Arkansas v. Texas
NRG Stadium — Houston, TX
December 29, 2014 — 9:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
It’s an old Southwest Conference battle between two teams that famously dueled for the mythical national championship in 1969. This will be the last relevant game of the year at the Houston Texans’ home stadium. Both teams have fallen from those giddy highs of yesteryear, though there has been reason for optimism for both schools as the season has evolved. The two contestants feature head coaches that are going bowling for the first time with their respective programs. Both teams’ strengths skew toward the defensive side of the ball, so if you have a special affinity for offense-crushing play this showdown is definitely for you.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Arkansas snapped its 17-game SEC losing streak in the nick of time, knocking off LSU in mid-November and Ole Miss the following weekend to secure bowl eligibility in head coach Bret Bielema’s second season in Fayetteville. The season began with a blowout loss at defending conference champ Auburn, featured a three-game losing streak in the heart of the schedule, and ended with defeat to SEC East champ Missouri. The team was dependent on the running game for its offense, as the passing game averaged less than 200 yards per game. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins both ran for over 1000 yards and double-digit touchdown totals, as the Razorbacks exhibited the same trademark ground-based game that defined Bielema’s Wisconsin teams. Defense was the key to reaching six wins, as Arkansas was ranked 22nd in yards allowed and 12th in scoring defense.
After the Red River Shootout, Texas was sitting at just 2-4 midway through its regular season. Starting quarterback David Ash had played just one game before retiring from football for good due to concussion-related health issues, and Tyrone Swoopes experienced growing pains as he took over leadership of the offense. The Longhorns weren’t particularly good through the air or on the ground, with its primary tailbacks Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray failing to reach even 700 yards apiece on the season. Without an offensive identity, it fell to the defense to will Texas to six wins and bowl eligibility. Wins over Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State put the Longhorns in position for a bowl berth, and it was a defense that held opponents to 23 points and 350 total yards of offense per game that allowed the team to reach a bowl game in Charlie Strong’s first season in Austin after replacing legendary coach Mack Brown.
What is Likely to Happen
Arkansas shut out LSU and Ole Miss and allowed just 38 total points in November. Texas gave up 48 points just to TCU in its regular season finale. The Razorbacks are going to control the time of possession with its stable of tailbacks, with Brandon Allen doing just enough at quarterback to keep the Longhorn defense honest. Tyrone Swoopes is going to have difficulty cracking the Arkansas defense, and the Razorback secondary could end the game quickly with a couple of picks from a turnover-prone Texas team. It’ll be tough to preserve a shutout, but there should be no difficulty for Bielema’s squad as they secure victory for the SEC this bowl season.
Arkansas 24, Texas 7