Following a four-game home stand, including a seven-point loss to top-ranked Alabama, Texas A&M takes to the road for its initial away matchup of the season. The Aggies travel to Fayetteville, Ark. to take on the Razorbacks, hoping to improve their 3-1 (0-1 SEC) record.
Meanwhile, Arkansas looks to recover following last week's 28-24 loss at Rutgers. Hosting A&M for their first conference game of the season, the Razorbacks' talents will be tested against a tough Johnny Manziel-led Aggie squad.
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET, Saturday, Sept. 28
Place: Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark.
Radio: Texas A&M Sports Network
Spread: Currently, there is no spread on Texas A&M vs. Arkansas
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand
Open Up the Offense
Throughout the course of the season, A&M's high-octane offense has been churning out points almost non-stop, even against the likes of Alabama (scored the same amount against the Crimson Tide as SMU). However, a majority of the production has come from A&M's shear wealth of talent rather than play-calling, as the coaches have sought to maintain a vanilla approach with younger players still in the mix.
Five games into the season, though, the Aggies all look to be on the same page offensively, allowing offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney the opportunity to open the flood gates.
Contain Arkansas' Run Game
Due mainly to head coach Bret Bielema's offensive style, the Razorbacks boast a run-first, pass-infrequently system, utilizing a ground-and-pound approach. The A&M defense, which struggled with a similar style against Alabama, will be forced to slow down Arkansas' running backs if it is going to have a chance of earning a lead early.
Last week against SMU, the Aggies generated three turnovers, including one for a touchdown, and they will need a similar approach to give their offense as many possessions as possible. A positive in the turnover ratio goes a long way to providing a victory.
Ground and Pound
Offensively, the Razorbacks have to pound the A&M defense into submission. Essentially, that means no negative plays, consistency out of their running backs and a "take-no-prisoners" attitude from their offensive line. Additionally, holding onto the ball as long as possible, or keeping it out of Manziel's hands, will be key for Arkansas to come out on top.
If the offense holds up it's side of the bargain, this could mean just one or two stops and Arkansas may be able to pull off the unprecedented upset. As many teams have noticed, it's impossible to shut down the Heisman Trophy winner, but containing him remains an option. Force Manziel to be more one dimensional and, down the stretch, one or two stops may be possible.
Utilize Home Energy
The Aggies haven't played on the road this year and it will be their first visit to Fayetteville since the early 1990's, meaning Arkansas may be able to slow down the Aggies' usual fast-start style of play, or at least keep pace with them. Without the backing of the 12th Man, A&M may be vulnerable, and the Razorbacks need to take advantage of that factor early.
What is this, a joke? Always watch Manziel. Why? Because the sophomore is an offensive savant. Through four games, Manziel has put up better numbers than anyone in the country, and while three of those opponents may have been Rice, Sam Houston State and SMU, the other one was Alabama.
First rule when watching Texas A&M play: watch Johnny Football do Johnny Football things. Relax and enjoy.
Mike Matthews and Germain Ifedi
Strangely, the two offensive line newcomers had problems last week against SMU with penalties and performance, something junior Cedric Ogbuehi said was "because of youth." On the road, keep an eye out for how well this offensive line meshes, both running the ball and protecting Manziel, as their performance will prove to be key down the stretch.
Deshazor Everett and Darian Claiborne
True freshman Darian Claiborne will receive his second start at middle linebacker against Arkansas, and following a stellar performance against SMU, Claiborne looks to be solid addition for this A&M defense. Against Arkansas, the young linebacker may earn that position for the remainder of the season.
As for Everett, the transition to safety looked comfortable last week, especially against a passing squad like SMU. However, proving his worth against an SEC opponent will be vital for him to remain solid down the stretch of the season.
Before last week's loss at Rutgers, Collins had become the first true freshman in SEC history to snare three consecutive 100-yard games to kick off their career. The young running back has a ton of potential and has shown he has the ability to be consistent down the stretch for the Razorbacks, and behind Bielema's system, Collins is poised to be a threat against A&M.
After sustaining a shoulder injury against Southern Miss two weeks ago, Allen sat out against Rutgers but should return for the highly-anticipated matchup with the Aggies. While the passing game may not stand out for Arkansas, Allen's leadership and play-action pass ability allows the offense a second dimension.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin chimed in on the Razorbacks offensive style, noting his defense would again have to transition after facing SMU's spread last week.
"[Arkansas] have two good backs," Sumlin said. "Their line is very solid. Defensively, it's hard to argue with their production. They have two defensive ends that lead the league in sacks, tackles for loss and disruptive plays. That’s a signature style of play for Brett. It'll be a different game. We transitioned from Alabama to SMU. We're going to have to make a transition again. That’s what this league is all about."
As for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, he focused specifically on how his defense will react to the playing against the ground-and-pound systems of Alabama and Arkansas as well as the full-out spread of SMU in consecutive weeks.
"Our league is becoming more and more diversified in the attacks that you see week in and week out," Snyder said. "We’re going from ‘big boy football’, to the spread, and now back to ‘big boy football.’ We’ll see how it goes. It’ll be another challenge for our guys, especially our young guys."
Offensively, A&M's coordinator Clarence McKinney remained confident in his line's ability to both protect Manziel and give the Aggies a solid push in the run game, noting Arkansas' solid defensive line will provide a challenge for the group.
"[Arkansas'] front is really good," McKinney said. "They really get after the passer. It's going to be a challenge for our offensive line to keep them off of Johnny. It’s a challenge for Johnny that he embraces. He enjoys the moment when guys start chasing after him."
Texas A&M 52 Arkansas 21
Ultimately, the Arkansas offense will be unable to keep up with Manziel and the Aggies down the stretch. While the score will fail to reflect how close the game was early on, A&M will surge midway through the third quarter to a sizable lead before cruising to the victory.