The Texas Longhorns were ranked 15th in the country at kickoff in Fayetteville on Saturday night when the 'Horns & Hogs met in front of a sold-out crowd at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. They left with a lopsided defeat which saw them fall out of the Top-25, leaving fans, coaches and player scratching their head for answers. Let's take a look at what went right and wrong in Saturday's 40-21 loss to Arkansas.
Let's be honest.
There wasn't a whole lot of good on Saturday night for the Longhorns, so this will be brief.
BJ Foster's interception and Casey Thompson's play when the game was out of reach probably topped the positives for the night. One good takeaway before Arkansas put the game out of reach was the red-zone defense the Longhorns showed. For a while it was "bend but don't break" but the defense was truly broken later on.
Opposite of the good, there was plenty of bad to go around. Let’s start with the defense and their performance. Arkansas is a one dimensional team on offense, and it didn’t matter. The Hogs struggle to pass the ball, especially in tight windows. We saw that during the interception by Foster. Arkansas averaged over 7 yards a carry on their over 300 yards of rushing. Stopping the run was paramount headed into the game, and the game plan was such that if the 'Horns stopped it they had a good chance at success.
It didn't matter.
Arkansas ran at-will, down the field all night devoid of pass rush or the slightest bit of pressure. The defensive issues were glaring, especially in the second half. Tackling was an issue all night in the form of bad angles and bad form. Several times I had to make double-check and make sure Todd Orlando wasn't on the sidelines again. Too many times players went for the big hit instead of making a good, fundamental tackle. Multiple times BJ Foster launched himself into a player instead of wrapping him up - resulting in missed tackles or Arkansas players dragging him into the end zone or ahead for another first down. There were other times in which Josh Thompson was more intent on trying to strip the ball instead of making the tackle. The lack of pass rush is going to be a major issue moving forward in conference play. Texas has no Joseph Ossai on the roster and they will need to find ways to scheme up pressure. If Kwiatkowski's pass rush continues to manifest itself like it did in Fayetteville, Texas will have their hands full in Dallas trying to stop the Sooners.
The Longhorns have had questions on the offensive line for a handful of years now and Saturday night was no different. There were issues in the Louisiana game but they were emphasized on a larger scale against a better defensive line. Card had his fair share of issues Saturday night but the offensive line made his job even more difficult. Several of Bijan Robinson's runs turned into positive gains only because he was forced to make guys miss in the backfield. Kyle Flood and Sarkisian tout a group of eight players that need to be prepared to play up-front, but maybe it is time to try new personnel. It's tough to imagine that unit playing any worse than they did against Arkansas. The puzzling part of the OL play is that many of the starting offensive lineman have started multiple years for the Longhorns. Sixth year player Denzel Okafor struggled all night. Veterans can't play like that and expect positive results. The good news is Texas has Rice and Texas Tech in consecutive games before playing TCU & Oklahoma. Flood has an opportune time to experiment and tweak the OL before the schedule really gets serious. If these issues aren't corrected, the season will fall off the rails really fast.
How this team responds over the next couple of weeks after getting embarrassed by a rival on national television will be critical. Texas has a very good coaching staff despite the underwhelming performance in Fayetteville and it's fair to expect Sarkisian and company to adjust accordingly.