It’s been a long time since these one time rivals met up on the football field, 25 years to be exact. And when they put the ball in the air Saturday night, they’ll hardly recognize each other. So what will it take for the Frogs to come out on top of a game two and a half decades in the making? Let’s take a look at week two’s Keys to the Game.
TAKE THE TRENCHES:
The best battle of the night will come down to TCU’s vaunted defensive line verses the Razorback’s new look offensive line. Each is normally a position of strength for their respective teams, but with the Hogs replacing several starters along the front, as well as their QB and running back from a year ago, what was a position of strength seems to be a bit of a question mark in the (very) early goings.
For TCU, the talent is unquestionable, but the effectiveness is yet to be determined. The Frogs struggled to get pressure against Taryn Christion a week ago, partially due to a good performance by the SDSU line and partially due to needing to spy the Jacks run/pass attack, but eventually their depth wore down the Jacks and Curry, McFarland, Carraway and co were able to spend some quality time in the backfield. Austin Allen is known for his big arm, but his effectiveness drops off markedly when he has a man in his face. TCU has about eight men that should be hell bent on spending time right there. If the Frogs want to take the game, they first have to take the trenches.
SHORT AND SWEET:
One of the areas of the offense that was frustrating to me Saturday night was how often Kenny Hill dialed up the deep ball. I understand that the Frogs have a ton of small guys with insane speed, but all too often it seemed TCU was in second and third and long after misfiring on a kill shot. Gary Patterson said it best before the season, when he intoned that Kenny Hill needed to remember that he doesn’t need to do it all. If Hill can get the ball in the hands of his plethora of playmakers, they’ll do the rest to make him look good. Guys like KaVontae Turpin, Deante Gray, Ty Slanina, Taj Williams, Emanuel Porter, Jaelan Austin... get the idea?... just need a football and a little green and they are a threat to house it every time. I have no problem with keeping a defense honest by reminding them that you can and will beat them deep, but with the insane depth at the wide receiver position, just get the ball in their hands and let them do their thing.
I know it’s going to sounds strange, but Arkansas ain’t no South Dakota State. Okay, hang with me here. Obviously, the Razorbacks are the bigger, better, deeper team - but when it comes to offense, they won’t have near the success against the TCU D that SDSU enjoyed last Saturday night. The Hogs have a really nice compliment of receivers; seven different guys caught passes last weekend with Keon Hatcher leading the group after a six catch, 86 yard performance. But no pass went for more than 18 yards and QB Austin Allen averaged less than 10 yards per completion, throwing two picks against two touchdowns on only 29 attempts. Meanwhile, Taryn Christion dropped back to pass 30 times, had a long of 52, averaged 17.5 yards per completion, with three scores and no interceptions. This is as much an instance of game plan as it is pure talent - the Razorbacks want to line up big and beat you up front, not send a bunch of guys deep and try and beat you over the top. The deep pass has been the Frogs’ achilles heel through the Gary Patterson era; his defense is set to rush the passer, stop the run, and dare you to beat his guys consistently over the top. Sometimes, it doesn’t work (see Baylor, 2014), and sometimes it lulls opponents into doing something they aren’t comfortable with because you’re giving it to them (see the last time Patterson faced Bielema, in the Rose Bowl). All of that to say, if Arky does their thing and sticks to the power run game, using the passing game to keep the linebackers and safeties honest, Texada and co should be just fine in single coverage on the outside. But if ol’ Bret tries to challenge them over the top, the corners - and even more so the safeties - are going to have to play a lot smarter and better on the back end. I expect to see more of the Ranthony we all knew and loved in 2014, and less of the guy who got manhandled by the much larger (and supremely talented) Jake Wieneke a week ago.
Speaking of the safeties, I really miss Derrick Kindred.
Kindred wasn’t the biggest guy, but he was certainly the toughest and one of the smartest every time he stepped foot on the field. There is no shortage of talent in the secondary for the Frogs, who sport a trio of safeties who are short on size but have speed to spare. What they don’t have is a ton of game snaps at their current positions, and that showed in spades in the season opener. Patterson’s 4-2-5 is so reliant on have smart, heady guys on the backend who can make adjustments on the fly and get the guys in front of them lined up. It was obvious, especially through the first half, that the starters just weren’t ready to stop thinking and start reacting. Kenny Illoka’s expected return should help that, but he may not be back in the rotation by Saturday. GP inserted Michael Downing into the lineup in the second half - he doesn’t possess the physical gifts of Niko Small, but he knows the playbook - and that did seem to help settle things down. But for the most part, it was a very vanilla defensive game plan for a coach who loves to keep opposing offenses on their toes. There has been much talk of changes in the linebacking unit, as the undersized duo of Travin Howard and Montrel Wilson struggled to wrap up and make tackles. The pair, who are small for the middle, are perfectly proportioned for their natural position of safety - could we see them moved back to the back if Ty Summers and Sammy Douglas take the starting spots at LB? That could alleviate a lot of issues on the back end, but would decimate any depth in the middle.
KENNY HE DO IT AGAIN?
When Hill broke on to the scene two long seasons ago, Arkansas was one of the defenses that he laid absolute waste to, passing for 386 yards and four scores in a dramatic overtime win. Hill torched the Hogs deep, connecting on passes of 86, 59, 29, and 25 yards. He may an even better receiving corp in Fort Worth than he did in College Station, but this is not the same Kenny Hill from 2014. In some ways, that’s a good thing. But the rust was evident, especially in the first half, and the question remains if one game was enough to get his mojo back. Hill made several bad reads, a handful of bad decisions - two that led to picks - and was generally slightly off most of the night. It’s hard to nitpick the reigning Big 12 offensive player of the week on a night that saw him reach almost 500 yards of total offense, but he will need to be much sharper to beat Arkansas, let alone the looming conference competition. For Hill, it’s not about winning the game, it’s about making winning plays and let the slough of talented position players around him do their thing. I have confidence that he will do just that.