FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas and Rice open the 2021 football season Saturday afternoon at what should be a very hot Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
In Vegas, Arkansas is the prohibitive favorite. The Hogs were 3-7 last season against an all-SEC schedule. Rice was 2-3, but did defeat an undefeated and nationally ranked Marshall 20-0 on the road. Marshall was 7-0 at the time of the game. They did lose two more in a row after Rice.
Here’s five keys for Arkansas to defeat Rice.
- Get Off The Field on Defense — Rice likes to play Bully Ball and did a good job of it last season when they finished with the second highest time of possession in college football. Rice likes to play a similar style that Arkansas did under Bret Bielema. They will pound the ball and try to keep Arkansas’ offense off the field. That is why when Arkansas gets them in third down they have to get stops and get off the field. It will be hot and Arkansas will have to use its depth on defense. Arkansas’ defense has to try and keep Rice behind the chains as much as possible.
Quote from Rice’s Mike Bloomgren on Barry Odom
“First off, Barry Odom has a lot of different calls in that defense. It seems like a lot like playing our own defense all through camp. They kind of swing in from vines everywhere. I appreciate Sam Pittman saying we play bully ball. It’s something we try to do. Like we live and breathe in literal brutality around here. You talk about controlling the clock, I think we were second in time of possession in the nation last year at 36 minutes a game and that’s something we take very seriously as well. We want to be able to get those first downs. Get those first downs, possess the ball and end up in the end zone. That’s obviously the goal. Something we do talk around here a lot about is controlling the clock, pound the rock and play great defense. It’s a philosophical belief we have. Last year our defense had to take on 15 less plays than the average in the conference. That’s a big deal. It’s also a big deal when we can be efficient and end up in the end zone. That’s something we’ve got to continue to do a better job of this year is by creating the plays that flip the field and then finish in the red zone.”
2. Get Points, Don’t Waste Offensive Possessions — Since Rice will try to control the football and keep the Arkansas offense on the sidelines it’s important to get points when on the field. Arkansas has an experienced group on offense, but not at quarterback. This will be KJ Jefferson’s third start at Arkansas. His other two, 2019 at LSU and 2020 at Missouri, were obviously road games. The Hogs will need to be clicking on offense and they should be able to against a smaller Rice defense. A big game from Jefferson would help the Hogs.
Sam Pittman on when Georgia faced a similar offense in Georgia Tech.
“I think it can. It’s a great question. When I was at Georgia, we played Georgia Tech every year. One year, I remember we were up 17-0 at half, or 17-7, I can’t remember. But we had three possessions. Two we went down there and scored, and we had a hurry-up offense and kicked a field goal right before half. That was it. Basically, two and a half possessions. We talked to our team about that. We know what type of pace they play with. Obviously, it’s up to our defense to get them off the field. However, we don’t want to panic with that. We don’t want to do something that we aren’t. We want to go run our offense, but the offense knows we need to have success and success early. Obviously, we’d like to get the lead and take them out of that pace a little more. Georgia Tech was a team where that was just what they did. I think Rice can adjust their speed. They obviously have a good third-down package, as well, on offense. So, I think they can adjust the tempo if they want to, but I anticipate them taking as much time off the clock as they can.”
3. Win The Turnover, Penalty Game — It’s a must that Arkansas has fewer penalties and turnovers than the Owls. Penalties and turnovers can stop drives and allow the momentum to shift away. Arkansas has an experienced team on both sides of the ball and the first preseason scrimmage was hampered with too many penalties. Sam Pittman appears to have gotten those issues fixed.
Sam Pittman on far too many penalties after first scrimmage.
I can tell you exactly, too many defensive pass interferences, too many false starts on offense, and I think we cut down our jumps on the defensive line, there were two there, but that’s two too many. But we had too many pass interference, too much holding on the offensive line. It was just, it wasn’t what I would call sloppy until maybe the fourth quarter. Then it got kind of sloppy, which tells you we’re not anywhere near where we need to be. I thought we played extremely hard. We had too many penalties. The ball wasn’t on the ground a lot, but we did have the ball on the ground twice.”
4. Be Solid on Special Teams — Arkansas has a true freshman who has never kicked in a college game. Cam Little has been a solid kicker much of the preseason. Arkansas also needs to get solid punting and get some production on the return games. Last season it seemed Arkansas was inconsistent in most of these areas. No doubt COVID played a role in that.
Scott Fountain on Cam Little
“He’s doing a really good job. I think the big thing for him is he came in this spring, so it kind of helped him get a leg up a little bit. A lot of your freshmen don’t make it here until the summer. It was good to get him here in the spring. In the spring he really struggled, but when he got here in the spring, he was field goal, kickoff and punting. Trying to figure out what all he could do for us. We really tried to back that up the back part of spring and just have him focus on field goals and kickoffs. He’s had a really good camp so far. I’ve been really pleased with him.”
5. Take Fight to Rice Early — Since Arkansas is a big favorite and playing at home they need to put the Rice Owls away early as possible. Don’t let the Owls get to the fourth quarter still in the game. That is what the Rice coach is hoping for. Arkansas needs to pounce on the Owls early and often.
Mike Bloomgren on getting game to fourth quarter
“Yeah, I think our focus right now is 1-0. What can we do to put ourselves in position to get this game into the fourth quarter up there in Fayetteville this weekend.”