When former Southwest Conference rivals TCU (1-0) and Arkansas (1-0) square off on Saturday in Fayetteville, college football fans are in for a treat with contrasting styles of offense on display. Last year’s pairing resulted in a 41-38 double-overtime thriller won by the Hogs on an Austin Allen five-yard touchdown run. Fans of both Big 12 and SEC styles of football are once again expecting offensive fireworks and defensive heroics in this non-conference showdown.
If the Horned Frogs’ 63-0 performance last Saturday against FCS member Jackson State is a sign of things to come, TCU will be a tough out for any team this season. The Tigers were limited to 65 total yards of offense, picking up a mere 24 yards on the ground. Perhaps even more impressive, the Frogs allowed just one of 13 third down chances to be converted. TCU’s offense blistered JSU for 542 total yards with senior quarterback Kenny Hill throwing for 206 yards and four touchdowns.
Arkansas looked solid against its FCS opponent, at least on offense, as the Razorbacks put up 415 yards in its 49-7 win over Florida A&M. Freshman Chase Hayden led the way with 120 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. As a team, Arkansas used multiple ball carriers to pick up 236 rushing yards on 45 carries (5.2 ypc) and also scored four times on the ground. However, some of the same storylines from last year reappeared for the Hogs, including senior quarterback Austin Allen taking sacks and the gunslinger throwing unnecessary interceptions. Even with a comfortable opening win, Arkansas had plenty of things to work on in practice this week before kicking off against TCU.
TCU at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 9 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: TCU -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Arkansas’ relative youth vs. TCU’s veteran roster
The Razorbacks have key starters returning in the secondary, along the offensive line and with senior quarterback Austin Allen, but are green just about everywhere else. The two-deep for the Hogs includes nine true freshmen with two of the newcomers earning starts – Ty Clary at right guard and Kamren Curl at cornerback. TCU quarterback Kenny Hill will probably look to throw on Curl early and often. How will the true freshman, and the rest of the young Hogs, respond to the Horned Frogs’ up-tempo offense and the spotlight of a big game?
2. Can TCU run on Arkansas’ defense?
In last season’s meeting, Hill was a one-man gang for the Horned Frogs, throwing for 377 yards and a touchdown and also leading the way with 111 rushing yards and two more scores. One of the reasons Arkansas switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 look was the goal of limiting running quarterbacks like Hill. The Razorbacks will get a second shot at slowing Hill down, which will then put the onus on TCU’s tailbacks to get the job done. Last year, Kyle Hicks was second to Hill in rushing in the win over Arkansas, but he managed just 49 yards on 11 carries. In the opener against Jackson State, nine different Horned Frogs combined for 242 rushing yards on 36 carries. Sophomore Darius Anderson led the way with 67 yards on 13 carries. Hicks didn’t play due to an undisclosed injury, but he is expected to return against the Razorbacks.
3. Winning the turnover battle
Arkansas played clean last season against TCU, finishing the double-overtime affair with no turnovers. Hill had one interception in 56 pass attempts in the three-point loss. In last week’s opener against Florida A&M, Allen tossed a pick among his 19 attempts, while the Horned Frogs turned two Jackson State miscues into touchdowns – a 53-yard interception return by Ridwan Issahaku and a 32-yard fumble return by Arico Evans. The Razorbacks cannot afford to lose the turnover battle against TCU’s quick-strike offense, while the Horned Frogs cannot afford to cede possession to Arkansas' attack that knows how to eat up clock.
New Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads is getting his first big test to prove that he was the right person to lead the Hogs’ conversion from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4, considering the switch was made with mobile quarterbacks like TCU’s Kenny Hill in mind. If Rhoads’ unit can apply pressure on Hill while limiting his rushing yards, Arkansas should be in a position to make it three in a row over its former SWC rival. However, if Hill has time to sit in the pocket to throw darts to his receivers or run for yards as needed to keep the chains moving, the Horned Frogs could leave Fayetteville with a big non-conference victory.
Prediction: Arkansas 31, TCU 28
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.