Longhorn Offense vs. Arkansas Defense
The biggest concern for Longhorn fans is a Texas offense that matches poor QB play and an unreliable OL against a solid pair of big Arkansas DEs and a cohesive Razorback defense that conceded only 11 points per game over their last 5 contests of the season - including a pair of back-to-back shutouts against ranked opponents. The Razorbacks feasted on bad QB play over the second half of their season and there's little doubt that they're expecting a similar repast on December 29th. Most worrying, Arkansas forced 13 turnovers in those 5 games while surrendering only 5 of their own.
If they're +2 or +3 in turnover margin against the Longhorns, it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which Texas can win.
Arkansas suspended starting safety Rohan Gaines for the Texas Bowl and that should offer some additional opportunities against a thin Razorback secondary that will concede yardage underneath and a Razorback defensive front that doesn't excel at pressuring the QB. What Arkansas is good at is disallowing big plays and bending but not breaking. They're content to let pedestrian quarterbacks slit their own wrists and that game plan has proven fairly solid against the Longhorn offense all year.
The Arkansas offense and special teams also do a good job of giving the Razorbacks 70-90 yards to defend. The Razorback assumption is that most college offenses will sputter out halfway there. Probably not the best game plan against Auburn or Baylor, but tough to argue against when facing LSU or Texas.
If Texas loses, it's a safe bet that our performance in this match-up was unsatisfactory. If Texas loses big, it's a safer bet that the Texas OL struggled, Swoopes had three or more turnovers and the defense tapped out after yet another Arkansas possession starting inside the 20.
Keys To The Longhorn Attack
Find Swoopes early single read routes to build his confidence and hope that the loss of the junior Arkansas safety Gaines forces the Razorbacks into fairly vanilla looks where Tyrone can identify simple pre-snap reads. Because there's a whole offseason to heal, running Swoopes on bootlegs, draws and our zone no-read should be emphasized when Arkansas tries to layer coverages. If Swoopes doesn't show much early, I expect us to turtle up a bit and swap punts. The message boards should be delightful if that happens.
The Arkansas DL has decent size across the board, but lacks a true anchor inside and can be pushed around a bit - a fact that they overcome with linebacker stunts and moving fronts. Giving Swoopes some decent looks outside will rely heavily on our ability to run credible inside zone and force Arkansas to play defense against 1st and 10 and 2nd and 4. On honest downs, there's nothing particularly special about this Razorback defense. Of course, the same could be said about Kansas State. The key is making the throws that are there.
As with a true freshman David Ash in 2011 against Cal, this bowl game is Swoopes' opportunity to show some glimpses of a steadier hand and better composure. If he can't, it's anyone's guess what 2015 looks like.
Longhorn Defense vs. Arkansas Offense
The match-up Longhorns fans are most optimistic about features a very good Texas defense against a physical, ball-control Arkansas offense accustomed to lining up and pile-driving defenses behind a pair of no-nonsense power backs, a gigantic OL, a pair of 255 pound TEs and a QB that doesn't turn it over. Arkansas will run it until we prove we can stop it. Then they'll run it some more.
Given some Longhorn struggles against the run, this should be a daunting prospect, but Arkansas reliance on conventional personnel groupings means that Texas should be able to largely match strength vs. strength. Most of the running damage against the Longhorns has come from the spread against our 3-3-5 where we had significant threats to deal with at wide receiver and quarterback and/or the threat of running QBs. Arkansas lacks outside threats, their QB is average and the Longhorns should be able to lock down on the run situationally. We're not going to run zero safeties, except for the occasional look, but it's a good bet that Jason Hall will spend a fair amount of the game near the line of scrimmage. The running game infrastructure of Reed, Ridgeway, Brown, Edmond will be instrumental - particularly in getting Arkansas into 2nd and long - and the play of Jason Hall and Jordan Hicks will be crucial in cleaning up the garbage on the edge and on bounce-outs. A surprisingly important match-up will be the Fox End vs. the Arkansas tight end or lead back on misdirection or weak side zone runs when they're in 12 (2 TEs) and 13 (2 TEs + H-back) personnel - if we lose these TE vs. WDE, SS and WLB match-ups, Arkansas will find the cutback lanes they need to wear Texas down late - even if the strength of our defense is winning theirs.
The Arkansas passing game should be throttled on passing downs. Brandon Allen is a competent QB who doesn't beat his own team, but the Razorbacks lack great options at WR and make most of their hay in play action to their TEs. They're interested in moving the sticks to punish overplay and handing the ball off again - not flipping the field on one play. It's crucial that the Texas safeties and linebackers maintain discipline against Razorback tight ends who excel at blocking and then releasing while the defender assigned to them is trapped in their second false step.
Keys To The Longhorn Defensive Effort
Arkansas should be fairly useless in 3rd and 6+ and their ability to drive the ball 80 yards on the Texas defense is suspect.
However, it's important to note that the Razorback running game is surprisingly diverse despite lacking a run threat at QB. They run unbalanced lines, mix up formations and generally look for formational wins to catch a cheating defense that believes a 8 man front is all that's needed to shut down a power running game. It's not. I'm sure tinkering with looks that get us out of our base defense will be their goal. If Texas over-relies on run blitzing instead of straight up play from our linebackers and struggles to fill properly, we'll give up enough in the running game to keep Arkansas in their game plan and the pressure on Tyrone Swoopes.
If the Longhorns can put the game in Brandon Allen's hands consistently on 3rd down and 6+, it's hard to imagine the Razorbacks exceeding 17 or 20 points without a complete implosion from the Longhorn offense.
Forgetting Xs and Os and personnel match-ups, the single most important determinant for any minor bowl game is motivational: Does your team want to be there? Specifically, your team's seniors. There's a pretty good case to made that our defense will want to go out the right way. On offense, the seniors we have aren't in natural leadership positions and we're relying on the fragile psyche of Tyrone Swoopes and an OL that's doing their best with what they have.