Texas vs. Arkansas Prediction: Against the Spread, Total and Odds
Out of the tunnel
It has been years since Arkansas left the old Southwest Conference for the SEC, and began the eventual unraveling of the league and birth of the Big 12.
Texas and Arkansas were bitter rivals in the SWC, and have had some intense games in the rare times they’ve played since. This will be more of the same.
The last time they played (they’ve played five times since Arkansas joined the SEC), Arkansas kneeled on the ball three straight times at the Texas 4 to cap a 31-7 rout, a moment then Hogs coach Bret Bielema famously referred to as “borderline erotic.”
Don’t think Texas fans have forgotten that. The Texas program, meanwhile, has had bigger issues. Chief among them: competing at the highest level in the Big 12, and the nation.
New coach Steve Sarkisian has brought the Alabama template with him from Tuscaloosa, where he was an uber-successful offensive coordinator. But Sarkisian hasn’t exactly been an elite head coach at two other major programs (average stints at both Washington and USC), and this might be his last shot.
Sam Pittman fit perfectly with the Arkansas fan base in his first season last year, and even though there’s still plenty of heavy lifting ahead in the rebuild, there are plenty of indicators that the program is on the right track.
The Hogs won three games in 2020, but lost three games by a combined seven points. The locker room is fueled by his player-friendly approach, and the running ability of QB KJ Jefferson is an added dimension to the offense.
When Texas has the ball
Sarkisian named Hudson Card the starting quarterback last week, and Card did what Sark wanted more than anything: made smart throws and protected the ball against Louisiana, one of the top Group of 5 teams.
No interceptions, no fumbles. No game-turning mistakes.
That, as much as anything, is a good thing to see with the Texas offense. They’re still learning, but they’re not stumbling through it.
It begins the same way it began at Alabama: with a strong run game. That means plenty of super sophomore Bijan Robinson, a unique blend of speed and strength and the ability to make defenders miss.
When he’s averaging 5 yards per carry like he did last week vs. Louisiana, it makes life much easier for Card, who can make accurate multiple level throws if given time. Arkansas’ best defensive player, linebacker Bumper Pool, will miss the first half serving the NCAA-mandated suspension for a targeting call last week.
Jordan Whittington was more of a possession receiver in former coach Tom Herman’s offense, and has developed into the team’s No.1 receiver and a legitimate deep threat.
When Arkansas has the ball
It’s all about KJ Jefferson. Hogs offensive coordinator Kendal Briles is trying to use Jefferson like he did Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty at Baylor, though Jefferson’s not yet at the same level as a thrower.
Briles likes to use Jefferson as part of the run game, and he averaged 10 yards a carry in a win over Rice. He’s a big body and deceptive quick, and not easy to bring down.
Expect Texas to load the box on defense, bringing as many as eight near the line to force the Hogs to throw. Jefferson completed 57 percent of his passes last week against an inferior Rice defense, and Texas has the ability to create more havoc.
But like most zone read run systems, the key is the mesh point and the decision. Jefferson made good decisions last week, and TB Treylon Smith has gone from a pleasant surprise in 2020, to a legitimate threat to reach 1,000 yards.
Jefferson must be more consistent as a thrower, and the Hogs dropped too many balls last week. Third down conversion was a big problem (3 of 11) against Rice, and must be rectified to beat the Longhorns.
The bottom line
An intriguing non-conference test for both teams still trying to figure it out. Reynolds Stadium will be a madhouse, and that could be a factor in Card’s first road start.
Neither defense has the ability to dominate the game, and this could be as simple as which quarterback plays better. Texas, overall, has a more efficient offense at this point in the season and should find a way to win.
But Arkansas has been pointing to this rivalry game all offseason, and Jefferson, if he gets hot, is enough to carry the Hogs on his own.
Texas vs. Arkansas Betting Pick
Score prediction: Texas, 24-23