In Week 3 of the 2014 season Arkansas traveled to Lubbock getting the coming out party they needed against a Power Five Conference team — racking up 499 yards of offense with 438 of those yards coming on the ground en route to a 49-28 victory. Life is dramatically different for the Razorbacks this time around after a painfully embarrassing defeat in Little Rock to unranked Toledo. Now the Hogs are struggling to find their running game and have seemingly overnight turned into a passing offense.
On the other side of the field, Texas Tech entered the season with 15 total starters back from a 4-8 team a year ago. On paper, not much has changed for the Red Raiders. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury still has one of the nation’s best passing attacks, but big question marks remain on the defensive side of the ball after allowing 637 yards of offense along with 45 points to Sam Houston State and 414 yards to UTEP with another 20 points.
Texas Tech at Arkansas
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
Line: Arkansas -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Arkansas’s pass defense vs. Texas Tech’s passing offense
Red Raiders quarterback Patrick Mahomes seems custom-built for the Air Raid offense. In two games he has passed for 786 yards with eight touchdowns against one pick. He has also picked up another 71 yards on the ground off 11 carries with two additional scores. Mahomes' top receiver is senior slot receiver Jakeem Grant. The 5’7”, 169 pound receiver has a knack for finding holes in the opposition's defense and then turning on the speed for big yardage. Grant has 13 receptions for 212 yards with a score.
Over two games seven different receivers have caught a pass for Tech. Four of those receivers, including Grant, have already amassed over 100 yards receiving; Devin Lauderdale (197), Ian Sadler (122), and Reginald Davis (105). The Razorbacks, although not having played a true passing attack as lethal as Texas Tech, is allowing 192 yards per game in the air. The back seven will be tested time and time again putting a heavy emphasis on the front four to produce hurries and sacks to help out. Can this unit step up in a critical game this early in the season, especially with Texas A&M next week?
2. Arkansas’s rushing attack vs. Texas Tech’s rush defense
Before the season started if an Arkansas fan had been told the Hogs two games in would be the 89th ranked rushing attack in the nation, the first question asked would have been who all got injured?
The glaring injury is the loss of All-SEC running back Jonathan Williams, a 1,100-yard rusher last year. Even with another 1,100 rusher in Alex Collins back, the Hogs have fallen from 218 yards per game in 2014 to 143 yards per game, and against subpar teams.
For all of the good things Texas Tech can do in the passing game their defense is the exact opposite. The rush defense allows 272 yards per game. This is the type of game Arkansas needs to reestablish the foundation of their 7-6 team last season.
Can the Hogs get it going? Offensive line coach Sam Pittman is standing by his decision to put Denver Kirkland at left tackle after starting him at right guard last year. Pittman believes Kirkland is Arkansas’s best left tackle but he may be overlooking the fact that Kirkland is also the team’s best interior lineman — forfeiting being able to run between the tackles for an ideal left tackle. This points to a bigger problem, what is the team’s identity, a passing team or a running team?
3. Arkansas vs. Arkansas
There are so many holes up and down Arkansas’s roster filled with youth and inexperience, tinkering to find out what will work should still be in play. With youth and inexperience comes penalties. Arkansas had two touchdowns called back last week that could have been difference-makers in the final outcome. For the year the Razorbacks have been flagged 15 times, tied for 83rd in the nation, giving up an average of 76.5 penalty yards per game, tied for 98th in the nation.
One thing Bielema has done well since he has been at Arkansas is limiting penalties or coaching up his kids to play smart and with technique. A back to the basics approach all the way around, simplifying the game might be the easiest fix for the Hogs on offense and defense against Texas Tech.
Texas Tech’s defense ranks No. 118 in the nation allowing 526 yards per contest. If Arkansas cannot take advantage of this defense Razorback Nation will be in for a long season.
If Arkansas tries to get into a shootout with Texas Tech, something Kliff Kingsbury wants, the Hogs might be able to hang for a little while, but the advantage over the long haul would go to the Red Raiders. If Arkansas cannot get an effective ground game together and falls behind by two scores, senior quarterback Brandon Allen might be able to up the Hogs’ passing attack from No. 12 in the nation into the Top 10, but will a win follow? That did not happen after throwing for 412 yards against Toledo.
Prediction: Arkansas 31, Texas Tech 21
— 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. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.