Difficulty level increases for No. 23 TCU, Arkansas
Last week, No. 23 TCU and unranked Arkansas both opened the season with easy victories over lower-tier opponents.
Both teams are expecting more of a test this week when they meet on Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark.
TCU (1-0) moved into the AP Top 25 after a 63-0 season-opening victory over Jackson State. The Horned Frogs were dominant in every phase. Senior quarterback Kenny Hill threw four touchdown passes, the defense returned both an interception and a fumble for touchdowns, and the Horned Frogs outgained Jackson State 542-65 in total offense.
All that came without senior running back Kyle Hicks, who sat out the game with an undisclosed injury. Hicks, who is expected to play against Arkansas (1-0), was TCU’s leading rusher last season with 1,042 yards and also had a team-high 47 receptions out of the backfield. He scored 14 touchdowns, including two in a 41-38, double-overtime loss to the Razorbacks.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema believes TCU is a formidable opponent.
“It’s everything you’d expect,” he said. “(TCU coach Gary Patterson) has playmakers on offense. Defensively, they play his scheme very well. They’re very smart. They’re very well-coached. My guess is they’re going to win a lot of football games.”
Patterson, who has 150 victories in 16-plus seasons at TCU, said the Horned Frogs view the Saturday game as an important one for national recognition.
“We understand that if you want to be a Top 25, Top 10 team, you’ve got to win big games in non-conference, and we consider Arkansas a big game,” Patterson said.
While TCU brings in a dangerous passing attack with Hill at quarterback and a stable of talented receivers — 14 TCU players caught passes in the victory over Jackson State — Arkansas will counter with a potent running attack. The Razorbacks ran for 236 yards in a season-opening 49-7 victory over Florida A&M on Aug. 31, led by 120 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries from true freshman Chase Hayden.
Bielema’s blueprint at Arkansas, and before that at Wisconsin, has been to control the ball with a powerful running game anchored by a big offensive line. He made it clear that he would like to force TCU into that type of game on Saturday.
“I want to make this our type of game, an SEC-type game and an Arkansas game here at home and see what happens,” he said.
Patterson said, “They play in a conference where that’s the way people like to play. For us, that’s a great challenge … because if you can do that, on a national landscape, you’re trying to gain some confidence. For us to get to where we want to get to, then you have to have an opportunity to beat a team like Arkansas.”
Hill had a huge game against Arkansas last season, passing for 377 yards and a touchdown and running for 93 yards and two more scores as the Horned Frogs rallied from a 20-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to take a lead before a late Arkansas touchdown forced the game into overtime.
Last week, Hill completed 18 of 23 passes for 206 yards and four touchdowns in about 2 1/2 quarters.
“I think you’ll get more of a feeling this week,” Patterson said of Hill, “playing a better defense and going on the road. I have a lot of confidence in the things he can do.”
Bielema said Hill is most dangerous when he moves outside the pocket. The Arkansas coach said the video from TCU’s opener showed Hill’s improvement from last year.
“It looks like he has tremendous presence,” Bielema said, “a better understanding of what the coaches are asking him to do.”
Arkansas senior quarterback Austin Allen was the hero of last season’s victory over TCU. Allen passed for 223 yards and three touchdowns in his second career start, and he scored the winning touchdown on a 5-yard run in the second overtime.
Arkansas kept its passing game mostly under wraps against Florida A&M, as Allen completed 14 of 19 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. He threw one interception and was occasionally under pressure.
Keeping Allen upright will be a priority against a TCU defense that had five sacks last week.
“He didn’t take any huge hits, but we definitely don’t want him to be on the ground at all,” Bielema said of Allen. “Any hit that he takes, we don’t want.”
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