Going forward, Seth and I are going to be teaming up to provide a more in-depth preview of the upcoming opponents for the Texas Tech football team in 2014. Seth's previews will stay in the format you guy have come to love these past two weeks, where I will be supplementing VTM's coverage. Now, let's get it.
Who will make this Arkansas team tick? Who will be the movers and shakers? First off, let's look at the offense.
Much like he did at Wisconsin, Bielema will be trotting out a very run-heavy team led by a tandem of excellent running backs. I don't think they're there yet in terms of Montee Ball and John White and the like, but these two guys that will be 1-2 will be quite a handful.
Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. These two combined for a shade under 2,000 yards (Collins 1,026; Williams 900) and 10 total TDs. The scariest thing for opponents is that both of these guys are just underclassmen, so their reign has just begun. There will be a third back entering the rotation and it will likely be Korliss Marshall. Marshall played on defense last season at safety, but will be the fastest RB of the bunch, being the Razorback's true homerun threat.
Dan Skipper. Skipper is an offensive lineman, probably best suited for a tackle position. He played in all 12 games last season as a freshman. He is a former 3* prospect out of Colorado and stands 6-foot-10 and tips the scales at 315 pounds. Not only was he a stalwart on the offensive line, helping pave the way for 8 100-yard rushing games, but he was named on several all-freshman lists. Also, the guy blocked 3 FGs.
Martrell Spaight and Carroll Washington. Spaight is a linebacker and Washington is a CB, but both will be in their second year out of JUCO, and that is when JUCOs usually hit their stride and take off.
What do we need to know about the Razorback offense?
As mentioned above, the Razorbacks will field a run-heavy offense, centered on a running back duo (or trio) that will rank up there with any RBs in the country. This will be the first and possibly biggest test of the Texas Tech defense up front. We will get to see how the JUCO defensive linemen have adjusted to the speed of college ball and see if Rika Levi is anything like we all hope he is.
The team rushed for just over 2500 yards last year, with Collins and Williams getting the bulk of those yards. The offensive line returns 3 starters and should be a pretty solid group on the team. Starting QB will most likely be Brandon Allen, a junior. His stats from this past season weren't too spectacular, but he's not asked to do much besides take care of the ball when it's time to pass. He threw for just over 1,500 yards with 13 TDs and 10 interceptions. Allen's primary targets will be Demetrius Wilson and Deon Hatcher at WR and Hunter Henry at TE. Henry should factor more into the passing game this year. Henry had 28 receptions for 409 yards and 4 TDs as a true freshman. Much like at Wisconsin, Bielema likes the open it up and throw deep downfield on playaction to the TE (see also David Shaw at Stanford).
The Razorbacks have the weapons to be able to move the ball through the air, but expect a heavy dose of Collins and Washington, especially if the game is close or if the Razorbacks have a lead.
What do we need to know about the Razorback defense?
Arkansas will be running a base 4-3 defense, although against Texas Tech you're likely to see more of a nickel/dime defense. The Razorbacks had a really good defensive line last year, but lost a lot of talent, but they are expecting to have just as good of a group this year along the line. The projected starters have considerable size, so the Tech o-line will have its hands full keeping Webb clean and opening holes for the running backs. The defensive ends are Trey Flowers (6-foot-4 267) and Deatrich Wise (6-foot-6 267) with the defensive tackles being DeMarcus Hodge (6-foot-1 343) and Darius Philon (6-foot3 283). In fact, linebacking corps is fairly big, too, with the starters all being in the 6-foot-plus 230-240 range.
The CBs are big and may hold a size advantage over the outside receivers depending on who Tech starts. Projected starting corners are senior Tevin Mitchel (6-foot, 188) and junior Will Hines (6-foot-1 190).
How the Razorbacks Affect Texas Tech
This game, like most, will be determined by the play of the lines. Arkansas will have a significant size advantage over both of the Tech lines. The smallest (lightest) offensive lineman for the Razorback is Skipper at 315 pounds. From there, the weights go up to 320, 328, 340 and 348. And you saw the defensive line above. This game will come down to which team cracks under the pressure that the opposing offensive creates.
Tech's offense will try to use speed and deception to move the ball and score quickly, wearing down the Arkansas defense by running them all over the field. The Razorback offense will try to wear down the Tech defense by running right at and over them. The game plan will not change for Tech throughout the game, regardless of the score. However, if Tech can open up a lead on Arkansas, and possibly early, Arkansas will have to lean more heavily on their passing attack, which won't have the legs to keep up with Tech. IF Tech can force a shootout, Tech fans should feel pretty good about their chances. If Arkansas is able to hang around and keep the game close, or take a lead, expect them to continue to pound the ball on the ground and force Tech to prove they can stop the run. I expect the stat sheet to say something like Tech rushed for ~60 yards and threw for 400+. I think this only changes if Tech is able to somehow make space on the ground, and then that rushing total may eclipse the century mark. Tech is going to have to be efficient on offense and establish a tempo and hopefully a lead to apply the pressure on the Razorbacks.
Where will Arkansas finish?
Everything I have seen says not to expect Arkansas to finish with bowl eligibility this season, but that it's not out of the question. Don't let this fool you, VTM'ers. As far as we know, the Arkansas strength matches up pretty well against Tech's weakness.
They only won 3 games last year, but some of them were close. Their schedule was pretty tough in the middle, facing Texas A&M, Florida (haha), South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn in consecutive weeks. I think this run here deflated their tires and they weren't able to get back on track.
I would expect a couple of more wins, and maybe with an upset, the Razorbacks could become bowl eligible again. Their schedule this year is much more favorable, outside of starting the season on the plains against Auburn. The Tech game is sandwiched between Nicholls State and Northern Illinois, so I would expect to get Bielema's full attention.