2014 AdvoCare Texas Bowl: Arkansas vs. Texas

    Texas (6-6) vs. Arkansas (6-6) Dec. 29, 9:00, ESPN Here’s The Deal: If it’s possible to be Texas and Arkansas and be happy to be 6-6 and in the AdvoCare

    December 28, 2014

    Texas (6-6) vs. Arkansas (6-6) Dec. 29, 9:00, ESPN 

    Here’s The Deal: If it’s possible to be Texas and Arkansas and be happy to be 6-6 and in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, this is the game. Not only is it a revival of the old Southwest Conference days, but it’s a step-forward moment for both programs that should be far, far better in the near future. 

    Texas is never going to be happy at .500, but this was a rebuilding and reloading first season for Charlie Strong, who had to deal with the loss of starting quarterback David Ash early on, and a banged up offensive line that never quite found its footing until November. Even so, and even with the adversity, the team played hard and didn’t quit after a rocky and somewhat demoralizing 2-4 start. 

    The offense sputtered overall, and the defense struggled against the better teams, but the Longhorns still managed to come up with a three-game run of blowouts over Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State to become bowl eligible. Reality hit hard in losses to Baylor, Kansas State and TCU by a combined score of 99 to 17, but there was promise and potential several times throughout the year with a defense that finished 12th in the nation against the pass and with some hope for quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to progress and improve. However, it is still Texas, and while a bowl game doesn’t mean everything, a loss would make the offseason a bit rougher in an already pressure-packed situation. 

    Arkansas needed a while to get back among the living, but for all the SEC losses over the last two years, and even with the 3-4 start this year, there were signs that Bret Bielema had the team close to being more than just a tough out. 

    It took a while, but the SEC losing streak ended with authority as the Hogs came up with back-to-back shutouts over LSU and Ole Miss late in the season to become bowl eligible thanks to a power running game and a defense that somewhat quietly turned into a killer allowing 21 points or fewer in eight of the 12 games holding Alabama to 14 points and Mississippi State to 17. This might have been a fantastic team with a horrifically-tough schedule – the six losses came at Auburn, Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia, at Mississippi State and at Missouri – but that narrative goes away if the Hogs loss to Texas. 

    Arkansas has been a horrible bowl team since the mid-1980s losing ten of 11 from the 1987 Orange to the 2002 Music City and going 5-14 since beating Florida in the 1982 Bluebonnet. For Bielema, who was famously ripped on by Barry Alvarez for going to Rose Bowls but not winning them, he could use a big bowl victory. 

    Forget the 30-7 embarrassment to Oregon in last year’s Alamo – Texas was outstanding in bowls under Mack Brown winning nine of 11 from the 2001 Holiday on with only a shocking loss to Washington State in the 2003 Holiday and the 2010 BCS Championship loss to Alabama to mess it up. Strong has been terrific in bowl games, too, and now it’s time to establish the new tradition in Texas. 

    Formerly the Galleryfurniture.com, then the Houston, then the Texas, then the Meineke, the Texas Bowl (again) hasn’t been bad in over the last few years with Minnesota losing the last two in tough, but close fashion. Overall, though, nine of the 14 games have been blowouts. No matter how this one turns out, it’ll be among the most physical. 

    Why Texas Might Win: The run defense hasn’t been gouged over the second half of the season. There were problems over the first half, but the defensive front has started to lock up a bit better by getting behind the line, and it doesn’t get pushed around. On the year, the Longhorns have allowed just 3.9 yards per carry with 16 touchdowns – Arkansas will try to run, but it might not have too much success on a consistent basis because of …

    – Malcom Brown. The defensive tackle was up for several major defensive awards after coming up with a dominant season on the inside with a team-leading 6.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and 62 stops. The Hog O line has been strong in pass protection, but Brown could be a disruptive force on his own. 

    – Arkansas lives on coming up with manageable third down situations, and then converting. Texas has been among the best in the nation at coming up with third down stops, allowing offenses to convert just 35% of the time. Kansas and Oklahoma State were the only teams to convert better than 40%, and Texas won those two games. 

    – Tyrone Swoopes and the Texas passing game has stepped up with 200 yards or more in three of the last four games and five of the last seven. He might be a bit erratic and inconsistent, and he threw four picks against TCU, and when things aren’t working, the passing game bogs down, but the Arkansas secondary can be beaten. The Hogs will give up big plays from time to time. 

    – How did Arkansas lose its six games? The opposing running game worked. The Hogs allowed 148 yards or more three times, and lost all three games games, and four of its six wins came when holding teams under 100. Texas averages 148 rushing yards per game. 

    Why Arkansas Might Win: The Texas running game can get tough at times, but the Hog run D really has been amazing. On the year it gave up three touchdowns to Auburn in an opening day loss, and gave up three more in the loss to Georgia – and just four rushing scores to everyone else. The line doesn’t get moved around and the linebacking corps doesn’t get beaten on the outside. 

    – Texas just doesn’t score enough. It got hot late against Oklahoma, and it blew up on Iowa State, Texas Tech and West Virginia. Unfortunately, the O came up with 17 points or fewer five times. Arkansas has allowed 17 or fewer in three of the last four games. 

    – Arkansas has become amazing defensively in the red zone – it stiffens up in a huge way. The Texas red zone offense has been awful, scoring just 78% of the time, while the Hogs are fourth in the nation when teams get inside the 20. The Hogs have allowed two red zone scores or fewer in every game but three. 

    – The Texas run defense has been excellent, but it’s about to get hit hard by the 1-2 rushing punch of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. The Hogs are ninth in the nation in time of possession, keeping the ball for over 33 minutes a game, and Williams and Collins will be a bit part of keeping them on the right side of the number. 

    – Texas isn’t doing much on kickoff returns, averaging 18.7 yards per pop, while Arkansas is coming up with 25.3 yards per try. Considering the way the two teams roll, field position matters – the Hogs can control the game with a few big returns. 

    What’s Going To Happen: The Arkansas defense will keep the middling Texas offense from doing much of anything to get things going. The Hog O line will power away just enough to make things easy for a passing game that needs to keep a banged up Brandon Allen upright. It’ll be a low-scoring slugfest, and Arkansas is better built for it. 

    Prediction: Arkansas 24 … Texas 17 
    Line: Arkansas -5.5 o/u: 45.5 

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