Can Texas Tech Bow Up Against Arkansas?

The Red Raiders defensive front will be tested by the Razorback's power running game.

Struggling against competition such as Central Arkansas and UTEP has supporters of Texas Tech football worried – and rightfully so.

The anxiety heightens 2:30 p.m. Saturday as the Red Raiders clash with the Arkansas Razorbacks – a throwback matchup to the Southwest Conference, where both schools played from 1959 until 1992.

Most notably, the Red Raiders’ interior defense, which had less of an issue with a run-heavy UTEP squad than at home against Central Arkansas, has been exposed and derided with the same exact criticism as did the 2013 team’s (and several prior).

Arkansas is less renowned for its passing game – their opposition had more passes for first downs (22) and passing yards (501) than the Hogs – and certainly has paid attention to the Red Raiders’ struggles to stop the run. Tech may have conceded 178 yards on the ground to Central Arkansas and let UTEP rush for 277 yards with touchdown runs of 19, 24, and nine yards respectively, but they face a real test in the form of an old-fashioned ground and pound SEC opponent this weekend.

As Davis Webb succinctly put it at Monday’s media presser: “It’ll be the toughest game we’ll have thus far.”

Arkansas’ front line on offense is mammoth, with tough customers such as Luke Charpentier (6-foot-3, 312 pounds), Denver Kirkland (6-5, 337), Brey Cook (6-7, 315), Mitch Smothers (6-3, 315) and Dan Skipper (6-10, 326) ripping open holes for their running backs.

Again, expect these concerns about Tech’s ability to stuff the run to manifest itself on a greater scale against stiffer competition from one of college football’s top conferences.

"We're going to do whatever we can to stop the run. We have committed to a lot of guys in the box,” said Texas Tech defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt on Monday. “We have had some eight or nine-man fronts, which hangs the corners out a little bit, but there's no secret in what we're doing. We'll have to scratch where we itch, we'll have to keep them guessing a little bit, but we're going to commit everything we can to stop the run."

The Arkansas run game will surely put the Red Raiders to the test. Rolling out from the backfield will be junior Jonathan Williams (177 yards, two touchdowns) and sophomore Alex Collins (199 yards, three touchdowns), and one can expect them to salivate at the chance to tear up Texas Tech – on the road, no less – if the team’s interior defense doesn’t step up to the plate.

Injuries to Rika Levi – listed by the coaching staff as “day-to-day” – and Jackson Richards, who both missed last week’s game, could further complicate things, but both are expected back this week. Still, the naked truth for Texas Tech is if they wish to compete and reach the upper echelon of Big 12–especially considering their grandiose plans for athletic renewal and a newly minted contract extension for head coach Kliff Kingsbury, they must play a clean, complete, and disciplined game on both sides of the football.

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