To say that the Arkansas Razorbacks are at a crossroads right now might be an understatement. They just took arguably one of the worst losses in the history of their program to Toledo at home. During this game, it was apparent that they got away from the things that got them to where they were: a #18 national ranking. Unfortunately for us, it might just be a bad thing that they got embarrassed on their home turf. Let's start off with some lighthearted jokes and fun songs about Arkansas before we get into the analysis.
Slim Thug - Hogg Life
Hank Williams Jr - Hog Wild
Johnny Cash - Ring Of Fire
Tim Hawkins - Cletus Take The Reel
Inverse Paradox - Hog Call ***Original Arkansas Razorbacks Song***
I find it funny that mispronouncing Arkansas is illegal in Arkansas, as if y'all are scared of being compared to Kansas or something. No one in the history of the world has ever confused a Jayhawk and a guy who doesn't have a full set of teeth.
The only "Natural" thing about Arkansas is the meth.
Arkansas contains over 600,000 acres of lakes, 9,700 miles of streams and rivers, and 0 square miles of civilization.
If y'all tried to be Alabama any harder these would be Houndstooth pattern.
Alright, enough pseudo-slander, let's talk football.
The vast majority of the Razorback's plays aren't run with a fullback, which is what many perceive the Razorbacks to use. They like to spread the defensive front 7 out a little bit more than a running team normally does in order to create creases for the zone-running game and space for their stellar tight ends.
Yeah, Jonathan Williams is done for the season with an injury, but Alex Collins can more than fill his role. QB Brandon Allen can be very hit-or-miss, but outside of the Red Zone against Toledo he's been hitting on the vast majority of his snaps. The TE tandem of Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle might be the best i've seen so far this season.
DEFENSE: 4-3, but we'll see a 4-2-5 yet again due to the Air Raid
The Razorback's defense is incredibly solid. They struggle in the pass rush outside of the DTs, but incredible pass coverage from their linebackers more than makes up for their pass rush shortcomings. Brooks Ellis, LB, is the center of their defense. Everything flows through him. If Arkansas brings pressure, it's almost never him, not because he can't blitz, but because he's that good in coverage. If we want to pass the ball over the middle, we'll have to deal with him. Arkansas's DBs are okay, but very beatable. The LBs in coverage help the DBs out a lot by eliminating the middle and allowing them to focus on the edges of the defense.
WHY I'M WORRIED:
Arkansas is big, physical, and now they're pissed. Yeah, they lost to Toledo. Yeah, they didn't look good. That was last week, now it's this week, and they still have the talent and size to bulldoze us on the ground. We give up rushing yards in spades. Even though Arkansas has had trouble running the ball this year, it's entirely possible that Arkansas gets it's crap together against our weaker rush defense. They definitely aren't shabby throwing the ball either. Brooks Ellis is an amazing coverage linebacker and would start on any team in the nation.
WHY I'M NOT WORRIED:
Arkansas took a pretty big emotional beating last week. If we can start fast and take the air out of the stadium, the emotion alone might win us this game. Toledo didn't exactly torch Arkansas through the air, but they did above average, and we have a lot more talent and speed at the WR position than they do. Our OL should be able to keep their DL at bay and force out some blitzes. If we get this team blitzing, we'll have them right where we want them.
HOW WE MATCH UP:
Let's start with the Arkansas Defense.
Luckily for us, Toledo lines up mostly how we line up, giving us a pretty good look at how Arkansas is going to attempt to defend us. The big parts of this play are the individual pass rushes of the DTs and Brooks Ellis, #51. Ellis sits over the middle of the defense, reading the eyes of the QB, in "spy" coverage. If Arkansas spied Phillip Ely, you can bet your butt they're gonna spy Patrick Mahomes.
Ellis has great instincts and deceptive speed, allowing him to cover a much bigger zone than most linebackers. If this ball doesn't get batted down, Ellis picks it and takes it to the house, or lays the wood on the slanting receiver. Considering most of our short range passes come over the middle, if we want anything, we're gonna have to go through or around him.
The defensive tackles have exceptional pass rushes on this play. The right side DT almost gets to the depth of the defensive end, putting himself squarely in the QB's left passing lane. The left side DT, playing from the NG position, completely beats the center. He nearly beats the guard too, getting his hands up just in time to bat the pass away. The rest of the coverage from the Razorbacks is man across the board, which indicates that they depend on the DL getting a good pass rush. If their DTs can do this to our interior OL, we're going to have a tough time passing the ball from the pocket.
Brooks Ellis doesn't make the tackle, but he makes this play work. The DE is too tied up to keep up with the RB as he goes outside, and the CB #2 isn't close enough to make the RB slow down and change direction. Fortunately for the Razorbacks, Brooks Ellis reads this like a children's book, and the right side DT takes up the man that was supposed to go downfield and block him. Ellis's presence is enough to make the RB hesitate and almost stop, and he's easily caught from behind by the backside DT.
If Ellis and the CB aren't there, there isn't much to stop the RB from taking this for a huge gain. If Ellis specifically doesn't make this read as quick at he does, this might have been a gain or loss of only one. His presence turns it into a loss of 5. I can only reiterate this so many times before we all get bored of it: Brooks Ellis and the Razorback DTs are good at football.
That play is a microcosm of how good the Razorbacks are at defending the run. The DEs aren't the best at pass rushing, but they defend the run exceptionally. Every single person on their front 7 plays well against the run. If we can spread them out enough we might find a couple of creases, but I would still expect us to air it out much more than normal (which for us is a whole heck of a lot) on Saturday.
When I say that the Razorback DBs are okay but beatable, this is what I mean. The man in motion tells Toledo QB Ely that Arkansas is once again in man coverage. The CB in press coverage takes a couple of steps in, because his man in coverage has shifted to the innermost WR. This throws the deeper CB for a loop, as he now has to stop and change direction to get back to the outermost WR. If Ely pulls the trigger quickly on #9, this is 6 easily. With an actually mobile QB in Patrick Mahomes, I can definitely see Kliff utilizing a lot of this stuff, as he's fast enough to get out there for a better angle on the motion receiver. I think we can really exploit this secondary if they're in man coverage.
Here's where DeAndre Washington and Justin Stockton will come in. When the Razorbacks switch to zone coverage, they drop exceptionally deep. Even Brooks Ellis, who normally is around the line of scrimmage, drops a whopping 10 yards deep. This leaves literally no one underneath to defend the RB slipping out of the backfield. This is on 2nd down as well, this isn't a special 3rd down defense to keep Toledo in front of the 1st down marker, this is what they do in basic zone coverage. If they give us the ability to get our RBs in space, I fully expect us to use them liberally. Bold Prediction: DeAndre Washington has more than 80 yards worth of receptions on Saturday.
We've talked about the Razorback defense, now let's talk about what we're all dreading: The offense that ran all over us to the tune of 438 rushing yards and 7 rushing touchdowns.
While Arkansas can still be effective running the ball, I'm having a hard time believing that this is the same running team from last year. They're good, but something just seems... different. It's hard to put my thumb on. I don't think their meaty OL is very good in zone blocking, but it seems to be what they run the vast majority of the time. I really like the matchup of Pete Robertson and Branden Jackson on their bigger tackles if and only if they run these zone plays. Unfortunately, I think we'll see a lot of traps, G pulls, and that little draw play they have out of the I-Formation.
Speaking of that little draw play out of the I-Formation, here it is. It's a pretty basic play that Arkansas runs almost exclusively out of the I-Formation. The thought behind bringing a fullback into the picture is that the Razorback RB should be able to bowl over or juke the MLB in the ever-widening hole left by the DE coming hard upfield. The scary part is that it might be even more effective against us, seeing as how Arkansas has a pretty good passing game, especially with their TEs. If we can shut this play down effectively, I like our chances, as it absolutely killed us last year. If we can't, I can guarantee it will be a long game.
All that being said, I don't see the same dominating run blocking team I did last year. I don't know if it's a change in mentality brought on by a new OC, or just the absence of bruiser Alex Collins, but they just seem... different. It's not just in this game either, it's in the UTEP game as well. They seem completely sold on being a throwing team out of the singleback formation.
Their passing game mostly comes off of two plays: quick screens and "flood" plays
On the "flood" plays, essentially they're going to get all of their receivers on one side of the formation at different vertical levels. The thought behind this is that eventually someone will be open at some level of the defense. The play pictured does not include a QB rollout, but they mostly run these with a QB rollout to give Brandon Allen a safety valve should no one be open. I'm really worried about how their TEs match up with our LBs, who struggled last week with the UTEP TEs. Hunter Henry could have a career day.
However, Offensively, they're a team without an identity. This could play in our favor, or we could give them an identity to build on. Their TEs are easily the strength of this unit. They could start really working us over the middle if we don't play well.
I repeat, despite that loss at Toledo, Arkansas is still a very scary team should they find something consistent to hang their hat on. If they find that against us, they win by two scores. If they don't, we will certainly be able to win this game. It's strange to say this, but this is a game that doesn't depend on how we react to something. I believe the solid wins we've had the past two weeks have energized the team and finally got them believing that they can play with anyone. However, I firmly believe that the Arkansas Razorbacks get it back together this season, and there's some serious potential that they could get it together against us. Arkansas takes it in a shootout.
Arkansas 52, Texas Tech 48