There is a whole lot of respect between Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and TCU head coach Gary Patterson despite the fact their teams’ approach to football is almost diametrically opposed.
Both made their way up the coaching ranks on the defensive side of the football, but ironically their brands of football in the minds of many are defined by their offenses.
Ground and pound is what many think of when Bielema’s name is mentioned for his highly successful stint at Wisconsin and the program he’s building at Arkansas, while Patterson’s fast-moving, high-scoring, no-huddle offensive scheme has come to characterize the Horned Frogs rise to prominence to many.
No doubt, one of the key storyline’s for ESPN’s 6 p.m. broadcast of the showdown between former Southwest Conference members will be the contrasting offensive styles. The squad that’s able to set the pace for the majority of the game will, no doubt, have a greater opportunity to win.
Bielema’s Razorbacks will attempt to shorten the game by controlling the football and clock, while Patterson’s No. 15 Horned Frogs will attempt to make it a track meet, putting as many points on the board as possible.
Something will have to give, and whatever is given will likely be dictated by defense, and just like their offenses, the Hogs and Frogs’ defenses schemes couldn’t be more different.
Patterson is known as a defensive mastermind, orchestrating a system of exotic blitzes that brings pressure from many points on the field. Safety and corner blitzes are common for the Horned Frogs, but they are so good at disguising those blitzes, just knowing that they will come is little help for opposing offenses.
That’s likely troubling for the Razorbacks with an inexperienced offensive line and a fairly green quarterback in first-year starter Austin Allen. Often the blame for poor pass protection falls only on the offensive line; however, keeping a quarterback clean involves the entire offense. Certainly the line is the focal point of the protection, but running backs are key in picking up blitzes and leaks.
The Hogs are inexperienced at running back as well. Two of the four sacks that Hogs gave up to Louisiana Tech, Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos attributed to failed assignments by the backs.
Receivers must run their routes properly, too. Jeremy Sprinkle admitted this week that he didn’t have the proper spacing on his route on Allen’s second-quarter interception against Louisiana Tech, resulting in an extra defender being in the area of Allen’s intended target Drew Morgan.
The quarterback also bares responsibility for pass protection. He has to be aware of what’s coming at him, and also have a clock in his head to know when to get rid of the football. Allen waited on receivers to come open at times against Louisiana Tech instead of moving through his progression.
Those mistakes almost proved costly, in the Hogs’ tenuous 21-20 victory. It’s always better to throw the ball away than to take an eight- to 10-yard loss. While not allowing the quarterback to be hit in practice is an absolute necessity, it does sometimes breed an unwarranted confidence with inexperienced quarterbacks that they must get over to be effective and efficient.
While I expect the Razorbacks to attempt to run right at TCU’s quick defense to counteract the Horned Frogs’ speed, how the Hogs handle TCU’s blitzes in passing situations will be critical.
Bielema’s approach to the game is more traditional than Patterson’s. He is more risk adverse. Bielema takes a three-pronged approach with each of his units working in concert to help the other. Special teams should feed both the offense and defense with solid field position. The offense works to score but also manage the clock, keeping the defense off the field as much as possible. In turn, the defense works to get off the field as quickly as possible, but the key is not giving up chunk yardage, bend but not break, if you will.
During Bielema’s tenure at Arkansas, his defense has been content to give up short-yardage passes in hopes of not getting bead deep. It’s had mixed results to say the least. A year ago, Arkansas toppled spread teams Ole Miss and Auburn, but lost to Texas A&M in overtime and fell by double digits to Texas Tech.
In the Louisiana Tech game, the Razorbacks’ special teams and offense let the defense down, yielding excellent field position to the Bulldogs with poor kick-off coverage and two interceptions. The Hogs’ defense had its back against the wall much of the game, but gave a decent effort to hold the Bulldogs to two touchdowns and two field goals.
A similar equation this Saturday won’t end well for the Razorbacks. It might even fuel a TCU blowout.
Not to say the defense didn’t have it’s own snafus. Tackling wasn’t sharp at all, and the purported depth at linebacker that was supposedly developed in the spring and preseason workouts didn’t make it on to the field.
On the surface, TCU’s 59-41 victory over South Dakota State might seem to be more impressive than the Razorbacks’ victory over Louisiana Tech. However, my guess is Louisiana Tech is a much better team than SDSU. It’s hard to tell what that will mean Saturday night.
Odds makers have the Horned Frogs picked as a six-point favorite, and an analytical study of the two team’s statistics by analytics expert Brian Fremeau, reported by Saturdaydownsouth.com, says the Horned Frogs will win 31-30, giving Arkansas a .488 chance of winning.
Take your pick on which one you want to believe. I personally don’t think there’s enough information out there on either team after just one game to make an educated guess. But if the game is as close as the line and the analytics study suggests, it should be entertainingly close.
It would seem the Horned Frogs have more to lose and the Hogs have more to gain in the contest. Certainly, TCU will brag about beating an SEC team if it wins, but even after more than two decades in the SEC, Arkansas isn’t afforded the same measure of respect as its other SEC brethren.
A road victory over a top-25 team would likely catapult the Hogs into the top 25 next week and would be a confidence boost for the Razorbacks. That could be big for the Hogs with their SEC season opener against Texas A&M is the horizon on Sept. 24 in Arlington, Texas, after the Hogs play host to Texas State on Sept. 17 at Fayetteville.
Based on the Razorbacks’ play last week, I’m not sure if Arkansas is up to the challenge of defeating TCU at Forth Worth just yet. The Razorbacks were fortunate to win last week, but their final scoring drive and final defensive possession were impressive. Even with corrections, I think the Hogs’ withering depth in the secondary and overall inexperience on offense are barrier’s the Razorbacks will have a hard time hurdling.
I can see this game being a close one, but if the Hogs repeat the mistakes from last week, it could get ugly. I’ll go with TCU 34, Arkansas 30.