Arkansas-East Carolina: Jesse Palmer, Razorbacks Will Win Big in Liberty Bowl
I've spent the past few weeks looking over game stats, individual stats, and team stats for the Arkansas Razorbacks and the East Carolina Pirates.
I have racked my brain trying to think of a way to put a spin on the 2009 AutoZone Liberty Bowl playing out, but I had drawn a blank.
Until last night.
I had settled down in front of the TV to watch ESPN's BowlMania and waited to see the analysis of each bowl game.
There were very few surprises.
ESPN college football analyst Jesse Palmer capped off with, "ECU has not seen a high-powered offense like Arkansas, with guys like Ryan Mallett, Greg Childs, and Joe Adams, who led the SEC in scoring and a quarterback like Ryan Mallett, who is sixth in the nation in efficiency. Arkansas will blow out ECU, and Ryan Mallett will be throwing bombs."
The Mountaineers have, in my mind, a better resume with an upset over then-No. 9 Pittsburgh.
They also have losses at North Carolina (31-17) and home against Virginia Tech (16-3).
North Carolina suffered losses to a dismal Virginia team, Florida State, and NC State, but had a win over then-No. 13 Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech had wins over a hit-and-miss Nebraska team followed by a win over Miami, with a 10-point loss to Alabama, five-point loss to Georgia Tech, and three-point loss to North Carolina.
The reason I bring this up is because some people believe North Carolina and Virginia Tech had better players than Arkansas.
I'm nearly 90 percent positive if Arkansas would play North Carolina and Virginia Tech, the Razorbacks would come out with a win.
Neither of those teams has seen an offense with as many weapons as Arkansas.
As for ECU, yes, they beat a high-powered offense in Houston (38-32)—the same Houston team that was outscored by UTEP 58-41 and lost to UCF 37-32.
East Carolina is a good, solid football team, there is no doubt about that.
And yes, if Arkansas came in on Jan. 2, played a lackluster football game, and ECU brought their A-game, the outcome could be in ECU's favor.
But, even with the loss of Paul Petrino (who heads to Illinois), the Hogs will come in poised to leave Memphis with a win.
Coach Bobby Petrino will have the Razorbacks ready for coach Skip Holtz's Pirates.
And, with over a month to prepare for a run-first team like ECU, coach Willy Robinson will have the defense savvy to the offensive tendencies of the Pirates.
The bottom line is this: In the Houston Nutt-era, Arkansas has been guilty of either playing up to the competition or playing down to the competition.
This year Arkansas has met and played over the competition.
Now, along with every fan, coach, and player on the Arkansas Razorbacks' roster, no one is going to take East Carolina lightly.
The Hogs, with the best quarterback in the SEC, will bring their A-game to the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2, 2010.
While I truly hope for a good, entertaining game, I won't be surprised if the "experts" are correct.
The consensus of sports radio hosts on the matchup is in favor of the Hogs by a margin between seven and 21 points.
I'm not quite ready to reveal my prediction, but I will say, as I have in previous articles, that I do believe Arkansas will win the game.
I've talked with ECU fans about how they think the game will play out and they assure me that the Pirates' defensive line will pressure Ryan Mallett.
And, while the speed rush is an effective way to rattle a quarterback, that particular method has been ineffective against Mallett.
When the ends have attempted to get around the edge, Ryan Mallett has stepped up in the pocket and made precision throws.
The only pass-rushing scheme that has thrown Mallett off his game or disrupted the timing of the Arkansas offense has been the success of the defensive tackles beating blockers and closing down the middle of the pocket.
Even then, Mallett has had some success with Brett Favre-like throws.
All season, Arkansas receivers seem to alternate games, producing big plays every week.
Although tight end D.J. Williams hasn't put up the numbers he did a year ago, he has still been a piece of the puzzle that is the Arkansas Razorbacks' offense.
A surprise piece to that puzzle has been freshman Cobi Hamilton.
The 6'3", 209-pound Texas native has come up big in key games this season to help the Hogs reach the postseason.
In what will undoubtedly be the pinnacle of the Razorbacks' season, all the pieces will come together for one last game.
And East Carolina cornerbacks' Levin Neal and Van Eskridge will have their hands full.
Let's not forget about the Arkansas running game.
Although the Hogs have not produced much of a running attack this season, the Hogs have a stable of running backs that are just as big of a threat as the receiving corps.
With talent like Dennis Johnson, Broderick Greene, Ronnie Wingo, Jr., Knile Davis, and De'Anthony Curtis, the Pirates' run defense will be tested.
Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo, Jr., will demonstrate SEC speed, and Broderick Greene will provide the power.
A team could easily overlook Arkansas' running game when the passing stats constantly overshadow it, but that stable of running backs will be more than happy to remind anyone to keep an eye on the backfield.
As for the Arkansas defense, I could see senior tackle Malcolm Sheppard and sophomore linebacker Jerry Franklin harassing ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney, as well as running back Dominique Lindsay.
I'm not saying Pinkney or Lindsay will be ineffective. I'm saying they will be harassed.
Senior Matt Harris will be patrolling the defensive secondary, as well as playmaker Jerico Nelson, from his hybrid position.
Regardless, it should still be an entertaining game.
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