Texas Bowl 2014: Preview, Predictions for Arkansas vs. Texas
The Texas Longhorns have a chance to finish year one of the Charlie Strong era with a record better than .500 in the Advocare Texas Bowl. But the game will be anything but easy for the Longhorns.
Texas will face 6-6 Arkansas, which made significant strides toward the end of the 2014 season.
The Longhorns control the overall series record against their former Southwest Conference foe and have won 56 games compared to the Razorbacks' 21.
But all-time record will not impact what happens when the two teams take the field on December 29. What team will leave Houston with a winning 2014 season record?
Let's take a look.
When: Monday, Dec. 29, 9 p.m. EST
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Last meeting: Sept. 27, 2008, Austin, Texas
Last meeting outcome: Texas 52, Arkansas 10
Tale of the Tape
The matchup between Texas and Arkansas appears to be balanced. Both teams have a slight edge in various areas, but neither has an astounding advantage in any category.
The Razorbacks could have the upper hand in the Advocare Texas Bowl if the Longhorns offense remains inconsistent.
Arkansas Keys to Victory
Defense: Pressure Tyrone Swoopes
Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes has had an up-and-down season in his first year as a starter. The sophomore has thrown 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and eight of those interceptions happened in losses.
Many of Swoopes' errors occurred when opposing defenses applied a lot of pressure on the quarterback.
Arkansas will face Swoopes coming off his worst performance of his career. The sophomore was responsible for five turnovers, which led to 24 points for TCU in the Longhorns' final game of the regular season.
The Arkansas defense needs to take note of everything TCU did to rattle Swoopes and mimic it in the Texas bowl.
Offense: Run the Ball
Arkansas has one of the largest offensive lines in college football and will need to use that size to its advantage against the Longhorns. Quarterback Brandon Allen was banged up in the final two games of the regular season, which could cause the Razorbacks to rely on the run game.
Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins have both rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, and the duo is responsible for 23 of the Razorbacks' 30 total rushing touchdowns.
The Longhorns defense has played consistently well throughout the season but has given up more touchdowns on the ground than in the air. Arkansas' best chance of putting up points against Texas will be on the ground.
Texas Keys to Victory
Defense: Dominate the Line of Scrimmage
The Texas defense will be crucial in the Longhorns' success against Arkansas. The Razorbacks' large offensive line is a key component of Arkansas' successful running game.
The Longhorns need to be prepared to shut down Williams and Collins.
Although head coach Bret Bielema expects his quarterback to be ready to go for the bowl, there's a solid possibility the Razorbacks will show up to Houston with a run-heavy game plan.
The most successful teams against Arkansas controlled the line of scrimmage and contained the running attack. The Longhorns will need to do the same when they take the field against the Razorbacks.
Offense: Control the Clock
The Texas offense struggled to extend drives in the Longhorns' six losses of the year. This cannot happen against the Razorbacks.
Swoopes has to step up and lead the Longhorns down the field to keep his team in the game.
Part of the reason Arkansas saw success against LSU and Ole Miss was because the Razorbacks offense controlled the time of possession and gave the defense time to rest throughout the games. If the Texas defense is on the field for an extended period of time, it will likely tire, and that's when the massive Arkansas O-line can take control of the game.
Swoopes and the Texas offense needs to control the clock and keep the Longhorns defense off the field.
Arkansas Players to Watch
Quarterback Brandon Allen
Allen is recovering from a hip injury he suffered in the first half of the Razorbacks' upset over Mississippi. The quarterback returned to the field for the final game of the regular season against Missouri but was seen limping throughout the second half.
On Sunday's Advocare Texas Bowl coaches conference call, Bielema said Allen is just fine and will be the starter against the Longhorns.
One of the biggest upsides of Allen is his ability to protect the football. The quarterback has thrown 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Allen's consistency will be a positive for the Arkansas offense in the bowl game.
Running Backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins
Most football teams would love to have at least one 1,000-yard rusher for a season. Arkansas has two of those.
Williams is the leader of the Razorbacks' ground attack and has averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 90.4 rushing yards per game. The junior splits carries with Collins, who has averaged 5.5 yards per carry and 85.3 rushing yards per game in 2014.
The duo is arguably one of the most lethal one-two punches in college football and will be key players to watch for Arkansas in the Advocare Texas Bowl.
Texas Players to Watch
Defensive End Cedric Reed
The Advocare Texas Bowl will be the one of the final chances for senior defensive end Cedric Reed to increase his draft stock.
As a junior, Reed picked up 10 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. The 6'5", 272-pound end entered 2014 at the top of the list of ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's senior defensive end prospects for the 2015 NFL draft.
But his senior season has not featured the same type of stats as 2013. Reed has 5.5 sacks, but four of those happened in two of the Longhorns' final three games of the 2014 regular season.
Reed needs to continue his production in the bowl game not only to try to get a seventh win for his team, but also to increase his stock in the 2015 NFL draft.
Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes
The Longhorns' offensive woes have been the difference in Texas experiencing success and failure this season. And Swoopes is partly to blame.
The sophomore has shown flashes of potential in 2014, but his performance in the Longhorns' final game of the regular season erased any positive momentum gained by the quarterback.
Swoopes' five-turnover performance against TCU has caused people to question if he will be the starting quarterback after the bowl game. A standout performance against Arkansas could be exactly what the critics and, more importantly, the Texas coaches need to see in order to eliminate questions about Swoopes' future.
What They're Saying
Arkansas Head Coach Bret Bielema
"Texas is Texas. They have been able to recruit for a long time. Coach Brown recruited a lot of players and Coach Strong has added to that. I think the part that will be the biggest challenge is to play a Texas team in the state of Texas, even though it's a neutral site, it's something we have to be aware of.
"The fact that they've been able to play well defensively and continue to grow and move forward is a sign of good coaching. I've been able to watch Texas from afar, but I think as we dive into film over the next few weeks we're going to see that they're a team that gets better with every opportunity they get."
Texas Head Coach Charlie Strong
"We have to go play well. We didn't play well in the last game, so we have to change that and play well. For some of the seniors, this will be the last time they play in a football game, so I always look back to them because of what they have helped us do at this point. I want to make sure that we end it right and play well for them."
Both Arkansas and Texas will enter the Advocare Texas Bowl with a .500 record and looking to gain positive momentum heading into 2015.
Arkansas has proven to be a competitive team all year. The Razorbacks had a handful of close losses against ranked opponents and a few surprise upsets in year two of Bielema's career in Fayetteville.
There's a good chance the Advocare Texas Bowl will be a nail-biter and could come down to the wire. But Texas has one major advantage over Arkansas: the home crowd.
If this game was played in Arkansas, the Razorbacks would likely have the edge over the Longhorns. With the game in Houston, there's a solid possibility the majority of attendees will be Texas fans.
In the end, the home-field advantage and the Longhorns' drive to send off the seniors with a win could be the determining factors in Texas leaving Houston with a win.
Texas 27, Arkansas 24
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.