Houston (AP) - In the final game of a year most would like to forget, Arkansas senior quarterback Feleipe Franks turned in a performance that few Razorback fans will soon forget. Franks began the game 7-7 as the underdog Hogs built a quick 14-0 lead over the Big-12 host TCU Horned Frogs. Franks mixed in short tosses to TE Blake Kern and WR Michael Woods with impressive scoring bombs to Treylon Burks and recently eligible Jaquaylin Crawford. Burks hauled in a 45-yard touchdown on the games fourth play, and Crawford turned a simple go route into an 83-yard spring to the end zone on the first play of the second drive. TCU, battling Covid19 and opt out defections, was overmatched against the UA passing game.
Up 14-0 before the ESPN audience had barely settled into its seats, TCU mounted its best drive of the first half, mixing in QB Max Duggan keepers and short bubble screens underneath the Arkansas bend-but-don’t-break coverage, to take the ball to the Hog 11 yard line. Senior DT Jonathan Marshall stuffed a first down QB draw, and all-SEC LB Grant Morgan tripped up a TCU runner trying to turn the corner for what might have been a score. Faced with 3rd and long, TCU dialed up a WR screen that was blown up by Arkansas playmaking safety, Jalon Catalon. Catalon sped by two would-be TCU blockers to decleat back-up WR Savion Williams who stayed on the NRG Stadium turf for a long time. A field goal attempt was hooked wide and TCU did not threaten the rest of the half.
Franks was not the only star of the scoring onslaught for UA. Running back Trelon Smith carried the ball 14 times in the first half, racking up 132 yards and two additional scores. TCU head coach Gary Patterson was hard pressed to explain his defense’s performance, “we did a poor job of stopping the run, a worse job stopping the pass, and made sure we complimented that with lackluster effort and tackling.”
A long TCU kickoff return by back-up Darwin Barber set the Frogs up at the UA 33 yards line. Two plays later, a third down conversion on a QB bootleg by Duggan and a questionable late hit penalty of UA safety Myles Slusher set up the Frogs inside the UA 5-yard line. Back-up RB Zach Evans, playing for covid19 restricted starter Emari Demarcado, scored on the next play for the Frogs only points of the first half.
Following a UA 3-and-out, and down 28-7, TCU got the ball with 90 seconds left on the clock. Duggan was hit by Arkansas DE Dorian Gerald as he let go of a first down pass. The pass missed intended WR Taye Barber and landed in the hands of UA’s Joe Foucha who took the interception 33 yards for his second score of the season, and a 35-7 UA lead at halftime.
A promising 3rd quarter start for the Frogs - 3 Duggan short passes yielded two first downs, but an Evans fumble was scooped up and returned to the Frog 10-yard line by linebacker Bumper Pool. In his last attempt as a Razorback, Franks found Houston-area native Michael Woods for a 6-yard TD. Franks finished the game 11-13 and 231 yards, 3 TD and 0 Ints. He also ended the season, and brief UA career, as the school record holder for passing efficiency, having completed almost 69% of his passes during 2020.
“I thought Feliepe did what Feliepe always does, y’know?” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman observed. “He controlled the huddle, made good decisions, and moved the football down the field. Hey, now, he had some help - those receivers had a field day today getting to go up against what I think was a short-handed TCU defense.”
Following a 3-and-out, Pittman sent Franks onto the field to start the second drive of the half, only to call a timeout. The first-year Arkansas coach left his offense on the field as he called Franks to the sideline, and emotionally hugged the lanky signal caller on the numbers near the UA sideline. With backup KJ Jefferson still ailing from a near injury in the season’s final regular season game, true freshman Malik Hornsby was handed the keys to Kendall Briles offense.
Hornsby did not disappoint, running six times for 51 yards and a score, and completing 5 passes out of 7 attempts for another 91 yards and a second score, a 13-yard fade route to Trey Knox. Fourth string QB John Stephen Jones spent the final two drives of the game handing off to true frosh Dominique Johnson and senior TJ Hammonds, leading the Hogs down the field for a nifty 51-yard field goal by Matthew Phillips, and a victory formation kneel down at the TCU 20 yard line to end the game.
“We had no answers for them, that’s for sure,” Patterson lamented. “We didn’t have all of our weapons, but I felt like we brought a water pistol to a fire fight tonight. I would hate to have run into the teams that beat them this year, that’s for sure, as they are a scary good team, and only going to get better.”
Pittman summarized the 59-7 blowout, “on good days, the only thing that can beat a confident, well-prepared team is themselves. We only had 5 penalties, one of them a bit puzzling there right before half. We didn’t fumble the ball or throw a pick. We had five receivers and a tight end and a running back catch passes, had three quarterbacks drive the ball for scores, and had defensive players score points for us. Pretty special night to be a Hog fan.”
In an on-field interview immediately after the game, Pittman paused for a moment and looked around the cavernous, now nearly empty stadium, as happy Hog players hugged each other and waved to loved ones in the stands. With tears welling in the corner of his eyes, Pittman offered the line of the year in sports, “y’know, some things are bigger than football. Seeing my players hugging one another, that’s special. Seeing loved ones they haven’t been able to see because of covid, that’s special. Knowing you somehow wound up coaching at your dream school, that’s special. You can focus on all that goes wrong, or you can focus on the things that go right. I like to see things going right, and the world getting better. Maybe, just maybe, my team feels that their world is a better place than it was when 2020 started. I know mine is.”