Texas A&M vs. Arkansas: Aggies' 4 Keys to Shutting Down Hogs Running Attack
The No. 9 ranked Texas A&M Aggies take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville in Saturday. If the Aggies want to notch their first Southeastern Conference win of the season, they will need to find a way to shut down Arkansas' running game.
The Razorbacks are 3-1 on the season behind a strong defense and a very powerful running game. The Hogs are averaging 246 yards rushing per game.
The Aggies have struggled tremendously on defense in 2013, particularly in their front seven. The Texas A&M defense is allowing 218 yards rushing and 5.9 yards per carry.
The Aggies defense is going to have to improve by leaps and bounds if they are going to slow down the Arkansas running game. This is a look at the steps that the Aggies will have to take if they want to hold the Hogs in check.
Play the 4-3
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Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is a 4-3 coach, but he will run a variety of fronts. Since the Aggies faced spread teams in three for their first four games, the defense has been opening in the 4-2-5 scheme to start most of their games.
Arkansas is coached by Bret Bielema and will try to run the ball down your throat just like his Wisconsin teams did. The Aggies will need to play primarily out of the 4-3 against Arkansas.
They will likely mix in the 33-stack or 3-3-5 formation on defense in order to keep the defense honest, but there will always be three linebackers on the field against the Hogs.
The Aggies have struggled to stop the run this season. They will need as much size on the field as they can find in order to contain Arkansas' powerful running attack.
Darian Claiborne Needs to Start at MLB
Donnie Baggs has been replaced as the starter by Darian Claiborne
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Darian Claiborne started at middle linebacker against SMU. Junior Donnie Baggs had started the three previous games at middle linebacker.
Baggs had shown an inability to get off blocks in the middle. Claiborne appears to be the only linebacker on the team who can naturally play off blocks and make plays.
Claiborne has great instincts and should grow into an outstanding linebacker for the Aggies. He had five tackles against SMU in his first ever start at middle linebacker.
Claiborne had previously played outside linebacker and had one week to learn the middle linebacker position. He leads all Aggie linebackers with 18 tackles on the season.
Defensive Line Has to Get Penetration
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This game is going to be decided in the trenches between the Arkansas offensive line and the A&M defensive line. If the Arkansas offensive line is able to push the Aggies defense around, they will be able to run the ball, control the clock and keep the Aggies offense off the field.
If the A&M defensive line is able to consistently get penetration and win on first and second down, they will put Arkansas in third and long situations where the Hogs are not comfortable.
A&M must force Arkansas to pass the ball in order to win the game. Arkansas starting quarterback Brandon Allen is injured and backup AJ Derby is only averaging 86 yards passing per game.
In order to get more penetration, you could see freshman Isaiah Golden start at defensive tackle against Arkansas. Golden has two tackles for loss on the season, compared to 1.5 tackles for loss combined from the Aggies' starting defensive line.
If Golden starts at defensive tackle, then Alonzo Williams could move to strong-side defensive end and give the Aggies a stronger front against the run.
The Aggies' defensive line has to win the battle of the trenches if the Aggies want to get an SEC road win.
Defensive Back Has to Continue to Be Strong Against the Run
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You can generally tell the quality of a defense by looking at who is making the tackles. If you have linebackers or defensive linemen leading the team in tackles, then you are typically going to have a solid defense.
If you have safeties or cornerbacks leading the team, then your defense has issues unless you have a special talent at safety. The top five tacklers for the Aggies in 2013 are three safeties and two cornerbacks.
Part of that is because the Aggies have played three spread teams, and part of it is because the front seven has been inept in 2013 and the safeties are making a lot of tackles down the field.
Junior cornerback Deshazor Everett is the Aggies' best defensive player. He is third on the team with 24 tackles and is a shutdown cornerback.
Everett has moved to safety because starter Floyd Raven broke his collarbone, and backup Clay Hunnicutt was not up to the task. Everett is very physical against the run and excels at making plays outside the tackle box.
He, Howard Matthews and Toney Hurd Jr. are going to have to be active near the line of scrimmage against Arkansas. They will need to be sure tacklers to prevent Arkansas from making big plays.
Arkansas sophomore running back Jonathan Williams will be a load for the Aggies to handle. The 6'0", 222-pound back is a nice north-south runner. The Aggies defensive backs need to wrap up and hold on until help gets there.
AJ Collins is a true freshman from Florida who weighs in at 205 lbs. He is not the power back that Williams is but he has more speed.
They will both test the Aggies defense. The safeties need to be ready to play a big part in the run defense against Arkansas.