As promised, here are my keys to victory for Arkansas' date with Boise State on Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Size and speed doesn't always win out in football, but it does most of the time. In this case, the Hogs are clearly faster and bigger in most areas. And, there is good reason they are favored by a full touchdown.
However, this is a game that could be close for several reasons. One of them is experience. Boise State is more experienced in several areas than Arkansas, especially at quarterback.
And, the fact that Boise State has already played and won should not be overlooked. But, the key will be the experience at quarterback in Ryan Dinwiddie and the rest of the starting backs and receivers against Arkansas' blitz package.
I don't like to point to the officiating before the game is even played, but it will be a huge key in the game.
Arkansas' coaches have already notified the SEC that Boise State's offensive strategy against Idaho was illegal. The Broncos waited until the last possible second to send on their substitution packages on offense to prevent the defense from bringing on a defensive package to counter. The rules state that you cannot wait to substitute in an attempt to gain an advantage. This should draw an illegal procedure penalty.
The Broncos did draw five flags for offensive holding in their opener against Idaho. A brand new offensive line was taught to hold and taught well. How often that line is flagged for holding this weekend will be a key to the game, because the Hogs are going to bring the blitz more than they did last year.
It would appear that Boise State's young offensive line would be hardpressed to stop Arkansas' quicker defensive linemen, especially Gavin Walls and the outside blitzes from Ken Hamlin, Tony Bua and Jimarr Gallon. If the Broncos are allowed to hold, it will make it much tougher for the Hogs when they do blitz.
On defense, can Boise State withstand the physical pounding from Shawn Andrews and Jason Peters when the Hogs run straight ahead and pound the flanks around the right side? That will be a key that should be obvious early in the game.
And, does Boise have the speed to match Arkansas' great speed. For sure, the Hogs are quicker in the backfield. Cedric Cobbs, De'Arrius Howard and Fred Talley have the speed at tailback to get wide against Boise, and the power to punish BSU's light front, too.
However, Boise will probably try to neutralize those mismatches with a defensive front that packs the box. When that happens, can the Hogs move the ball through the air? Is Matt Jones really improved as a passer? That's another huge key this week.
Arkansas must eliminate the usual first-game mistakes to defeat Boise State. The Broncos probably won't make a lot of mistakes because they're playing their second game. The Hogs have worked hard to protect the ball from turnovers in preseason, and eliminate substitution errors that have proved to be costly in several big games this season. Houston Nutt claims that at least six games have been decided by substitution errors this season already. If the Hogs can keep mistakes to a minimum in their first outing, they will greatly aid their cause.
The Hogs have spent much time in the spring and preseason working on the kicking game. They are experienced in every area of the kicking game except punt return, and there is some experience in that area, too. Only the starting punt returner, Decori Birmingham, is battle tested, and if the Hogs fret over putting Birmingham back there, they can switch to reliable George Wilson. The Hogs look solid at punter, placekicker, cover teams and at snapper. If they can force mistakes in BSU's kicking game while playing error free at the same time, it could be a huge key. Arkansas should have an advantage in team speed, and that usually shows up in the kicking game.
Maybe the biggest key in the game will be in the area of big plays. Arkansas has had a hard time finding big plays in the passing game because of an average corps of wide receivers. Boise State has always managed its share of big plays. Can the Hogs reduce BSU's big plays, and find some of their own? That is another big key.
The Hogs will blitz to try to force BSU into mistakes that might lead to turnovers. Arkansas' speed up front againt BSU's rebuilt offensive line is another big key for the Hogs.