The conventional wisdom regarding the 2015 Texas Tech football season has been that the trip to Fayetteville to play the Arkansas Razorbacks in week three is a surefire loss.
After all, Arkansas effortlessly mauled the Red Raiders in the ground game last year en route to a 49-28 rout, and expectations for the current Tech team were not particularly high to begin with.
And the Red Raiders did nothing in their opening win over Sam Houston State to confute that consensus. Heck, they gave up 317 rushing yards to the FCS Bearkats!
But now, after a pretty doggone impressive 69-20 demolition of UTEP and Toledo’s stunning 16-12 victory over the Razorbacks in Arkansas, it looks like the Red Raiders have a shot to beat the SEC West team.
All sports depend upon psychology almost as much as physical skill, and college football is no exception. And a huge component of psychology is confidence, the true belief that your team is not only good, but better than the opposition. Victories, particularly convincing ones, build confidence. Losses, especially to lightly regarded opponents, undermine it.
So you do the math. Tech is coming off a performance superior to any they displayed last year, and Arkansas is dragging its tail after an exhibition that left head coach Brett Bielema “embarrassed.”
When asked whether the win over UTEP would help his team’s confidence, Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury responded,
“I think it should help, definitely. Like we said, just finishing the game. That’s something we never did last year. We didn’t do it last week. So it was good to see us take that step this week. Obviously our competition steps up tremendously next week on the road with a great SEC team. So we’ll have to get better this week.”
The chief concern with playing Arkansas has been how to slow down the Razorbacks’ vaunted ground game. But developments this week suggest the task may not be insuperable.
Now the Red Raiders did not play completely lights out against the strong UTEP ground game, but they did improve noticeably over their performance against Sam Houston State. Tech gave up 227 yards to the Miners and allowed stellar tailback Aaron Jones to rush for 148 yards before exiting the game with an injury late in the second quarter. But at the time of Jones’ injury the Red Raiders were already beginning to take control of the game and to clamp off UTEP’s rushing attack.
A poor run fill by Kris Williams and a missed tackle by Justis Nelson allowed Jones to bolt 91 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, but in his other 16 runs Jones averaged a paltry three yards per tote. And in the second half Tech held the Miner ground game to 64 yards on 22 rushing attempts. That is very solid rushing defense by any reasonable standard.
As good as the Red Raiders’ rushing defense—Jones’ 91-yard run excepted—looked against UTEP, the Arkansas rushing game looked abysmal against Toledo. The Razorbacks rushed for a measly 103 yards against the Rockets and averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Alex Collins (pictured above), Arkansas’ vaunted tailback, managed a mere 54 clicks on 20 carries. Indeed, so ineffective was the Razorback rushing attack that they for forced to turn to the airways in search of yardage and points.
Arkansas threw the ball 53 times, some 22 more than they ran it. That would be the equivalent of Texas Tech passing the ball 20 times and running it 55.
Factor in the quality preparation playing a physical rushing attack the week before going to Arkansas provides, and there is some reason to believe that the Red Raiders will be able to hold their own against Collins and the massive Razorback offensive line.
This will not be easy, of course. It is almost certain that Arkansas will play better against Tech than they did against Toledo, and with the show the Red Raiders put on against UTEP, they will hardly sneak up on the Hogs. But at bare minimum, the Red Raiders now have a puncher’s chance to take out Arkansas. And nobody but nobody was saying that a week ago.