TCU (1-0) travels to Fayetteville to take on SEC foe and formal Southwestern Conference rival Arkansas (1-0) in a matchup of teams looking to rebound from disappointing seasons a year ago. Last year’s game between these teams in Fort Worth was one of the best of the season. After trailing most of that game, TCU had taken control late in the fourth quarter with a Kenny Hill touchdown run. However, an ill-advised throat slash gesture following the run provided the Razorbacks with great field position to eventually tie the game with a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion. TCU still had a terrific chance to win the game in regulation, but the chip shot field goal was blocked by Arkansas who went on to win the game 41-38 in double overtime.
TCU went on to finish the 2016 season with a record of 6-7, which was only Gary Patterson’s third losing season as a head coach. TCU has high hopes for another bounce back season this year as the Frogs followed up the previous two losing seasons with double-digit wins under Patterson. Most of the talk this offseason has revolved around whether or not Kenny Hill can be a more consistent quarterback, and for good reason, but he is aided this year by an experienced offensive line and the return of Kyle Hicks at running back after missing last season due to injury. Also, TCU has added much-needed size to the defensive interior line for exactly these types of games in order to improve their rush defense.
Arkansas, meanwhile, has converted to a 3-4 base defense under first year defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, the former Iowa State head coach. This means the Hogs will have more speed on the field to match up with TCU’s spread formations, and they will look to bring the pressure on Kenny Hill with speed rushers Randy Ramsey and Dwayne Eugene from the outside linebacker positions. The Arkansas pass defense took a hit in week one as it was announced top cornerback Ryan Pulley is out for the season.
On offense, Arkansas has a quarterback question similar to TCU. Austin Allen is the returning starter but led the SEC in interceptions last season. The Razorbacks have a stable of high quality running backs led by Devwah Whaley followed by senior David Williams and stud freshmen Chase Hayden. However, the Razorbacks do not have the elite offensive line unit normally associated with Bret Bielema squads. The right hand side of the line is currently in flux as they attempt to find the right combination of players. True freshmen Ty Clary made the start at right guard last week against Florida A&M.
DATE & TIME: SAT, SEP 9 at 2:30 CT
WHERE: Razorback Stadium (Fayetteville, AR)
FORECAST: Mostly sunny, low 80s, light winds
BETTING LINE: TCU -3.5
It was difficult to get a read on either team after week one as both teams implemented vanilla game plans against FCS teams on their way to easy victories. TCU got off to a shaky start defensively as they allowed Jackson State to drive the field deep into the red zone on the opening possession. However, a forced fumble on a blitz resulted in a massive loss of yards that took them out of scoring position. The defense settled in and ended the game only allowing 65 total yards in the shutout. The defense also got into the scoring action with a pick six and fumble recovering returned for a touchdown.
Kenny Hill had a good game overall finishing 18 of 23 passing for 206 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. Despite the efficient stat line, there were still some mistakes and flashes of Hill from last season. In one of the few drives that did not result in points, Kenny Hill had a couple passes fall short while attempting to throw on the run under pressure. His lone interception was the result of holding on to the ball too long and under threw the ball into a well covered receiver. On a positive note, he distributed the ball well to a multitude of receivers and only left the pocket once. It is nice to have the ability to scramble when the play breaks down, but the TCU coaches would definitely prefer to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers.
Speaking of which, TCU fans have to be excited for their wide receivers and talented freshmen after week one. Freshmen wideout Kennedy Snell scored a touchdown on his first collegiate touch in a play that left jock straps littered all over the field. Fellow Freshmen Jalen Reagor also showed off his elusiveness as he nearly took one to the house after a screen pass to the sideline. The most promising sign for the wideouts, though, was that they had zero drops, a statistic in which they led the nation last season.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR TCU
Win The QB Battle – Both teams have quarterbacks who led their respective conferences in interceptions last season and are looking for improvement this year. Also, both quarterbacks showed signs of last year’s struggles in opening week wins against lesser opponents. These quarterbacks have the ability to make big plays, but the player who takes better care of the ball while managing their offense will put their team in the best position to win.
Control The Run Game – Arkansas will attempt to control the tempo of the game and keep the TCU offense on the sidelines with the run game. As I mentioned earlier, the TCU defense made a concerted effort to get beefier up front to improve their rush defense. TCU needs to force Arkansas into obvious passing situations so that they can put the pressure on Austin Allen and force some mistakes. On the other side of the ball, Kyle Hicks returns after sitting out week one for precautionary reasons. A solid TCU rushing attack against the new Arkansas 3-4 defense will force the Razorbacks to pick their poison and hopefully open up the passing game.
Get Off To A Fast Start – Last season, Arkansas jumped out to an early lead causing TCU to play from behind the entire game. TCU needs to return the favor especially since they are on the road this time around. This is a huge game for Arkansas, and they need to take the home crowd out of the game early. Also, TCU is unproven in the kicking game, and, given recent history with Arkansas, the Horned Frogs do not want this game coming down to the wire in the Kicker’s hands (feet).
I expect TCU to come out ready in a revenge game. Their overall superior team speed will be the difference and will wear out the Arkansas defense throughout the course of the game. The experienced TCU offensive line will handle the Arkansas pass rush, and the TCU receivers will make big plays down the field. Also, Arkansas has a history of getting torched by mobile quarterbacks. Look for an improved Kenny Hill to distribute the ball to his playmaking wide receivers while efficiently picking his spots to gash the defense with his legs. The TCU defense will take advantage of the questions along the Arkansas offensive line and will be effective enough at containing the run game.
And to be honest, I just don’t think Gary Patterson will lose to the same, evenly matched team twice in a row. TCU wins this game and uses it as a springboard to the upper tier of the Big 12 this season.