Breaking Down Kansas State vs. Arkansas

| January 1, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Cole Manbeck

 

My goal isn’t to discourage you with this blog post. Kansas State can certainly defeat Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl this Saturday. But this is certainly not an ideal opponent for the Wildcats for a variety of reasons. K-State is currently a 13-point underdog. Out of the remaining bowl games to be played this season, the next largest spread is 9 points, according to 5dimes. The Wildcats are arguably the biggest underdog out of the 40 bowl games in 2015-16. So the odds aren’t in K-State’s favor. And here’s why:

 

Arkansas’ offense vs. the K-State defense

 

The Razorbacks, who have won six of their last eight games, are the SEC’s most efficient offensive team. They average 3.04 points per offensive possession, the 10th-best mark in the country and the best in their conference. K-State’s defense allows 2.46 points per possession, ranking No. 89 in the country. Arkansas averages 6.4 yards per offensive play, ranking 17th nationally and No. 2 in the SEC while K-State’s defense surrenders 6.1 yards per play, a number that ranks 106th in the country.

 

And Arkansas features the best passing offense in the SEC. The Razorbacks rank 12th in the country and are tops in the SEC in passing efficiency. They average 8.8 yards per pass attempt, ranking 22nd in the country and No. 1 in the SEC. The offensive line is only giving up a sack on 3.2 percent of their passing attempts, the best mark in the SEC and 10th-best nationally.

 

Under Brett Bielema, Arkansas has featured an offense that pounds the ball in the run game. Now the third-year Razorbacks coach has a tremendous passing attack to complement the ground game. Quarterback Brandon Allen is No. 9 in the country in passing efficiency. K-State has faced only one quarterback this season with a higher quarterback rating than Allen (Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma). The three-year starter ranks No. 8 nationally in yards per pass attempt. Over his last two seasons, the senior has thrown for 49 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions.

 

K-State’s pass defense is its weakness. The Wildcats rank 116th in pass efficiency defense and 121st in opponent completion percentage, allowing a 66-percent completion rate. Two of Allen’s top targets in the passing game are junior tight ends Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle. The two have combined for nearly 1,000 yards receiving and will present a significant challenge for the Wildcats’ safeties and linebackers.

 

And Arkansas also has one of the best running backs in the country in junior Alex Collins. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder has rushed for nearly 1,400 yards this season and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Collins has rushed for 1,000-plus yards in each of his first three seasons in Fayetteville and has averaged 5.4 yards per rush or more in each of those three seasons.

 

Arkansas’ offense has only turned the ball over 10 times this season, an average of 0.9 giveaways per game, the seventh-fewest turnovers in the country.

 

Something that will likely be refreshing for K-State is it will get away from the no-huddle, hurry-up offenses that have gone viral in the Big 12. Arkansas averages 70 offensive plays per game. K-State averages 72 offensive snaps per game. In this area, the two teams are similar, as the Razorbacks are No. 2 in the country in time of possession, possessing the football for more than 34 minutes per game. K-State is No. 15 in time of possession.

 

K-State’s offense vs. the Arkansas defense

 

The Razorbacks’ weakness on defense happens to be K-State’s weakness on offense. Arkansas struggles to defend the pass, allowing 8.3 yards per pass attempt, ranking 111th out of 128 teams nationally. It ranks 104th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Opposing offenses have gotten 70 percent of their total yards through the air against Arkansas this season, the seventh-highest percentage in the country.

 

Unfortunately, the Wildcats’ offense is 107th nationally in passing efficiency. They average 6.5 yards per pass attempt, ranking No. 86. K-State is 118th in the country in completion percentage and 121st in sack percentage, allowing a sack on 10 percent of its passing attempts this season.

 

The Razorbacks’ defensive strength is its run defense. They allow just 3.6 yards per carry, ranking 27th nationally. Arkansas held LSU running back Leonard Fournette to 91 yards on 19 carries this season. Alabama, which boasts the best defense in the country, is the only other team to hold Fournette to less than 100 yards this season. LSU, which ranks No. 3 nationally with 5.8 yards per rush this season, averaged only 2 yards per carry against Arkansas. Alabama running back Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, ran for just 95 yards on 27 carries against Arkansas. Henry’s 3.5 yards-per-rush average against Arkansas was a season-worst. Alabama averaged 2.9 yards per rush against Arkansas.

 

Now, all of that being said, K-State may still be able to run the ball vs. the Razorbacks. The Wildcats averaged 5.4 yards per carry against Baylor earlier this year. The Bears only allow 3.6 yards per rush on the season and the 5.4 yards-per-rush average was far and away the best rushing performance against Baylor all season. However, if K-State is going to win this game, it will have to be able to throw the football successfully.

 

Conclusion

 

Look for K-State to use a combination of Joe Hubener and Kody Cook at quarterback Saturday to try to keep the Razorbacks off balance. As mentioned above, Arkansas’ opponents have only gotten 30 percent of their total yards in the running game this season. K-State accumulated 47 percent of its total yards on offense in 2015 via the ground game.

The Wildcats are going to have to run the ball successfully against a good Arkansas run defense to have a chance. But it’s also crucial that Hubener and Cook take advantage of a bad pass defense and soften the Arkansas run defense.

 

This matchup doesn’t look good on paper. And it’s hard for me to envision K-State winning this game. However, strange things happen in bowl games. As often the case, expect the unexpected.

 

 

 

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