The No. 15 Texas Longhorns and the Arkansas Razorbacks are squaring off for the first time since 2014, a lopsided bowl game at the end of Charlie Strong’s first year at the helm for Texas. A lot has changed for both teams since then and the former conference foes dust off the hate this year before reigniting it more frequently following the Longhorns’ move to the SEC.
So what can we expect from the Razorbacks on Saturday, who are coming off of a come-from-behind win over the Rice Owls in Week 1? To help us unpack the SEC foe, we reached out to Daniel Fair, contributor at SB Nation site Arkansas Fight, to give us some insights into the Hogs.
Burnt Orange Nation: A lot of folks tuned in for the Arkansas/Rice game when they saw the score, but the Razorbacks poured it on late and finished with a comfortable lead. How did they fall behind to the Owls and what did they do to turn things around?
Daniel Fair, Arkansas Fight: Week 1 always brings with it growing pains. Unforced errors gave the Hogs poor field position, starting their first eight drives from an average of the 17-yard line. It didn’t allow KJ get into a consistent rhythm to effectively run the offense. Throw in the bad snaps, penalties, and mistimed throws and drops, they struggled to gain any ground. When they couldn’t, it led to better field position for the Owls. Give credit to Rice — they capitalized.
What changed is probably more mental than anything else. Around the 10-minute mark in the third quarter, Jefferson hit Tyson Morris for a 31-yard gain, and that’s when the offense looked completely different. That’s where they scored 31 unanswered and ran away with it. The offense just needed to settle in better, which happened once they cleaned up the first-half mistakes.
BON: KJ Jefferson put up big numbers on Saturday, a combined 217 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, but didn’t really get going until late. What changed in the second half for him?
DF: Again, I think it was a mental thing for KJ. First-game jitters, along with playing in front of 65,000 for the first time in Razorback Stadium probably got to him. Once he hit Morris for that long gain, things started getting better for him. They also called back what would have been a long touchdown run, which would have given him 150 rushing yards on the afternoon.
I also think that Kendal Briles probably tried to hold him back a bit. Not to say they were trying to hide a playbook from Texas, but knowing that KJ likes to run, I think Briles wanted to make sure to stay relatively injury-free this last weekend. Once Jefferson started to run, you could see he was more comfortable on the field.
BON: Superstar wide receiver Treylon Burks is playing through injury and didn’t put up his usual gaudy numbers on Saturday, finishing with five receptions for 42 yards on nine targets. What is his status for Saturday and what should we expect from him?
DF: As of today, Treylon Burks should be 100 percent this weekend. Tyson Morris said in a press conference yesterday that Burks looks good in practice and I think the numbers you saw last week will probably be the worst game he puts up this season. Being held out of practice for the last two weeks probably got him a little rusty, so last week was kicking a lot of that rust off and getting ready for the season.
Last season, Burks was involved on what felt like every single play, even if he wasn’t the main target. He’ll get his touches, so I would expect something like five or six receptions, and if he breaks a long one he’ll be sitting over the 100-yard mark. I would actually also expect a big day from a name that a lot of Texas fans know, Ketron Jackson. Jackson only hauled in two receptions last week, but he was raved about in fall camp and with extra attention being put on Burks, this could be a breakout game for him. It would be poetic, honestly.
BON: Tackle vacuum Bumper Pool was ejected in the second half for targeting against Rice, meaning he will miss the first half on Saturday. What does that defense look like without him on the field?
DF: I think at this point, most of college football is ready to see some kind of change on the targeting penalty. Losing Bumper in the first half is going to leave a massive void, but for the first time in a long time I am not worried about depth at linebacker. Grant Morgan was also ejected for targeting on Saturday, but that was in the first half, so he will be available. We saw Andrew Parker step up in a big way there, and Hayden Henry is also available. What I love most about Morgan and Hayden Henry is that they come from a long line of Razorbacks who know what the Texas rivalry is and what it means to the state of Arkansas. They’ll be able to fill the Pool void on Saturday well.
For the rest of the defense, you’ve got an All-American in safety Jalen Catalon who made his presence felt on Saturday with two interceptions and double-digit tackles.. The entire secondary is a big strength of this Arkansas team, and they are going to want to disrupt Card as much as possible. The defensive line is deep too, and they get deeper with John Ridgeway III coming back this week from surgery.
BON: What is the storyline you’re watching on Saturday?
DF: The biggest storyline I am looking for is from the offense. Through the 2020 season and into last week, the offense has taken its time getting settled and moving the ball. How efficient can they be in the first half, and can they keep that momentum going for all four quarters?
BON: What’s your score prediction?
DF: Right now, Texas is a 4.5-point favorite and that might move to 6.5 or 7.5 before kickoff. I think both teams put on solid performances last week at home, though Arkansas left a lot to be desired in the first half. It really comes down to who can stop the other defensively, because both offenses are potent and can strike quickly.
I’m going to give the edge to Arkansas here, simply because it is the first away start for Hudson Card and it will be in front of a sold-out Donald W Reynolds Razorback Stadium. I think the home-field advantage gives Arkansas the win, but it’s close. Arkansas 45, Texas 42.