First posted on Inside The Shoe
Our Sugar Bowl opponent has some pretty good blogs out there, and one of the best, Arkansas Expats was kind enough to join us in answering questions about the Razorbacks.
Arkansas has so many weapons on offense, and not just Mallett. Who else does this team build around in big game situations, and can make the big plays?
Ryan Mallett is the unquestioned leader and main guy on offense but, like you said, he has a lot of weapons to chose from. For starters, the receiving corps might be the deepest in the nation, to the point where they didn't miss a beat even with the loss of #1 WR Greg Childs to a season-ending injury against Vanderbilt in October. Since Childs went out, the other wide receivers - Joe Adams, Cobi Hamilton and Jarius Wright - have each stepped up with big games and huge plays in key moments. Because Mallett tends to spread the ball around a lot, none of these guys got the individual acclaim that comes with gaudy stats, but they're all very dangerous players.
Moving on, Mackey Award winner D.J. Williams is probably the best pass-catching tight end in the country, and usually presents a tough matchup for the defense with his size and speed. And, although Bobby Petrino isn't known as a running coach, it was actually the emergence of RB Knile Davis and the ground game that spurred Arkansas from a potentially disappointing season into the Sugar Bowl. Davis rushed for more than 1,000 yards despite not being chosen as the featured back until October, and has added a key element that was missing when the Hogs let 4th quarter leads slip away against Georgia (a close win) and Alabama (a painful loss) because they couldn't run the ball.
What has to happen for Ohio State to beat Arkansas, and vice versa?
When OSU is on defense, their best option will be to pressure Mallett (easier said than done, but certainly not impossible) and force him into a bad INT or two. His reputation as a questionable decision-maker is a little overstated (his TD to INT ratio over the last two seasons is more than 3:1), but he does have a tendency to trust his arm a bit too much when he's hurried. Also, completely eliminating big plays against Mallett and company is unlikely, but if the Buckeye D can keep those game-breakers to a minimum they'll be in good shape.
The Hogs' defense is much improved over the terrible unit in 2009, but talented running QBs tend to give them trouble (Example A: Cameron Newton during the Auburn game). If Terrelle Pryor can make enough plays with his feet to open up the passing game then Arkansas will be in bad shape. The nightmare scenario for Razorback fans is Pryor (and Herron) running for first downs and keeping our offense off the field, mixed in with the occasional big pass against our injury-depleted secondary.
For the Hogs to win, they basically need to do the opposite of everything we described above (duh)...make enough big plays on defense to give our offense the ball, and execute a balanced offense well enough to grind out some points against your D. The ideal scenario for us would be something like our game against LSU, in which the defense played well throughout and the offense hit enough big passing plays in the first three quarters to get the lead, then salted it away with a ball-control running attack in the 4th.
Jim Tressel - What do you think of him?
First of all, his track record speaks for itself - he's won a national championship and, although we don't know his W-L percentage off the top of my head, we're sure it's very high on the list of all active coaches. It seems like he recruits well, and OSU is always in the conversation for championships at the end of the season. So, he's obviously doing a lot of things right.
Beyond that, we don't know *all* that much about Tressel. Frankly, he seems fairly boring - both in his notoriously sweater vesty taste in clothes to his old school meat & potatoes approach to the game. Not that that's really a bad thing, but that's our outsider's take on it.
As you well know by now, the Tat Five are allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl. If it was you in that situation what would you do with those players?
That's a really hard question. It'd be easy for us to get on our moral high horse and say they should have been suspended immediately or whatever, which probably would have been the most logical approach based on, you know, the rules. But, we generally try to stay off our high horse as much as possible, as people usually tend to be kind of obnoxious when they're up there.
Objectively speaking, it seems pretty weird that the players are being allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl, especially when other precedents (like A.J. Green at Georgia earlier this year) would suggest otherwise. More than anything, the decision illuminates the NCAA as fairly ridiculous organization that bases its rulings either on complete whims or due to financial pressures above all else.
But, as Razorback fans, we're really glad the Tat Five are playing. Arkansas-Ohio State promisees to be one of the best of all the bowl matchups, and we want to see the Buckeyes at full strength for the game. That way, if we win there will be no excuses and if we lose we'll know it was to a fully-manned squad. For the sake of watching a good game, we're happy to see those guys on the field, even if it how it happened is a bit dubious.
How do you feel about where Arkansas is as a team, and who wins the Sugar Bowl and why?
We're confident that most Hog fans will agree with us when we say we feel really good about where Arkansas is as a team and a program in general. After many years of near-misses and overall frustration, we finally have a system in place with the right coaches and players to be in the national conversation every year (even if we haven't exactly been dominant recently, Arkansas has a rich football history so our expectations tend to run high). In year three of the Petrino era things seem to be clicking in all the ways we'd hoped. Making the Sugar Bowl this year is the culmination of a process that's been building for a few years now, and win or lose we feel like things are definitely on the right track.
As for the Sugar Bowl, picking bowl games is always a crapshoot because of the time off between games and extracurricular factors involved. But, we're homers so it's hard not to go with the Razorbacks. We think it'll be a hard-fought, back and forth game that comes down to the waning minutes of the fourth quarter...the OSU defense will contain the Hogs more than a lot of teams have, but in the end we expect the Razorbacks to break through just enough times to win a close one.