TCU Football, of course, is not unfamiliar with the Arkansas Razorbacks, having competed with them for decades when both were members of the Southwest Conference and in a home and home affair just a few short years ago.
But these ain’t your momma’s Hogs, and the team that Sam Pittman is building is big, strong, and tough.
And, if most importantly to Gary Patterson, “they play hard.” In the first press conference of bowl week, Patterson spoke of playing Pittman — someone he knows a bit from past stops and the recruiting trail — and playing Arkansas, with whom there are a lot of crossovers with. “One of those games I most wanted to play because I know a lot of the guys on their staff. Pittman has done a great job, Arkansas plays hard — I’ve watched them several times on TV. Like us, they’ve kind of have resurgence.”
The Razorbacks score just 25 points per game, which puts them about in the middle of the pack for the SEC in what was undoubtedly, a down year for the conference. Led by Florida transfer Feleipe Franks, the Hogs have a pretty explosive offense, passing for an average of 240 yards per game and averaging over 13 yards per reception. They convert over 90% of their red zone opportunities into points but just 70% into touchdowns. Led by ol’ Tape Fingers himself — Kendal Briles, son of that despicable human being who made residence just 90 miles south of TCU — the Razorbacks run a high tempo veer and shoot, a scheme heavy on speed, wide splits, and physicality from the running backs (if you want an in-depth look at what to expect on the offensive side of the ball Thursday night, this 247 article from his time at FSU is great).
Patterson and a Briles’ offense matched wits several times throughout the last decade, playing six times when the elder was at Baylor. Patterson split the series 3-3, with the Frogs’ defense allowing 34 points per game; over that same time span, TCU Football allowed just over 21 points per game overall. So, it’s safe to say, the Briles’ offense has certainly giving TCU some trouble. That being said, Pittman and Briles are in year one of what will be a massive rebuild — the Razorbacks were left in bad shape by the previous two regimes, winning just eight games total from 2017-2019. And the history showed in 2020 — the offense got fat off of bad defenses and struggled to score when they played the better units in the conference (10 points against Georgia, 35 in a blowout at Florida — mostly of the garbage time variety, and three in the finale against Alabama).
As previously mentioned, Franks is the engine for this unit, and has been a bit up and down in his first year in Fayetteville. Though he threw for 17 touchdowns, five of those game in the blowout by the Gators, but he did pass for over 2,100 yards and completed better than 68% of his passes — the fifth best mark in the league. Franks is a threat with his legs as well, averaging more than 20 yards per game on 105 attempts. But the offensive line hasn’t helped much, allowing 34 sacks in 10 games, something that should have Ochaun Mathis and Khari Coleman licking their chops.
The lead running back is Trelon Smith, a talented redshirt junior who averages more than five yards per carry and 70 yards per game. Rakeem Boyd is the other half of this dynamic duo — both of whom hail from the Houston area — adding 44 yards per game himself and 3.8 yards per carry. The Hogs crest the 150 yard per game mark on the ground, and relying on the rushing attack to set up the passing game. It’s there that Franks looks to get Treylon Burks involved, a 6’3” 232 pound sophomore that made several award watch lists on his way to establishing himself as one of the top pass catchers in the conference, with 820 yards and seven touchdowns. With a big height and weight advantage on Trevius Hodges Tomlinson, this matchup will be one of the biggest keys to success for the Horned Frogs’ defense.
Sam Carter is a rising star in college football coaching, and one of the bright spots for the Razorbacks. The former Frog was a coach on the field for Gary Patterson from the safety position, and one of those kids you just knew was going to end up back on the sideline when his playing days were through. As the secondary coach for the Hogs under Barry Odom — who he followed from Missouri — he has instilled confidence and swagger to a unit previously short on both.
the Razorbacks’ defense is not without its struggles; the Hogs allow 35 points per game, one of the worst marks in the country (99th overall). Three of the SEC’s top five tacklers are Hogs — maybe because they have so many opportunities — as linebackers Grant Morgan and the fabulously named Bumper Pool check in at first and third with 111 and 101 tackles respectively, and former TCU target Jalen Catalon is fourth with 99 stops from his defensive back position. The team as a whole struggles to generate pressure on the quarterback, with just 14 sacks on the season, but they’ve picked off opposing passers 14 times, which is tied for the best mark in the conference this year. Their 33 pass breakups are also in the top five of SEC defensive marks. Hudson Clark and Catalon are a formidable duo in the secondary; they’ll have their hands full with Quentin Johnston, Derius Davis, and co, but should be more than up for the challenge.
Another weapon for the Hogs D? Punter Reid Bauer, who averages 43.5 yards per punt, has downed ten inside the 20 yard line, and has boomed eight kicks more than 50 yards with a long of 62.
This is really, in a lot of ways, a terrible game for TCU. If they win? Well, they beat a three win SEC team, big deal. If they lose? Well, they lost to a three win SEC team, furthering the narrative that the SEC in the best conference ever in history and the Big 12 is just stuck at the little kids’ table for all eternity.
That being said, where this game really matters is recruiting, as these two programs have battled it out for several big names over the last few years. The Frogs absolutely need to take this one home in Houston, one of the keys to locking down the Lone Star State, and you and I both know full well that GP doesn’t like to lose to anyone with the last name Briles. This one also matters for the Sam Carter connection, and you know the old Jedi Master would love to put his prodigee in his place one last time.
Give me TCU 31, Arkansas 24.