Two very different teams take the field in a rematch of one of 2016’s more exciting games - can the Frogs come out of Fayetteville with a win? Let’s break it down.
The Hogs are very young on the offensive side of the ball, with only three seniors getting the starting nod (though a fourth shares the honors at running back), and an offensive line that features a true freshman and sophomore in addition to a pair of juniors and a single senior. That’s rare for Arkansas - in fact, right guard Ty Clary is just the second true freshman to start the season opener, and the former walk-on wasn’t even expected to play this year.
The Hogs dominated the line a season ago verses TCU, averaging 4.2 yards per carry across 43 attempts and keeping QB Austin Allen upright sans a single sack. The offense as a whole was extremely efficient, racking up 403 yards without a turnover and converting nearly half their third down situations.
The 2017 version of the Arky O has some major changes - Allen still drives the bus, but Rawleigh Williams, Drew Morgan, and Jeremy Sprinkle - who combined to collect 290 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Fort Worth - are all gone. Replacing them are Devwah Whaley and David Williams at running back (12 carries for 63 yards with 1 TD and 7-23-2 respectively verses FAMU), Austin Cantrell and Jeremy Patton at tight end (combined one catch for seven yards in week one), and a quartet of wide receivers who combined for seven catches in the blowout over Florida A&M. It’s hard to read much into a game plan in a 49-7 romp, and Bielema certainly played things close to the vest to keep TCU on their toes. But Arkansas doesn’t have the offensive depth that the Frogs do, especially at WR, nor do they appear to have a pass-catcher the caliber of Sprinkle or Morgan - though, that could be proven wrong.
Expect more of the same when it comes to how the Hogs roll when they have the ball - punish the heck out of the opponent by running right at you until you wear down, and sprinkle in the play-action game to try and catch DBs cheating towards the line. Keeping the runners inside their lanes and wrapping up on first contact will be huge for the Frogs, as well jumping out to a big lead early (they were down 13-0 at the half last year) and forcing the issue when it comes to the passing game for UA.
On the other side of the ball, both TCU and Arkansas completely shut down overmatched opponents, as the Frogs held Jackson State to nearly the same number of points as they themselves scored, while the Hogs kept the Rattlers out of the end zone until garbage time.
Unfortunately for Arky, one of their best defensive players, cornerback Ryan Pulley, is out for the year. That leaves true freshman - and one time TCU target - Kamren Curl lining up against some combination of Jalen Reagor, John Diarse, Emanuel Porter, et al. It will be a fascinating matchup to watch - as good as Curl will likely be (and that’s probably pretty good, considering GP wanted him in Fort Worth), true freshmen corners are inconsistent and prone to making mistakes. And with a lack of experience, and a true freshman behind him on the depth chart, Cumbie and Luper should make a point to go after the young player.
As noted above, the Frogs have got to stop the Arkansas backs at the point of contact, keeping them contained to short gains and preventing them from getting to the second level. Sammy Douglas had a huge game for TCU a season ago against these Hogs, with 17 tackles, so expect him to play a significant role once again. Between Douglas, Howard, Summers, and Evans, GP has plenty in the tank at linebacker, but it will be up to the defensive line - namely space-fillers Corey Bethley and Ross Blacklock, to keep them from getting there. Bielema is going to want to run right at that line, but it’s a much more daunting task with those two - as well as Chris Bradley and Joe Broadnax, filling the space. If the Frogs can get ahead early and force the Hogs to sling it around a bit more than they would like, expect big things from Ridwan Issahaku at safety and another solid game from Texada on the outside.
Man, who knows. After one game, there’s little cause for concern or excitement by either fan base when it comes to the kicking game; the Frogs didn’t attempt a field goal Saturday against Jackson State, though Jon Song looked solid in the XP department and Cole Bunce was decent in the kickoff game. Punter Adam Nunez didn’t show off a big leg, but I would expect him to be better this week.
The most interesting question will be: does Arkansas even give KaVontae Turpin a shot at a return? After he single-handedly willed the Frogs back into the game in Fort Worth, I am guessing they kick away from him at every shot - which could mean some short fields for the Frogs.
Tale of the Tape:
TCU WR vs Arkansas DBs: Kamren Curl will have a lot asked of him Saturday night, facing off against experienced WRs like John Diarse, Emanuel Porter, and Jaelan Austin on the outside in addition to true freshman Jalen Reagor. But it’s the slot that’s the most interesting to me - how do you defend those five players AND Desmon White, Ty Slanina, KaVontae Turpin, Shaun Nixon, and Kenedy Snell? And oh yeah Kyle Hicks. Don’t forget about Darius Anderson, too. The Frogs have so many weapons that you end up with a linebacker on a waterbug and the Frogs’ waterbugs are going to win that battle more often than not. With the 3-4 defense Arky is employing, you are asking a lot of ‘backers that are bigger than what we see in the Big 12, and they might be a step slow all afternoon.
TCU DL vs Arkansas OL: Three new starters for the Hogs, including a true freshman walk-on; this ain’t your daddy’s Arky O-Line. While still a collection of massive human beings, it’s a far less experienced group than a year ago, and GP should take advantage of that by employing some creative techniques and blitzes. And if TCU builds a two score lead at any point, those boys are going to make it a long day for Austin Allen.
Kenny Hill vs Austin Allen: Speaking of Allen, he might not exactly be a bus driver behind center, but he is far from the sizzle and flash of Kenny Hill. Of course, it was the sizzle that all but cost the Frogs the game a season ago, and Hill is being asked to be more Allen than Manziel in 2017. Whichever QB throws the cleaner game will likely take home the W, and while Hill is being asked to play more within himself, that doesn’t mean that Cumbie and Luper don’t want to see him take off and run. He can impact the game positively in that regard in a way that Allen simply cannot, and the quarterback scramble may be the difference in this game overall.
Man, I don’t even want to do this. I think we are in for another wildly entertaining game, and another close one, to boot. But the difference this year is the mentality of the Horned Frogs, an older, wiser unit with a big ol chip on their shoulders and the talent to live up to it.
All that being said... give me TCU over Arkansas by a final score of 37-31. Go Frogs.