It’s been two decades since the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1996, but now former conference rivals TCU and Arkansas meet once again for a non-conference contest at Amon G. Carter Stadium Saturday night.
With both teams coming off week one wins against lower-tier programs that were too close for comfort, Saturday’s contest is a chance for not just Gary Patterson and the No. 15 Horned Frogs, but also Bret Bielema’s Razorback squad to get back on track with a quality non-conference victory. Of course, only one will prevail, so let’s take a glance at what we might see in Fort Worth this weekend.
Formerly rivals in the now defunct SWC, the TCU and Arkansas have not battled it out on the gridiron since 1991 when the Razorbacks defeated the Horned Frogs 22-21. While the college football landscape has drastically changed in the past 25 years, history is not on TCU’s side when it comes to facing Arkansas. The Razorbacks hold a 42-24-2 lead over the Frogs all time, and have not lost at Amon G. Carter Stadium since the 1981 season. Also notable is that Bielema owns an impressive 37-4 record against non-conference opponents in his 10 years with the program. A fonder memory for TCU when it comes to this series is when the Frogs blew out the Razorbacks 54-26 in Fayetteville during the 1990 season, their most recent victory against Arkansas.
What a win means for TCU
TCU’s defense was nothing short of a debacle last week when they allowed more than 300 in the air to FCS opponent South Dakota State, but a win against Arkansas this weekend would alleviate the concerns from week one. This game is the first chance for the revamped Horned Frog squad to show that it can compete against a Power-5 Conference opponent, let alone a hard hitting SEC team. It is also a chance for the Frogs to put a quality win on their resume before they enter Big 12 play in the 2016 season. If TCU’s defense can stop Arkansas from effectively running the ball and Kenny Hill can lead the offense past the Razorbacks’ defense led by the linebacker duo of Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw, the Frogs will have all the momentum they could ask for in the weeks leading up to another difficult home game against Oklahoma.
What a win means for Arkansas
Similar to TCU, a win on Saturday for Arkansas is a chance for them to regain their footing as a force to be reckoned with, and it may even mean just that much more for the Razorbacks considering it would be a win against a ranked opponent on the road. By no means would it make Arkansas a favorite to win the SEC west, but you would have to keep your eye on them considering LSU and Ole Miss have already shown signs of vulnerability just one week into the season. If the upset is going to happen, running back Rawleigh Williams III, who is coming off a season ending neck injury in 2015, will need to follow up his 96 yard, 24 carry performance last week with one that is even more explosive, and defense will need to make a statement by completely shutting down TCU’s receiving corps.
TCU players to watch on offense and defense
Taj Williams – WR) – Not many people in Fort Worth knew about Juco transfer Taj Williams before last weekend, but he made sure that would change, catching for 158 yards and one touchdown over 11 receptions in his TCU debut. Williams came in as the No. 1 overall Juco wide-receiver in the nation. If TCU’s offense is anything like the up-tempo force that it was last week, expect Williams to once again make some big plays on the evening. TCU head coach Gary Patterson may have said that Hill doesn’t have one go-to receiver, but if you had to pick any candidate, Williams is by far the frontrunner from what we saw against South Dakota State.
James McFarland – DE) – McFarland missed the entire 2015 season due to a foot injury, but his presence was felt again last Saturday when he recorded a crucial sack late against South Dakota State, effectively ending what could have been a game-tying drive for the Jackrabbits. Certainly he was fairly quiet for the first three quarters, and that will have to change this Saturday as TCU looks to put a halt to the Razorbacks’ heavily relied-on running game. The important stat is that McFarland experienced what some might say to be the game of his life the last time the Frogs took on an SEC opponent, as he was named the defensive MVP of TCU’s 42-3 win over Ole Miss in the 2014 Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. As a fifth year senior, expect McFarland to lead the charge on defense Saturday night.
Reasons for concern
A week ago TCU fans were all worried about the Frogs’ offense while remaining fairly confident that the defense would get the job done. Seven days later, the script has been flipped. With the Frogs’ secondary getting eaten up by South Dakota State, many folks are asking how on Earth TCU will be able to get the job done against an SEC opponent that prides itself on size? It’s hard to see TCU putting up 59 points again this weekend, and if the Frogs secondary is anything like it was last week, TCU will be playing with fire. The Frogs are fortunate that Razorbacks thrive on moving the ball on the ground rather than through the air, but that means TCU defense will have to stop missing tackles left and right as was the case in the early going against South Dakota State.
Quote to note: “We are not going to take them [Arkansas] lightly and we look forward to the challenge,” James McFarland said. “They’re really good at what they do and our job is to offset it; to throw them off. We need to be more physical because they’re going to try and run us over.”
Dean Straka’s prediction
While TCU is ranked as high as No. 12 in USA TODAY’s Amway Coaches Poll, it’s no secret the Horned Frogs still have much room for improvement from what we saw last week. Arkansas’s combination of size and the smash-mouth style of football will be a serious test for TCU, and for that matter it will likely be the hardest non-conference game that TCU has played in since kicking off the 2013 season against LSU. Nonetheless, the Frogs have what it takes to overcome the adversity that stands in their way. While Kenny Hill may not be able to run the ball as effectively as he did last week against the Jackrabbits, he proved that he can synchronize with an up-tempo offense that utilizes short passes to drive down the field. If Hill can do that again and the defense is able to effectively contain the Razorbacks on the ground, TCU will come out on top in this one. Will the game be a close one at times? Absolutely, but I see the Frogs extending their home win streak to 15 games.
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TCU 38, Arkansas 28