Who: Texas Tech (2-0, 0-0) vs. Arkansas (1-1, 0-0)
Where: Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas
When: Saturday, Sept. 19, 6:00 (CT)
Media: ESPN2 (TV), Sirius Channel 108/XM Channel 108 (satellite radio)
Returning Starters: Texas Tech (16), Arkansas (16)
2014 Records: Texas Tech (4-8, 2-7), Arkansas (7-6, 2-6)
Coaches: Texas Tech (Kliff Kingsbury 14-13), Arkansas (Bret Bielema 79-40)
Series History: Arkansas leads 29-7 (most recent, Arkansas 49 Texas Tech 28, Sept. 13, 2014)
When Arkansas Has the Ball
Arkansas’ 2015 football season has been surprising for a few reasons. To begin with, nobody foresaw the Hogs losing to Toledo last week in Little Rock. Second, nobody expected Arkansas to struggle running the football and turn to the pass in desperation. But that is precisely what has happened.
Through two games the Razorbacks have rushed the football 65 times for 285 yards, averaging a modest 4.6 yards per carry in the process. By way of comparison, Arkansas gained 438 yards on the ground against Texas Tech alone last season, and averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
In part because of a relative lack of productivity on the ground, the Hogs have turned to the pass. They have 720 yards through the air, which works out to 72 percent of UA’s offense.
But the smart money is not expecting 72 percent of Arkansas offensive production against Texas Tech on Saturday to be through the air. Despite apparent improvement in rush defense, the Red Raiders are still not quite stonewallers, and then there’s the Razorbacks’ recent history of success in this area to cause their huge offensive line and leading rusher Alex Collins (pictured below) to salivate.
“I would expect ‘em to hand it off,” said Texas Tech boss Kliff Kingsbury, with a deadpan inflection. “I think the quarterback’s very talented, but with the success they had against us last year in the run game I would expect to see a heavy dose of run.”
So far this year Tech is allowing 272 rushing yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry against Sam Houston State and UTEP. While better than last year, those numbers will hardly strike fear in the heart of Arkansas’ offense. And the Red Raider defense knows it.
“I’m assuming Arkansas is gonna try to run the ball on us,” says linebacker Malik Jenkins with a certitude that doesn’t quite come through in his words alone. “We gotta put them in situations where they gotta throw the ball, but so far from like my perspective, I expect them to try and run it on us.”
Neither Jenkins nor Kingsbury will get any argument from me, regardless of what Arkansas’ tendencies have been through the first two weeks of the season.
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
The matchup between the Arkansas offense and Texas Tech’s defense has gotten the lion’s share of the attention leading up to the game, but the battle between the Hog defense and the Red Raider offense is equally intriguing.
Through two games—against admittedly questionable competition—the Tech offense has been a force of nature. And it all starts with quarterback Patrick Mahomes who is playing at an All-America level.
His 393 passing yards per game is No. 2 nationally, as is his eight touchdown passes. What’s more, Tech’s 35 “long” passing plays (more than 10 yards) lead the nation, and Mahomes deserves much of the credit for that statistic. Tech has a very good deep passing game, and various speedy receivers—particularly Jakeem Grant, Devin Lauderdale and running back Justin Stockton (pictured below)—who can take the short stuff and house it. Furthermore, the Red Raider line has yet to allow a single sack.
And it is not inconceivable that the line could emerge from the Arkansas with a still unsullied record. Hence, Arkansas has recorded only two sacks in two games.
In terms of overall pass defense, the Hogs rate No. 58 in passing yards allowed per game (194), and No. 62 in pass defense efficiency. Those are quintessentially mediocre numbers.
Arkansas is much stouter against the run, allowing only 70 rushing yards per game (No. 13 nationally), and 2.4 yards per carry (No. 16).
Tech’s DeAndre Washington, who averages 106 rushing yards per game, may not dominate in this one. Then again, he may not have to.
Texas Tech 38, Arkansas 36