Prediction Contest: Arkansas at Rutgers
Update: Congrats to Jones for being the closest (Jake Lane was just a bit late) this week.
It’s fairly common that teams not-named Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon or LSU say they’re thin at some position on their team. This is especially true when talking about programs that are in a rebuilding phase. Before the season started, Arkansas was knowingly thin at linebacker and after injuries and transfers during fall practice, even more thin at receiver. But what fans witnessed last weekend in Arkansas’ 24-3 win over Samford was that maybe the Hogs are thinnest at quarterback.
Arkansas (3-0) at Rutgers (2-1)
Date: Saturday, Sep. 21
Time: 2:30 p.m. Central
Location: High Point Solutions Stadium – Piscataway, New Jersey
Broadcast: ESPN, ESPN 3 (details here)
There was a little more than three minutes left in the first quarter when Brandon Allen dove into the endzone for a touchdown and promptly left the game with a shoulder injury. What transpired afterward, with junior journeyman AJ Derby, was two and a half quarters of Arkansas offense that saw only six pass attempts (four completions for 36 yards) and an offense that was fairly reluctant to let Derby loose. As a result of the dominant running game, however, the Hogs held onto the ball for nearly 17 minutes of the second half, scoring two touchdowns on long drives.
The Hogs are now seemingly built to run the ball, almost at will. For the third consecutive game both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins crossed the 100-yard mark and each scored a touchdown. Collins became the first true freshman in SEC history to start his career with three 100-yard rushing games (the only other player to do that was Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma — that’s some pretty good company).
Arkansas’ prevalent rushing attack will face its toughest challenge this weekend when the Hogs travel to Piscataway, New Jersey to face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and their fifth-ranked rushing defense. On the season, Rutgers is 2-1 with their only loss coming in overtime at Fresno State. Second year head coach Kyle Flood (11-5 overall, 5-2 in AAC) has the Scarlet Knights playing a slightly different brand of ball this year.
Rutgers was a pass-first team in 2012, but this year they’re focused on establishing the run to open up the pass game. Sound familiar? Some Arkansas fans might remember starting quarterback Gary Nova, who posted a career day against the Hogs last year. Nova is still the starting quarterback, and even though he left last week’s game with a concussion, he’s expected to play on Saturday.
If Arkansas is confident with their running game in Collins and Williams, Rutgers feels equally as confident with theirs. Tailback Paul James currently leads the nation in yards per carry (currently over 8-yards per carry) and has posted three 100 yard rushing efforts as well this season.
This will easily be the Hogs biggest challenge of the young season. So what will the Hogs need to do in order to win?
Offensively: The biggest question for Arkansas is who will be under center on Saturday. Brandon Allen gives the Hogs their best chance to win, but he’s still listed as questionable for the game. AJ Derby has been practicing with first team all week, and coach Bielema is rallying the team around him. The second biggest question might be, is Rutgers’ rushing defense for real? Sitting at fifth in the nation is good, but their secondary isn’t great. If the Hogs can establish any semblance of a passing attack so the Rutgers defense can’t stack the box, then Arkansas could find great success on the road. Ultimately, it will be up to Derby and the Arkansas wide receivers to make Rutgers pay.
Defensively: The Hogs recurrently ranked #6 in Total Defense while only allowing 253 yards per game game. It will be interesting to see how well the highly touted Arkansas’ defensive line will do against Rutgers and James. If the Hogs stack the box to stop James, Nova has the skill set to make Arkansas pay. It sounds like the Hogs will have Otha Peters back and will nearly be back to full strength. Expect solid line play and multiple chances for the secondary to shine.
Special Teams: Rutgers has two dangerous returners in Quron Pratt and Janarion Grant. It will be up to Zach Hocker to send his kickoffs for touchbacks for Arkansas, and he and punter Sam Irwin-Hill will need to pin the Rutgers returners deep. Special teams could be the difference in the game, and at least at place-kicker, Arkansas has the advantage.
It’s going to be a really close contest — a battle of two teams who haven’t really played anyone yet. I believe that Arkansas will control the line of scrimmage on both sides, but might struggle to contain Nova’s passing attack. In the end, Hocker makes the difference and the Hogs win a close one on the road 24-21.
Let us know what you think the final score will be. If you’re the closest (see rules below), you’ll get a free Fayetteville Flyer t-shirt.
How to enter
Leave a comment with your game prediction. If you want to add anything else, please feel free.
What you’ll win
One Fayetteville Flyer t-shirt.
- You only may enter this specific contest once.
- Contests are open to anyone anywhere except staff of Fayetteville Flyer and their immediate family members.
- The winning entry must pick the winning team and have the smallest combined difference from each team’s final score. Example: If the Razorbacks win by a score of 21-7, and your prediction was Razorbacks 20-10, your difference would be 1 + 3 = 4. In the event of a tie, a winner will be selected by a random drawing.
- You must pick the score by 15 minutes before kickoff for each game.
- Make sure you leave a valid e-mail address when filling out the comment form since that’s how we’ll contact you if you’ve won.