Saturday night’s showdown between No. 15 TCU and Arkansas brought an intriguing clash of styles, with the Horned Frogs and their up-tempo spread offense providing a stark contrast to the lumbering Razorbacks and their ground-and-pound attack. By the end of the night, that dichotomy was dwarfed by the theatrics of what turned into a wild game.
A back-and-forth fourth quarter peaked when TCU kicker Ryan Graf’s potential game-winning field goal with 16 seconds left was blocked by Dan Skipper, Arkansas’s 6’ 10” starting offensive tackle. The Razorbacks rode that momentum into the second overtime, when quarterback Austin Allen’s five-yard touchdown run gave them a thrilling 41–38 victory.
Here are three thoughts on Arkansas’s win:
1. Arkansas kept its composure, resulting in an absolute heartbreaker for TCU
With just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, TCU had completed a dizzying comeback and held the lead and the game’s momentum. A valiant win appeared imminent. Instead, the Horned Frogs are left with an absolute gut punch of a loss.
A rather rote game early on—Bret Bielema’s brawlers took control and TCU was simply too mistake-prone to string together drives—turned insane in the fourth when the Horned Frogs’ offense finally showed up. Down 20–7, they roared back to take a 28–20 lead, sparked b quarterback Kenny Hill making better decisions with the ball and receiver KaVontae Turpin providing some electric chunk plays.
Credit the Razorbacks, though. They looked to be wilting before our eyes, but Allen, making just his second career start, and in a raucous road environment no less, immediately led them down the field for a touchdown and a tying two-point conversion, on which Allen himself logged the reception on a trick play. Then Skipper came up with the clutch field goal block, and Arkansas stood tall in OT.
Plenty of teams wouldn’t have been able to withstand TCU’s comeback, especially on the road. But Arkansas got up off the mat, and it’s certainly a deserving victor. Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs have to be wondering why they couldn’t finish the job.
2. There were plenty of bright spots, but TCU has much to work on for a run at the playoff or a Big 12 title
A popular dark horse pick to unseat Oklahoma and win the Big 12 this season, TCU’s College Football Playoff hopes aren’t entirely dashed with this defeat. If Ohio State could survive a home loss to a mediocre Virginia Tech team in 2014 (not to mention the Sooners losing to Texas and still qualifying last season), then the Horned Frogs certainly aren’t out of the race, provided they run the table from here. The problem is that TCU won’t do so and is unlikely to win the Big 12 if the version of it that played Saturday shows up the rest of the way.
Hill and the defense exemplify this. The Texas A&M transfer’s final numbers (470 total yards, three total touchdowns) look gaudy, and by the end of the game he was indeed playing very well, able to find his targets through the air with precision and escape the pocket for big yards when the situation demanded it. But early, he was far too chaotic. Arkansas’s defense deserves credit for pitching a first-half shutout, but Hill aided the effort by making poor reads and throwing into coverage. His interception, which was returned by Brooks Ellis for a 47-yard touchdown, was absolutely unforgivable—a bad decision, a worse throw.
The Horned Frogs’ defense has to be considered a positive overall. After allowing 41 points to South Dakota State last week, the unit bent but didn’t break against the Razorbacks in the first half and then keyed the comeback by forcing critical three-and-outs after TCU’s first two touchdowns of the fourth quarter.
But while the defense was great in helping deliver the Horned Frogs the lead, it melted thereafter, first allowing Allen to go right down the field for the tying score in regulation and then providing little resistance in both overtime periods.
Again, Hill undoubtedly showed strides and TCU indisputably took a step forward on defense. For its playoff or Big 12 dreams to come true, though, Gary Patterson’s team needs more consistency from each party.
3. This is likely Bielema’s best team at Arkansas
In the eyes of many, Arkansas appeared poised for a breakthrough going into last season. That obviously didn’t happen, but now that the Razorbacks have tallied a marquee non-conference victory—and have so far avoided the slow start the plagued them each of the past two seasons—it’s possible that breakthrough might be coming this year instead.
Despite losing running back Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry and quarterback Brandon Allen from last year’s team, Arkansas’s offense already seems well on track. Rawleigh Williams III, Jeremy Sprinkle and Austin Allen (Brandon’s younger brother) have shown so far that they’re very capable of sliding into the roles vacated by the former trio and should only get better as the season goes on, especially Allen. The defense, too, might be the best since Bielema arrived in 2013, complete with a star in defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr.
With two cupcakes left, Arkansas is basically guaranteed a 4–0 non-conference performance, and if it merely equals last year’s 5–3 record in the SEC, that’ll give it nine wins, which would be the most in the Bielema era. Based on what the Razorbacks showed Saturday night, 10 wins is a very realistic goal.