid of until beating Auburn in overtime last October. At that point, Arkansas got some of the injured players back, Bielema dismissed a couple of talented but troublesome players, Allen's confidence was soaring, and the offense played at a very high level. That's really the story of last season. The defense stayed pretty much the same throughout. They struggled against spread teams early and late.
I argue the 2014 team didn't really start out slow. That team went to Lubbock and ran over Texas Tech in September. They played well in subsequent games even though they lost, but they still showed the ability to go on the road and win early on. I've heard it argued that Arkansas' physical style lends itself to success later in the season because opposing teams are more worn down then and less equipped for that sort of game, and that may be part of the November success, but it's not all of it.
I don't know how many games Arkansas needs to win. I think matching last season's 7-5 record is important, but which games Arkansas wins is just as important. Despite the mediocre records, part of the reason Bielema remains really popular in Arkansas is that he's won in November and his bowl games and beaten the likes of LSU, Ole Miss, and Texas among others. That helps him out a lot.
TCU and Arkansas haven't played in decades, with the last matchup coming in 1991. Through the SWC days, the Hogs dominated the rivalry, but obviously these are two very different programs today. How are fans looking at this home and home with TCU? Do they miss the rivalries with the now Big 12 teams, or are they glad they can claim the SEC? How do you expect them to travel to Fort Worth?
Razorback fans are definitely glad to be in the SEC. I'd say back when the Big 12 was more stable, there was a small contingent of fans who wanted to get into the Big 12 for Texas recruiting, closer road trips, the perception of an easier schedule, and the SWC history. But that's mostly all gone out the window with all the craziness the Big 12 has been through and the SEC making more and more money.
I think fans are pretty excited about the series. There's quite a bit of nervousness this year because I don't know how confident fans are coming off a disappointing performance against Louisiana Tech. But everyone knows TCU has been a high quality program under Gary Patterson and there's always excitement for playing good teams. I think Hog fans will travel very well to Fort Worth. I'd be surprised if Arkansas' allotment of tickets didn't all sell quickly. It doesn't take much to convince Hog fans to invade the Metroplex.
Who are a couple guys on offense and defense that TCU fans should know going into the game? Who do the Hogs need to step up on both sides of the ball to pull out a win?
Offensively, Jeremy Sprinkle at tight end will be highly involved. I can't pick out just one of our receivers. Drew Morgan, Jared Cornelius, Keon Hatcher, and Dominique Reed are all talented and experienced. Running back Rawleigh Williams is treating this game as a homecoming of sorts for himself, so he'll be extra motivated.
Defensively, Deatrich Wise is the reigning SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week. He's very talented and could be a high draft pick next year. DE McTelvin Agim is our 5-star freshman. I think Dre Greenlaw at linebacker will have to have a big game for Arkansas to win.
The SEC has moved more towards the spread offense in the last couple of seasons, but Arkansas probably doesn't see the speed of a team like TCU as regularly. How do you expect the Arkansas defense to hold up to the high flying attack of a Frog O that put up 50+ in their first game, though it was against an FCS opponent?
It's a big concern for Arkansas fans because the Hogs were really gawdawful against good spread teams last year. Almost everyone from last year is back so the hope has been that the added experience will make them better this year. They had some good and bad moments against Louisiana Tech, but injuries in the secondary are already taking a toll. The Hogs have lost two DBs for the year and another is dealing with a pulled hamstring suffered in camp a few weeks ago. So, yeah, it's a concern.
Did TCU's struggles against SDSU give Arkansas fans confidence going into the game this weekend, or are they more focused on the Hogs own struggles?
It probably helped a little bit, but most of our fans are more concerned about Arkansas' disappointing performance against the Bulldogs. If TCU had won by 50 there probably would be a little more despondency this week, but Hog fans do feel like they have a chance.
Final prediction time! What do you see as the final score, who will be Arkansas' offensive and defensive players of the game, and what will be the turning point?
After last week, I don't see Arkansas having the offensive explosiveness to keep up with TCU, and I don't expect Arkansas' defense to slow the Frogs down enough. I'll say, 38-28 TCU unless we learn that Bret Bielema was holding some things back last week. I'll say Dre Greenlaw on defense and Rawleigh Williams on offense.
Thanks again to Doc for answering our questions, and check out Melissa’s Q&A on Arkansas Fight, here.