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Arkansas vs Texas Advanced Stats Preview: Texas Delenda Est

Razorback fans are kindred spirits with great Roman orator and Senator Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as Cato the Elder. It makes sense, hold on.

Butch Dill/Getty Images

A firebrand speaker who fought against the spread of Greek culture in Rome, Cato is best known for ending every speech he gave to the Senate with the same phrase: Cartago delenda est ("Carthage must be destroyed!").

It's important to note that while Cato was serving Rome in various political positions, Rome was not at war with Carthage. Rome had broken Carthage's back in the Second Punic War two decades earlier, but Cato hated the Carthaginians so much he wanted them destroyed anyway. He finally got his wish in 149 BC as Rome swooped in and destroyed Carthage in the Third Punic War.

Like Rome and Carthage, Arkansas and Texas are no longer in regular war; that is, they are no longer in the same conference. But the hatred is still there, especially on the Hogs' side. Just like Carthage was a shell of its old self with Rome finally invaded and destroyed it, so Texas is a program coming off a 6-6 season, something that just shouldn't happen. Arkansas fans have had no problem storing up anger like Cato, and the Texas Bowl is the perfect time to strike and claim a signature victory for Bret Bielema.

At first glance
CFP Ranking F/+ Ranking F/+ Offense F/+ Defense Record (Conference) Opponent W-L
Arkansas NR 20th 23rd 19th 6-6 (2-6 SEC) 94-41 (.696)
Texas NR 57th 94th 14th 6-6 (5-4 Big XII) 82-62 (.569)

Right off the bat, we see what we figured we would: two good defenses, and Arkansas with a significantly better offense. We also see that not all 6-6 teams are made equal. Arkansas' Power 5 victories are over teams with a record of 21-16, Texas' over teams with a record of 22-38.

For this advanced stats preview, I'm dividing the presentation of the stats up a little bit differently. Much of this was inspired by Bill Connelly's Hogs-Mizzou preview for Rock M Nation, which I was really impressed with. Essentially, all of football is divided into two types of offensive plays: standard downs and passing downs. Passing downs are plays run on 2nd-and-8+ and 3rd/4th-and-4+. They are downs in which a team is reasonably expected to pass, so the playcalling frequently changes. All other downs are standard downs. I'm grouping rushing stats with standard down stats, because rushing happens most often on standard downs, and passing stats with passing downs stats, for the same reasons. If you don't like it, feel free to leave a comment critiquing the organization. I want to make the information as easy to analyze as possible.

Also, and this is important: If you have not read the roster breakdown that was published last week, please do! I'll be referencing it frequently and it helps explain a lot of trends found in these numbers.

Arkansas' offense vs. Texas' defense

Arkansas offense overall
Arkansas offense Texas defense
S&P+ 18th 18th
FEI 26th 17th
F/+ 23rd 14th

Remember that S&P+ is Connelly's efficiency-based metric, FEI is Brian Fremeau's drive efficiency-based metric, and F/+ is an average of the two, and represents Football Outsiders' official ranking of college football teams. It can be compared to ESPN's FPI metric that they like to use.

Here, we see what we expect based on watching these two teams. Arkansas has a pretty good offense, especially adjusted for the quality of defenses faced, and Texas has a pretty good defense. Arkansas' ability to consistently move the football will be a determining factor in who wins.

Arkansas rushing
Arkansas offense Texas defense
Standard Downs % Runs 71.7% (16th) -
Standard Downs S&P+ 29th 8th
Rushing S&P+ 18th 33rd

Arkansas' offense is in "Bielema ball" on standard downs. Heavy formations, lots of motion, and a mix of mostly runs with a few play-action passes. Texas' defense is much better at stopping the pass than the run, for reasons related to Charlie Strong's history with the 3-3-5 defense detailed in the roster breakdown. Arkansas' offense actually isn't as efficient on standard downs as the Hogs would like it to be, due to Brandon Allen's struggles to throw the ball on early downs. We've been over this in great detail, but as a refresher, the three main reasons Arkansas struggles to pass on early downs include 1) Allen's field vision isn't as good when passing from under center, 2) the line struggles to hold up for play-action passes frequently, and 3) Arkansas' receivers frequently struggle to get separation on deeper routes.

On the other hand, Texas' standard downs defensive numbers have been inflated by teams that pass on early downs, since most teams that try to run on the Horns (including lowly Kansas and Iowa State) have had at least some success.

Arkansas passing
Arkansas offense Texas defense
Passing Downs % Runs 31.6% (69th) -
Passing Downs S&P+ 9th 7th
Passing S&P+ 28th 4th

In passing situations, Arkansas rarely runs the ball, ranking only 69th in run percentage. This is "Chaney ball," the shotgun formations with four receivers in the pattern. It's also been Allen's time to shine, as Arkansas is 19th in third down conversion rate and Allen is one of the better quarterbacks in the country on third down. It's also Texas' defense's time to shine, as the Horns generate a good pass-rush and very rarely give up big plays.

We have an early game key here: stay out of third-and-longs. The percentage of downs that are standard downs is called leverage rate, and it's important for Arkansas' leverage rate to be above about 70 percent. Texas' defense is built to stop explosive offenses like Baylor and TCU by forcing them into low leverage rates and then teeing off. Texas' defense has been susceptible to longer, more consistent drives, ranking just 73rd nationally in "methodical drives," or the percentage of opponents' drives that last at least 10 plays. This is the only metric in the FEI that Texas' defense is outside the top-40 in.

Arkansas offensive intangibles
Arkansas offense Texas defense
Starting field position 30.4 (47th) 29.5 (60th)
Punt return efficiency 120th 86th
Kick return efficiency 24th* 96th

Arkansas wants to play field position football, and Texas' special teams will accommodate that. The punt and kick return figures are both skewed, as the Hogs' best kick returner, Korliss Marshall, has been dismissed from the program. Countering that is the improvement in punt returns thanks to a midseason switch to Jared Cornelius as a return man. Texas' kickoff and punt units are below average for net yards, so expect Arkansas' offensive special teams to help things out.

Arkansas rushing breakdown by opponent
Rush Defense S&P+ Season vs. Arkansas Margin Result
Auburn 18th 153.3 153 -0.20% Loss
Texas Tech 106th 267.7 438 63.62% Win
Texas A&M 110th 235.6 234 -0.68% Loss
Alabama 1st 96.4 89 -7.68% Loss
Georgia 69th 174.3 126 -27.71% Loss
Mississippi State 21st 124.3 163 31.13% Loss
LSU 15th 152.0 95 -37.50% Win
Ole Miss 4th 138.1 156 12.96% Win
Missouri 11th 137.1 155 13.06% Loss
Averages 39th 164.3 178.8 8.80% 3-6

Texas is ranked 33rd, for context. That puts the Longhorns below Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss, and Missouri among Arkansas' opponents. That said, Georgia (69th) was able to slow Arkansas' run game, although it's worth noting the Hogs largely abandoned it in the second half due to a big deficit after averaging 5.2 yards per carry in the first half.

Also of note is the minimal correlation of rushing yards margin to wins/losses. Arkansas won its worst game (LSU) and lost its second-best (Mississippi State). Obviously, a 200-yard rushing game is nice, but Arkansas can easily win without it.

Texas rushing defense breakdown by opponent
Rushing S&P+ Season vs. Texas Margin Result
BYU 32nd 184.2 248 34.64% Loss
UCLA 11th 199.4 217 8.83% Loss
Kansas 116th 108.5 173 59.45% Win
Baylor 23rd 232.5 278 19.57% Loss
Oklahoma 2nd 286.8 103 -64.09% Loss
Iowa State 46th 126.1 179 41.95% Win
Kansas State 45th 134 143 6.72% Loss
Texas Tech 43rd 149.6 156 4.28% Win
West Virginia 62nd 181.7 200 10.07% Win
Oklahoma State 85th 128.9 34 -73.62% Win
TCU 13th 210.2 135 -35.78% Loss
Averages 43rd 176.5 169.6 -3.91% 5-6

Arkansas is 18th in rushing, putting the Hogs ahead of all of Texas' opponents except Oklahoma, UCLA, and Baylor, all of which beat the Longhorns. Texas allowed eight of its 11 Power 5 opponents exceed their season averages for the season. The good game against Oklahoma State stands out, but OSU was only 85th in Rushing S&P+.

Texas vs. Big XII opponents, ranked by Rushing S&P+
Ranking Result
1. Oklahoma 2nd Loss
2. TCU 13th Loss
3. Baylor 23rd Loss
4. Texas Tech* 43rd Win
5. Kansas State 45th Loss
6. Iowa State 46th Win
7. West Virginia 62nd Win
8. Oklahoma State 85th Win
9. Kansas 116th Win
>Arkansas: 18th

This one is a little more telling. Texas is bowl eligible thanks to November wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma State, but the thing those two have in common is that they are poor rushing teams. We've discussed Texas' excellent pass defense, so it comes as no surprise that Texas' signature wins came over teams with poor running games. Texas Tech gets an asterisk because Air Raid teams rely so little on the run game that the numbers are frequently inflated. Even Iowa State, ranked 6th among Texas foes, was a tough out for the Horns (who won 48-45) because the 2-10  Cyclones rushed for 190 yards. The two best games for Texas were, unsurprisingly, Kansas (0 points allowed) and Oklahoma State (7 points allowed).

The ineptitude of the Texas offense, discussed next, means that Texas' defense is on the field a lot. The Horns' D sees nearly 10 more plays per game than Arkansas' does, and has seen the 8th-most third downs per game in the FBS. This causes Texas' defense to wear down; in fact, despite Arkansas' much-maligned wear down issues this season, Texas' defense has actually allowed more points in the fourth quarter. The Horns have given up 114 points (9.2 per game) in the fourth quarter, accounting for 42 percent of all points scored against them.

Texas' offense vs. Arkansas' defense

Texas offense overall
Texas offense Arkansas defense
S&P+ 66th 20th
FEI 104th 19th
F/+ 94th 19th

Arkansas' defense has a huge advantage here, but the Hogs also had an advantage over Missouri and lost anyway. The FEI is especially critical of the Longhorn offense. By all three metrics, Texas has the worst Power 5 offense Arkansas has faced this season. According to F/+ and FEI, Texas' offense is actually the worst FBS offense Arkansas has faced, ranking below even Northern Illinois and UAB, and between NIU and UAB for S&P+.

Texas rushing
Texas offense Arkansas defense
Standard Downs % Runs 61.2% (48th) -
Standard Downs S&P+ 67th 11th
Rushing S&P+ 51st 7th

Texas' read-option run game is discussed in the roster breakdown, and we see here that Texas' run game, the strength of the team, is very average. Texas is above-average in standard downs rushing rate. Arkansas' strength is stopping the run. The Hog front seven has performed well against the read option this season and has been very, very difficult to run downhill against. Arkansas has also performed well against mobile quarterbacks, forcing quarterbacks like Dak Prescott, Bo Wallace, Anthony Jennings, Maty Mauk, Blake Sims, and Kenny Hill to stand in the pocket and not establish a run threat.

Texas passing
Texas offense Arkansas defense
Passing Downs % Runs 29.5% (84th) -
Passing Downs S&P+ 92nd 19th
Passing S&P+ 86th 21st

Texas utilizes a West Coast-style of passing offense with a bunch of short passes. The Horns do have a very good deep threat in John Harris, who has over 1,000 yards this season. Texas is 4-0 when he has 100 receiving yards and 2-6 when he does not. He's Texas' best offensive weapon, and it will be a tall task to cover him. If Arkansas can play him like the Hogs played Amari Cooper of Alabama, then Texas lacks the playmakers Alabama had to make up for it.

Texas' pass protection is very average, as quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (read more about his game in the roster breakdown) has gone down 24 times in 11 games this year. Most of Texas' offensive woes start up front, where injuries, suspensions, and lack of experience have caused Texas to get dominated in the trenches in many games.

Texas offensive intangibles
Texas offense Arkansas defense
Starting field position 28.5 (91st) 27.1 (17th)
Punt return efficiency 73rd 3rd
Kick return efficiency 122nd 109th

Here you see how Arkansas' offense helps out its defense: even when the offense doesn't score, it usually moves the ball a little bit before letting Sam Irwin-Hill (3rd in punting efficiency) pin the other team deep. Arkansas has allowed 45 punt return yards this season, and 36 of them came on one return on backup Toby Baker's only punt of the season. Irwin-Hill has allowed nine yards on 14 return attempts. He's a fair-catch and deep-pinning machine. Arkansas does a poor job of kicking off, but Texas is even worse in kick returns.

Texas rushing breakdown by opponent
Rush Defense S&P+ Season vs. Texas Margin Result
BYU 38th 126.2 82 -35.02% Loss
UCLA 54th 157.7 126 -20.10% Loss
Kansas 60th 217.5 111 -48.97% Win
Baylor 19th 110.4 190 72.10% Loss
Oklahoma 20th 109.6 148 35.04% Loss
Iowa State 124th 241.2 191 -20.81% Win
Kansas State 27th 129.5 90 -30.50% Loss
Texas Tech 106th 267.7 241 -9.97% Win
West Virginia 17th 173.5 227 30.84% Win
Oklahoma State 41st 168.6 125 -25.86% Win
TCU 6th 119.8 90 -24.87% Loss
Averages 46th 165.6 147.4 -11.02% 5-6

For the year, Texas is actually rushing for fewer yards than their opponents allow per game, despite being a run-first offense. Texas Tech's run defense is of course horrible, so the Baylor and West Virginia games are the only two that stand out.

Arkansas rushing defense breakdown by opponent
Rushing S&P+ Season vs. Arkansas Margin Result
Auburn 12th 264.3 302 14.26% Loss
Texas Tech 43rd 149.6 101 -32.49% Win
Texas A&M 20th 135.4 137 1.18% Loss
Alabama 8th 202.9 65 -67.96% Loss
Georgia 7th 253.6 207 -18.38% Loss
Mississippi State 5th 238.5 128 -46.33% Loss
LSU 27th 209.1 36 -82.78% Win
Ole Miss 37th 146.5 63 -57.00% Win
Missouri 48th 161.5 158 -2.17% Loss
Averages 23rd 195.7 133.0 -32.04% 3-6

As you might have guessed, Arkansas' run defense has been smothering, holding opponents to just 68 percent of their season averages. Not counting Texas Tech (again, Air Raid team), Arkansas has yet to allow more than 17 points to a team it held at least 20 percent below its season average.

Texas vs. Big XII opponents, ranked by Defense S&P+
Ranking Result
1. Baylor 11th Loss
2. TCU 13th Loss
3. West Virginia 22nd Win
4. Oklahoma 24th Loss
5. Kansas State 38th Loss
6. Oklahoma State 61st Win
7. Kansas 74th Win
8. Texas Tech 106th Win
9. Iowa State 119th Win
>Arkansas: 20th

Texas has struggled with good defenses, beating only West Virginia in five games against top-60 defenses. The passing game has suffered especially in those efforts: Swoopes threw for 300 yards against Oklahoma because the Horns were trailing big the whole way (similar to Allen vs. Georgia), but against the other four top-60 defenses - including the West Virginia win - he was 60 of 122 (49.2 percent) for 574 yards with two touchdowns and seven interceptions. Can Texas win if Swoopes plays that poorly? Unlikely.

Arkansas vs. SEC opponents, ranked by Rushing S&P+
Ranking Result
1. Mississippi State 5th Loss
2. Georgia 7th Loss
3. Alabama 8th Loss
4. Auburn 12th Loss
5. Texas A&M 20th Loss
6. LSU 27th Win
7. Ole Miss 37th Win
8. Missouri 48th Loss
>Texas: 51st

Texas boasts the weakest rushing attack Arkansas has faced, compared to SEC foes. Of course, Arkansas lost to Missouri, who is only slightly better, although the Tigers were completely unable to run the ball for three quarters.

Arkansas vs. SEC opponents, ranked by Passing S&P+
Ranking Result
1. Auburn 2nd Loss
2. Alabama 3rd Loss
3. Mississippi State 8th Loss
4. Ole Miss 9th Win
5. Texas A&M 20th Loss
6. Georgia 24th Loss
7. LSU 49th Win
8. Missouri 66th Loss
>Texas: 86th

Arkansas has faced some fantastic passing games, and Texas is the worst by a large margin. Again, danged Mizzou stands out as a loss. Arkansas knocked off Ole Miss and nearly beat Mississippi State by forcing error-prone quarterbacks Wallace and Prescott into turnovers (six combined: four picks, two fumbles). Swoopes has thrown 10 interceptions and lost a couple of fumbles, so the opportunities will be there.

Keys to the game

  1. Win standard downs. This is the single biggest key to the game. Winning on standard downs encapsulates a number of things: for the offense, the Hogs must consistently run the football, complete passes if they choose to throw off play-action, and avoid third downs. Defensively, it's keeping Texas from doing those same things. Arkansas doesn't need an explosive offense to win; in a low scoring game against a defense better suited to not give up big plays than to prevent long drives, the Hogs need only grind out a few rushing yards here and there. The Key Stat of the Week is leverage rate, which is discussed above. All other things being equal, the winner of leverage rate has a major advantage. Specific stats: standard downs S&P (including both success rate and isoYPP), rushing success rate, leverage rate
  2. Win field position. Field position will largely be dictated by special teams, where Arkansas appears to have an advantage. The Hogs need better net punting and net kickoffs than Texas. It's also important to advance the ball at least a little bit on every offensive possession. Texas is 112th nationally in adjusted first-down drives, meaning the percentage of drives that get at least one first down, adjusted for strength of schedule. Basically what that means is that Texas goes three-and-out a lot, especially against good defenses. If you take an exchange where Arkansas gains 15 yards and then punts, and Texas gains five yards on a three-and-out, then if net punting is equal, Arkansas has gained 10 yards of field position. Keeping the pressure on a backed-up Texas defense that frequently wears down will generate a payoff for the Hog offense. Specific stats: average starting field position, net punting, net kickoffs, first-down drives
  3. Win turnovers. Because Arkansas has a better offense (and both defenses are roughly equal), the Hogs only need to breakeven on turnovers and points off turnovers to have a great chance. Texas needs to make things happen. Arkansas can probably go with a more conservative gameplan in which the Hogs are more focused on not turning it over than on forcing turnovers. Losing turnovers affects field position as well. Specific stats: turnovers, points off turnovers