Tickets are at a premium this week as the Razorbacks travel to Memphis to face the East Carolina Pirates in the 51st AutoZone Liberty Bowl. After missing out on the bowl parade last year, the sellout of the 62,000 seat Memphis venue has some speculating that at least 50,000 of those fans will be wearing Razorback red come Saturday afternoon.
In a distinct change from the previous rÃ©gime, Bobby Petrino seems to be putting more emphasis on actually winning the game, as opposed to it being a pleasure/reward trip for the players and staff. Hard-hitting practices over the last few weeks have backed that up.
“How you play in the bowl, how you finish, sets the tone for next season,” Petrino said earlier this month.
Old friend Skip Holtz (38-26 at ECU) faces the Razorbacks — the team he grew up cheering for — for the first time in his career. The Pirates knocked off a talented Houston team, 38-32, to win the Conference USA Championship.
Holtz recently quipped that the Pirates “held” Cougar star quarterback Case Keenum in check that day, only allowing 550 yards passing on 75 attempts. Hog fans should take that comment to heart. ECU has faced a prolific passing attack and still found a way to win.
Quick question for you: Who has thrown more passes this season — strong-armed Arkansas trigger man Ryan Mallett or ECU’s run/pass threat Pat Pinkney? (Buzzer)â€¦.wrong!!! Pickney has put it in the air 407 times compared to Mallett’s 367. Surprised?
Led by Pinkney (14 TDs, 10 interceptions), running back Dominique Lindsay (1,029 rush yards, 6 TDs), and stud wide receiver Dwayne Harris (79 receptions, 914 yards, 6 TDs), the Pirates sport a very balanced attack. Holtz, in his young tenure as a head coach, has shown himself to be more aggressive offensively than his dad Lou typically was.
The story for East Carolina, though, lives on the defensive side of the ball. And it starts with senior All-Conference USA defensive end C.J. Wilson. Wilson, who looks to be a high NFL draftee, sports 10 1/2 tackles for loss including 5 1/2 sacks on the season. His ‘bookend partner’ on the other side, defensive end Scotty Robinson has similar, stellar numbers (10 1/2 TFL, 5 sacks).
The Pirates run a 4-3 look on defense, and are led by defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. Arkansas fans may remember Hudson from the 2002 Music City Bowl. Back then, he was the defensive coordinator for a Minnesota Gophers squad that held the Razorback to just 80 total yards, en route to a 29-14 win. Brings back good memories, doesn’t it???
Extended forecasts for January 2nd in Memphis call for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-30s at kickoff — elements that the Hogs’ haven’t seen this season. Accuracy from Mallett and drops by the wide receiver corps should be watched closely in the early going.
As usual, the key to the game falls squarely in the lap of the Arkansas defense. East Carolina will stop the Hogs some, especially if they can get pressure on Mallett. If ECU controls the ball on offense, they can no doubt win this game.
Time for the Hogs to finish and, as Coach Petrino puts it, “set the tone” for a promising 2010.