Toyota Keys to the Mercari Texas Bowl: Arkansas Razorbacks
Once it appeared as if college football would occur in 2020, many looked at the diabolical schedule in front of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Those same people thought 1st year coach Sam Pittman would be lucky to win a game, much less survive the season. Yet, the Hogs were seven points (and a couple of bad officiating calls) away from finishing 6-4 in Pittman’s first season. Now, Pittman’s Hogs and the fan base weren’t doing cartwheels over how the season ended with four straight losses, but, again, Arkansas let wins over LSU and Missouri slip through their hands in the final minutes of each game.
The truth about 2020 is that Arkansas showed that the future would be brighter than it’s been in quite some time in Fayetteville. Wide receiver Treylon Burks is quite possibly the best receiver in the nation not named DeVonta Smith. He was named a 2nd Team All-SEC receiver as a true sophomore and will return in 2021. Junior running back Trelon Smith is a dangerous ball carrier, especially in a bowl game when teams haven’t tackled anyone in a couple of weeks. Quite frankly, this is a talented squad that gets one final opportunity to build toward, hopefully, a more normal 2021 in Razorback Land.
Let’s take a look at Arkansas’ Keys to the Game against TCU.
2020 Schedule (3-7)
L, Georgia 37-10
W, @ Mississippi State 21-14
L, @ Auburn 30-28
W, Ole Miss 33-21
L, @ Texas A&M 42-31
W, Tennessee 24-13
L, @ Florida 63-35
L, LSU 27-24
L, @ Missouri 50-48
L, Alabama 52-3
Arkansas OFFENSE (in 2020 regular season)
- Rushing Yards Per game - 151.3 ypg (8th in the SEC)
- Passing Yards Per game - 240.2 ypg (7th)
- Total offense per game - 391.5 ypg (8th)
- Turnovers lost - 13 (6 INT, 7 Fumbles lost)
Projected Arkansas starting offense for the Mercari Texas Bowl
QB - Feleipe Franks (2,107 passing yards, 17 passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown)
RB - Trelon Smith (134 attempts, 710 yards, five touchdowns)
WR - Trey Knox (seven receptions, 70 yards)
WR - Treylon Burks (2nd Team All-SEC - 51 receptions, 820 yards, seven touchdowns)
WR - Mike Woods (32 receptions, 619 yards, five touchdowns)
TE - Blake Kern
LT - Myron Cunningham
LG - Brady Latham (Freshman All-SEC)
C - Ty Clary/Ricky Stromberg (missed finale with concussion)
RG - Beaux Limmer/Ty Clary
RT - Dalton Wagner
Other Key Offensive pieces
TE - Hudson Henry (Freshman All-SEC - missed last 2 games - 16 rec, 92 yards, one TD)
WR - Tyson Morris (seven receptions, 67 yards, one touchdown)
QB - K.J. Jefferson (one start v. Missouri - 18 of 33, 274 yards, three touchdowns, 32 yards rushing, one rushing touchdown)
RB - T.J. Hammonds (14 attempts, 101 yards)
Keys to winning for the Razorbacks offense
- Hoping TCU gets lost in the Woods - Everyone by now knows the greatness that is Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks. He’s going to be a first rounder in the NFL Draft whenever he’s eligible. Because Burks casts such a huge shadow, for good reason mind you, fellow receiver Mike Woods often gets lost in the shuffle. If TCU doesn’t respect the game breaking ability of Woods, he can make that Horned Frog defense pay. Woods averages, AVERAGES, a whopping 19.3 yards per catch. He’s strong and has the size to be a problem for the TCU defensive backs in any area on the field. He can make it happen after the catch, turning into a high quality running back once he has the ball in his hands. Not surprisingly, he just doesn’t get the attention and that’s a real shame.
- Returning home - The top two Razorback running backs during 2020 were Houston products so a homecoming was due to happen in the Mercari Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium. However, a few weeks back, Stratford High School product Rakeem Boyd opted out of the remainder of the 2020 season. That left powderkeg Trelon Smith, a Cypress Ridge High School product, to take over as the top Hog ball carrier. Smith is tough on opposing defenses due to his diminutive stature (5-9, 185), but his short area quickness and explosive burst are tough on defensive fronts, especially when those fronts haven’t been on the field in a few weeks. The TCU front isn’t heavy, but it’s light on its feet and seemingly the right type of front to slow Smith. However, I wouldn’t count on it being easy, given Smith’s ability to make anyone miss anywhere on the field.
- Frankly, it’s Franks - It’ll be the last college game in the long career of Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks. He has truly preserved through injury, a transfer and being banged up throughout the last half of 2020. TCU has some edge speed, in particular Ochaun Mathis, that can make life tough on Franks in the play action/dropback games. If the Hogs stay out of 2nd and long/3rd and long, though, Franks should be able to get time to find Burks/Woods/Blake Kern all over the field.
Arkansas DEFENSE (in 2020 regular season)
- Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 192.1 ypg (12th in the SEC)
- Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 259.6 ypg (10th)
- Total offense Allowed per game - 451.7 ypg (11th)
- Turnovers generated - 18 (13 INT, 5 Fumble recoveries - Arkansas is +5 in TO margin)
Projected Arkansas starting defense for the Mercari Texas Bowl
DE - Eric Gregory (27 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
DT - Isaiah Nichols (24 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks)
DT - Jonathan Marshall (6.5 TFL - tied for second on the team in 2020)
Jack - Dorian Gerald/Zach Williams (3.0 sacks combined)
WLB - Bumper Pool (2nd Team All-SEC - 101 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 0.5 sack)
MLB - Grant Morgan (1st Team All-SEC - 111 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, one pick six)
CB - Montaric Brown (31 tackles, one INT, six PBU)
S - Jalen Catalon (2nd Team All-SEC - 99 tackles, 2.0 TFL, three INT, four PBU, two FF)
S - Joe Foucha (60 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, two INT)
Nickel - Greg Brooks Jr. (missed most of last game v. Alabama)/LaDarrius Bishop
CB - Nick Turner (true freshman - started last game v. Alabama - seven tackles)
Other Key Defensive pieces
LB - Hayden Henry (will miss first half due to targeting in last game v. Alabama in 2nd half)
CB - Hudson Clark (47 tackles, 1.0 TFL, three INT)
DT - Julius Coates (18 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks - missed Alabama game)
DB - Myles Mason (22 tackles, 0.5 TFL - started last two games of season)
Keys to winning for the Razorbacks defense
- JC #1 - I unabashedly love defensive back Jalen Catalon. If Tyrann Mathieu is the Honey Badger, Catalon is the Son of the Honey Badger. The redshirt freshman ATTACKS the ball at all times and does the same to anyone in a different colored jersey. He’s just 5-10 and 189 lb. but he plays like he’s the second coming of a Sean Taylor/Mathieu/Eric Berry safety mashup. He was named a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist and will eventually be named a Freshman All-American. There’s little question that he’s needed against TCU’s top rated running game. He more than likely will play near the box for much of the game to help slow fellow freshman TCU running back Zach Evans and quarterback Max Duggan.
- Bumper Morgan - I’m sure at some point during this season, I called either Grant Morgan or Bumper Pool, Bumper Morgan because the two Razorback linebackers play nearly the same type of game. The only way to tell them apart is the numbers - Morgan is 31 and Pool is 10. Neither one weighs more than 220 lb., regardless of what the roster might read, but the two have insane first step quickness, combined with anticipation of what the offense is planning to do. TCU’s run game is the best in the Big 12 and Arkansas’ run defense was in the bottom three of the SEC. As such, these two need some help from the big fellas up front to allow them to attack the line of scrimmage to keep Evans, Duggan and the TCU ball carriers from getting to open space in a hurry.
- Scars - In the final two games of the season, the Arkansas defense was shredded by Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak and Alabama Heisman Trophy contender Mac Jones. It precipitated a number of different changes in the Hogs secondary. If those two games left scars in the back end, TCU quarterback Max Duggan is going to successfully dial up some deep shots to receiver Quentin Johnston and company against man coverage. But, if the Hogs front can handle the run game on early downs to keep the Hogs out of disadvantageous coverages on 2nd and/or 3rd down, it’ll help that secondary immensely.