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Liberty Bowl preview

No pressure, Hogs.

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BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson

No pressure, Hogs.

You're only one game better than your Liberty Bowl dance partner, record-wise, but the double-digit spread that swings in your favor suggests a blowout is more likely than a nail-chewer. Also, the program's history in Memphis for this game is spotty, to say the least, with only one win in four tries and that coming in 2010 against East Carolina in a remarkably excruciating affair full of missed field goals, frostbite and blown opportunities.

Then there's the "state of the program" aspect of the game. A win cements Bret Bielema, in all truth, as the correct hire despite all the speed bumps along the way. He'd be 2-0 in bowl games here, his record will have improved progressively over a three-year span, and his ability to attract top-flight talent will be enhanced further by the possibility of a season-ending Top 25 ranking. A loss? Back-to-back 7-6 seasons capped by a depressing segue into 2016 won't smell that fresh.

The best possible forecast for this game is a literal one: If the weather conditions are such that Dan Enos can direct the same resurgent offense that had the Hogs within a blocked field goal of an unbeaten back half of the season, instead of the one that struggled to finish over the first six games, then this will be the kind of swan song that Brandon Allen, Sebastian Tretola and a couple of likely early departing juniors had probably envisioned well before this mercurial campaign began.

In early 2010, Bobby Petrino brought his downfield attack to Memphis and it was more or less rendered punchless by frigid conditions and East Carolina's front seven. Those Hogs needed to stay ahead of the chains and find holes in the zone, and instead they went 0-for-13 on third down and managed only 81 rushing yards. Had it not been for four missed field goals by the Pirates and a momentum-changing interception return, the Hogs might've limped back home that night with the 7-6 record that this squad is hoping to avoid.

Clearly, Enos leads an offense that is better equipped to deal with adversity, even after a layoff. Allen's more than comfortable throwing it around to what has developed into a steady group of weapons, but in wins against LSU and Missouri, he reined it in so Alex Collins and Kody Walker could perfect the ball-control methodology behind their stout blockers. Walker had nearly half of his season's total rushing output in those two games, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and Collins rolled up 271 yards and five touchdowns as the lead carrier.

Against Kansas State, which struggles to contain anybody defensively, it's probably safer and smarter for the Hogs to employ the two-headed tailback monster primarily. Kansas State sits 101st in total defense nationally, making the Razorbacks' maligned 72nd-rated unit seem dominant by contrast, but at least Arkansas fares extremely well against the run. K-State, conversely, is basically inept all the way: The pass defense is exceptionally porous, yielding nearly 290 yards per game, but the run defense is not exceptional either.

The Wildcats will try to mitigate their deficiencies with their usual run-oriented option attack, but it's going to be hard. Joe Hubener completes less than half of his passes, and unlike in prior years where a Daniel Thomas or Darren Sproles could be counted on to secure the pace of the game, there is not a game-changing weapon anywhere on the field. Charles Jones and Deante Burton, the leading rusher and receiver respectively, had only three games of 100-plus yards from scrimmage between them.

In short, it's not an imposing K-State offense, which should inspire good works again from the Razorbacks' inconsistent front seven. Early in the game, there should be a chance or two for Deatrich Wise, Taiwan Johnson, Tevin Beanum or DeMarcus Hodge to make a seismic impact in the backfield. We'll bet on Beanum to be the standout in this one, as he'll be taking advantage of a size and speed mismatch on the edge.

Razorbacks 37, Wildcats 23.

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