Two forces will collide in the Allstate Sugar Bowl (ESPN, 8:30 ET) when the big-play Arkansas offense takes the field against the shutdown Ohio State defense. Arkansas is led by quarterback Ryan Mallett, who amassed a pass efficiency rating of 170.5 this season. Only Heisman finalist Kellen Moore and Heisman winner Cam Newton finished the season with a better efficiency rating.
Mallett’s greatest strength is his ability to create big plays with his arm. Over the past two seasons Mallett has 62 completions that have gained 30 or more yards. That’s 11 more than Ryan Lindley, the San Diego State quarterback who sits second on that list.
Arkansas is a tough matchup for any defense because Mallett has a lot of potential targets. The Razorbacks were the only FBS team to have five players with more than 500 receiving yards this season, and only one other team -- Hawaii -- even had four. One of those five receivers, Greg Childs, is injured and won’t be on the field for the Sugar Bowl. Mallett still has plenty of weapons to work with; especially considering five different players led the team in receiving this season.
But if there is a defense that is prepared to stop Arkansas’ high-powered attack, it is Ohio State’s. Jim Tressel’s defense has not allowed a 100-yard receiver all season and has allowed only 15 pass plays of more than 30 yards since the start of the 2009 season. Only Air Force has allowed fewer. Overall this season, the Bucks gave up just 57 offensive plays of 15 yards or longer; only West Virginia and TCU allowed fewer.
In the absence of big plays, teams also have trouble sustaining long scoring drives against the Buckeyes. Ohio State opponents managed just six touchdown drives of 75 yards or longer this season. Arkansas’ offense, on the other hand, went at least 75 yards for a touchdown 20 times this season.
The Hogs can move the ball down the field quickly as well. Fourteen times this season, the Razorbacks went 70 yards or more for a touchdown in less than two minutes (most in the FBS). In the last two seasons, only twice has Ohio State allowed a touchdown drive of 70 or more yards in less than two minutes.
Mallett will be tested if Arkansas is unable to hit big plays and score quickly, but it’s clear he has the weapons to help him put together long drives.