State of the Hogs: Idling the Masked Rider

Texas Tech knew what was coming, but Arkansas just pulled the trigger before the defense could do anything but take a whipping. It was per the script in a runaway truck.

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Texas Tech was advertised as the hurry-up team. No where in the pre-game analysis did anyone think the Red Raiders would fall to a faster pace. It came in the formof complete thumping in the second half, a segment the Hogs have rarely dominated in Bret Bielema’s two seasons in the Ozarks.

Not even this writer believed to the hilt the pre-game analysis of a radio colleague in mid week that the key to the game would be the Arkansas ability to run and run and run because of a physical advantage over a too-light Texas Tech defense.

The offensive line mashed Tech’s defense, aided by tough outside blocking by the wide receivers and tight ends. The inside blocking by guards Sebastian Tretola, making his first start, and Denver Kirkland was magnificent. Tackles Brey Cook and Dan Skipper often toyed with the Raiders. Skipper sometimes just tossed a defensive tackle to the turf with one hand.

It made it easy for a rested and improved Arkansas defense to make quick work of Tech’s vaunted no-huddle passing game, keeping quarterback Davis Webb on the sideline for much of the second half.

Little did I know that Tech’s masked rider — much like Quinn Grovey predicted before he quarterbacked the Hogs to a 45-13 triumph in 1989 — would be idled to one second-half jaunt. Twenty five years ago, Grovey told the rider in pre-game that day, “You ain’t riding today.”

This time, the rider — who comes down the tunnel aboard a beautiful black stallion after every Tech touchdown — came into the end zone only once after halftime.

Ah, but that's exactly the game plan executed by the Arkansas offense in a wonderful 49-28 ground assault Saturday afternoon that left its defense hardly needing a shower in the Jones AT&T Stadium locker room.

“Yes, I took a shower,” Arkansas linebacker Brooks Ellis said, noting the only thing he might have needed to wash away was the dropsies.

Ellis broke up four passes (but could have easily had two interceptions) and added eight tackles. Martrell Spaight, the only other Arkansas linebacker to play in a nickel package, led the way with 11 stops and managed to outdo Ellis in the passing game with an interception to help the Hogs take the lead for good just before halftime.

“My brother tells me that Brooks couldn't catch it in high school, either,” said Brandon Allen, the now nimble Arkansas quarterback. “But he really played well today. He made plays, as all of our guys did on defense.”

The Arkansas defense was on the field only three times in the second half. Tech had the ball 2:15, 2:04 and just 1:46.

“When you have an offensive line doing what ours did today, it makes it easy for our defense,” Ellis said. “We were fresh and that helped a lot.”

It also helped that Tech could never set their defense. Allen snapped the ball soon after the Hogs came to the line. The Red Raiders had planned to “stem” their front, move before the snap. The Hogs usually moved their formation, then Allen called for the ball.

It discombobulated Tech's front, weakside linebacker V. J. Fehoko maintained in a Tech locker room that couldn't believe they had no answer for the Arkansas running game.

“We didn't understand what kind of back was in there, from the quick back to the power back,” Fehoko said. “Arkansas burst to the line, which I think everybody started to almost brain fart. So to say in that sense, because they hadn't shown that on film. They're not a hurry-up team, but they executed well. As you can see, they were successful.”

Allen said the game plan involved quick snaps.

“We did go with a lot of the speed game,” Allen said. “They like to stem and move in their front, but we snapped it so quickly after we got the formation set, that they didn't have that.

“I didn't really have to check the plays much. We just snapped it and went. My job today was pretty easy. Get the play called in the huddle. Get the formation right at the line and hand it off.”

Allen, who has talked about the toy Corvette his parents gave him for his birthday, said it was "not Corvette-like in execution. It was more like a truck."

It wasn't that simple, but it's a great analogy. Allen made two big plays with his feet, too. There was a 22-yard scramble to set up the second UA touchdown, then two big ones in the second half, a 5-yard touchdown scramble to give the Hogs a two-score lead. He bounced outside of the pocket to convert a third-and-9 with a strike to Jonathan Williams, but that drive fizzled with a turnover.

“Ha, ha,” Williams said. “I know people don't know that Brandon has that (wiggle), but we know he does. We see it in practice. He can get outside. The touchdown run was a big play for us. We know a lot more about Brandon than everyone else does. We've seen it and now everyone else has seen it, too.”

Allen smiled when his TD run was brought up by reporters.

“It was a screen call, but they jumped the screen,” he said. “I pumped it a couple of times and everyone went with the receivers. So I just pulled it down. It opened up pretty good.

“I'm not going to run it a lot, but I am capable of doing some things with my feet. I'm not worried about my shoulder. I'm going to run it.”

Yes, and the Hogs are going to run it. They had seen some things in Tech's defense that could be exploited with draws and counters.

“It was in our plan, but when we got into the game, they were even better than we thought,” Allen said. “So we kept hammering it.

“Our backs were getting almost five before contact. And, then they were shouldering for more. I could see that it was blocked for four or five and then they'd get seven or nine.”

It was all about being the more physical team. Head coach Bret Bielema said it went per the script.

“We had a very physical practice Tuesday,” Bielema said. “I saw that and decided we were ready and I took it off of them for Wednesday, just in half pads.”

I gave Bielema a chance to trot out his line about playing “real American football,” what he mentioned in his introductory speech in December of 2012.

“You want me to say that?” he smiled. “Absolutely, this is the way we want to play. This is Arkansas football. This is what we are. At times, it's not pretty.”

It looked pretty ugly from the Tech sideline as the Hogs ran and ran and ran.

“It's sort of like a cancer,” Fehoko said. “It spreads throughout the team. I feel that didn't come until the fourth quarter until I felt the team's demeanor start to fade after they started breaking away and scoring touchdowns. But on us, that's a mental error and we've got to be stronger.”

Offensive tackle Brey Cook felt it earlier than that.

“You look over there and see them sagging,” Cook said. “We knew we had them. That's a great feeling when your offensive line can physically win the battle up front. We had them and we knew they knew we were going to run it and they could do nothing about it.”

And, the offense knew the goal was to keep that defense resting.

“It's awesome to be a part of something like that,” Williams said. “We wanted to be the more physical team and knew Tech has a very good offense. If we keep the ball, our guys are sitting and fresh. I think they were fresh in that second half.

“We pointed it out all week that the goal was to dominate the clock, limit Tech's time with the ball. That high powered offense couldn't do anything while they were sitting.”

And, no one figured the Razorbacks were going to wear down the Red Raiders with anything close to a hurry-up running game.

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