Hog fans’ worst nightmares are over: the Hogs are not going to go 1-11.
Little else can be learned from the 23-0 win over the lifeless Golden Hurricane of Tulsa (1-6), but little else could have been learned. The Hogs took care of business for the first time in a while, and now it’s time to focus on a winnable stretch of games, starting next week against Vanderbilt.
Arkansas’ defense dominated an overmatched offense, and the ultra-conservative Razorback offense overcame more crippling injuries to get enough production to keep Hog fans from getting nervous.
Connor Noland was 10 of 16 for 124 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was asked to do even less than Ty Storey — who the coaches are already being conservative with — and he overcame an early interception and managed the game well. As we’ve discussed before, high completion percentage is key for this offense to keep moving. Rakeem Boyd had 99 rushing yards (almost all of it in the first half) before exiting with another injury. Chase Hayden (9 rushes, 43 yards), Maleek Williams (9 rushes, 23 yards, TD), and Cole Kelley (7 passing yards, 27 rushing yards) helped the offense shut the door.
Defensively, Santos Ramirez had a nice bounceback game (10 tackles, 5 solo) after struggling against Alabama and Ole Miss. Armon Watts (4 tackles, 1 sack) and Sosa Agim (7 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks) led a defensive line that really dominated this game. Dre Greenlaw, T.J. Smith, and Briston Guidry also had sacks, and Ryan Pulley had a nice interception.
A pair of observations:
- Arkansas can overmatch bad passing teams. This is, in my opinion, the most valuable takeaway from this game. After pitiful performances against the passing games of Colorado State, North Texas, Alabama, and Ole Miss, the Hogs ran into a bad passing team and totally shut things down. John Chavis’ defense can stop the run and get after the quarterback, and its only serious weakness is a strong spread passing game. Good news: Arkansas’ next three opponents are not good passing teams (more on that coming up).
- This was a complete-effort shutout. In the offense-defense matchup, Arkansas only outscored Tulsa by 12 points, but special teams pitched in 10 points and field position added one. Connor Limpert is now 7 for 7 in field goals over the last two weeks, Deon Stewart had a nice return worth 1.1 points, Tulsa’s comically-bad kick return unit cost it 2.2 points, and the Hurricane lost 3.6 points on two missed field goals. Arkansas’ special teams have gone from historically-bad to bad to average to actually decent in the span of just a few weeks.
Arkansas’ opponent-adjusted defensive chart shows a nice trendline. To make this graph, I took each of Arkansas’ opponents’ raw Offense S&P numbers and found the percentile for each. Then I took those opponents raw Offense EV numbers against Arkansas and found a percentile for each. The difference is what is charted. So Arkansas’ worst game was against Colorado State (-16%) and the best came against Texas A&M (+15%). But the Hogs have scored in the positives in three of the last four, with only Alabama (-3%) not in the positive. Looking at Vanderbilt’s numbers, a performance of +5% (or better) probably means a victory if the offense shows up at all.
Speaking of the next three opponents, each will have trouble taking advantage of Arkansas’ weak pass defense. On Saturday, Kyle Shurmur, Joe Burrow, and Nick Fitzgerald combined to complete 39 of 82 passes for 412 yards with one touchdown, five interceptions, and a lost fumble. Their teams scored 7, 19, and 3 points. Vanderbilt, LSU, and Mississippi State are ranked 50th, 41st, and 95th in Passing S&P+ this season. The Hogs will have a chance in each if the offense and run defense play well.