Texas A&M vs. Arkansas: Complete Game Preview
The Arkansas Razorbacks endured a gut-wrenching loss last weekend at Rutgers, giving up a 17-point lead to fall, 28-24. However, head coach Bret Bielema and his Hogs have no time to sulk with the Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M Aggies coming to Fayetteville Saturday.
The Aggies enter this weekend's matchup ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25. They bounced back from a loss to Alabama in Week 3 with a 42-13 drubbing of SMU.
After a humbling 58-10 loss at College Station in 2012, Arkansas looks to flip the script this time around in its first SEC game of the season.
With the remaining eight games on the schedule against SEC opponents, a win for the Hogs would not only be a huge upset, but could also catapult Bielema's squad into next week's road trip to Gainesville. Not to mention, it would help ease the pain from blowing the game at Rutgers.
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Place: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, AR.
TV: ESPN 2
Radio: Arkansas Razorbacks Radio Network and Texas A&M Sports Network
Spread: Texas A&M +3 according to vegasinsider.com
Arkansas Keys to Victory
Contain Johnny Manziel
It's easier said than done. Every week, opponents scheme to stop the Heisman Trophy winner, but he still puts up impressive numbers.
The Razorbacks won't shut him down completely, but even slowing him down would help considerably. In 2012, Manziel lit up the Arkansas defense for 557 yards of total offense. His scrambling ability opens up the offense and, once he gets going, it's hard to stop him.
The Razorbacks defensive line has been a bright spot. If it can get pressure on Manziel and keep him from getting big chunks of yardage, Arkansas could put itself in position for the upset.
Once again, a big key to a win for the Hogs will rely heavily on the success of the ground attack. Rutgers was able to hold Arkansas, which ranked 11th in the country with 294.3 yards per game before the contest, to just 101 yards.
It is crucial that the Razorbacks get running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams going. With starting quarterback Brandon Allen out last week, Rutgers put pressure on backup AJ Derby to make throws by shutting down the run game. They have a chance to return to form against a Texas A&M rush defense that ranks 105th (218.3 YPG) in the NCAA.
To keep Manziel and the Aggies offense off the field, Arkansas must have success running the ball. It will be even more important if Allen remains sidelined.
Allen was out last week with a shoulder injury and his status for Saturday remains in question, according to College Football Talk on NBC Sports. If he is not able to go, Derby will make his second start of the season.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was conservative with passing play calls. Though Derby attempted 26 passes, his average per completion was only 5.6 yards. Much of it can be contributed to the run game being held in check.
Like the Rutgers game, the Razorbacks don't need Derby to be a hero. He just needs to manage the game and be efficient when he does drop back to pass. A bigger day on the ground would help open up more throwing opportunities for Derby down field.
Texas A&M Keys to Victory
The weakest link by far in 2013 for the Aggies has been the rush defense. It allowed only 93 yards versus SMU, but the Mustangs are a pass-first team and attempted over 60 passes.
In its first three games, Texas A&M gave up 234 yards to Alabama, 240 to Sam Houston State and 306 to Rice. Arkansas, 23rd in the nation in rushing at 246.0 yards per game, will possess the best rushing attack the team has faced thus far.
The Aggies have to make some major adjustments if they are to stop the duo of Collins and Williams.
Pressure the Quarterback
Assuming Allen isn't able to play, Derby will be under center. Getting pressure on an inexperienced guy often leads to his getting out of rhythm and making mistakes.
If Texas A&M can get into the head of Derby, it could make for a long night for the Hogs. However, that also starts with defending the run. A big game by Collins and Williams would allow Derby to make throws and gain confidence, something the Aggies need to avoid.
Jump on Arkansas Early
Any time a team plays on the road, especially in the SEC, the crowd plays a major factor. Noise can disrupt offenses and keep them from relaying audibles or getting the snap count right.
It would suit the Aggies well to put up points early and deflate the crowd's energy. Not only does it make the fans simmer down, but it also takes away the momentum from the home team.
Stadium environments are notoriously more hostile at night. Arkansas fans are a raucous, passionate bunch. The longer the Razorbacks stay in the game, the more confidence they will gain and the louder the stadium will get. Scoring points to begin the game in Fayetteville will be important if the Aggies wish to avoid the upset.
Arkansas Players to Watch
The senior defensive end has been a menace to start the season. He is tied for first in the country in sacks (5.5) and fourth in sacks per game (1.4).
He's been a big part of an Arkansas rush defense that ranks 13th in the country, giving up 92.5 yards per game. He uses his 6'3", 251-pound frame and quickness very well to gain leverage and make his way around offensive linemen. The Aggies' O-line will have their hands full with Smith, and Manziel will have to keep an eye out for him.
With just four career games under his belt, Razorback tight end Henry is already emerging as a prime target and future star. Though he only has eight catches, they've gone for 125 yards, which is second on the team, and a touchdown. He's also proving to be a big playmaker, averaging 15.7 yards per game.
He caught two passes from Derby at Rutgers for 37 yards. With Texas A&M's main focus on stopping Arkansas' duo of Collins and Williams, Henry can slip past defenders to the next level and be a reliable target for Derby.
Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams
You can lump these two backs together because both have been vital to Bielema's rushing attack. Before being shut down at Rutgers, Collins and Williams ran for 100 yards a piece in each of the first three games. They are the sole reason why the running game is 23rd in the FBS. Combined, the duo have rushed for 899 yards for 6.0 yards per carry and five trips to the end zone.
Another big game could be in store against a porous Texas A&M rush defense.
Texas A&M Players to Watch
Do I really need to explain this one? He won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. In other words, Johnny Football is pretty good. Any questions you have can be answered by looking at his stat sheet.
If Manziel is throwing, more times than not it's to Evans. The sophomore wideout is second in the country in receiving yards (575), third in receiving yards per game (143.8) and 63rd in receptions per game (5.5). He only had two catches against SMU, but they went for 57 yards and a 28.5 yards per catch average.
Against Alabama in Week 3, he hauled in seven balls for an incredible 279 yards and a touchdown. If the Arkansas secondary plays like it did last week, Evans could have another monster game.
At 6'2", 200 pounds, Matthews is a big, physical safety. He leads the team with 31 tackles, including three passes defended and broken up. The junior is great in coverage and his size allows him to go up and defend passes against big receivers. He has a nose for the ball, constantly flying around the field and making plays.
The Hogs must keep up with Matthews and where he is on the field at all times.
What They're Saying
According to John Taylor of NBC Sports, Bielema said he hasn't ruled out Allen playing:
Head coach Bret Bielema on Monday said that Brandon Allen remains questionable for the Razorbacks’ SEC opener against Texas A&M this Saturday with an injured right (throwing) shoulder. The starter suffered the injury in the win over Southern Miss in Week 2 and did not play in the loss to Rutgers Saturday.
Bielema said that the coaching staff is prepared to wait until right up until game day before making a decision on Allen’s availability.
The Hogs will get a boost at receiver, as sophomore D'Arthur Cowan told Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com at practice that he's ready to go after breaking his foot in fall camp:
I had a full practice today. I did a little bit of everything. I feel comfortable, I feel great out there. Just being in the training room early in the morning, it kind of got frustrating. During the second week of treatment I was like 'I'm ready to go back,' but I really wasn't. After I got done running in the pool and Alter-G (anti-gravity treadmill) when they take 20 percent of my body weight off and it was actually going by so good and so fast that it got me back on the field quicker.
Jeff Tarpley of AggieYell.com noted that the Razorbacks' front four provide the Aggie O-line with an even greater challenge than Alabama:
Arkansas poses a different challenge for A&M than even Alabama did with its front four due to their athleticism and size. The Aggies have become more of an inside zone team between the 20's and guards Germain Ifedi and Jarvis Harrison have to be able cut off penetration and allow center Mike Matthews to get to the second level against Arkansas' inside linebackers. In particular, A&M must control Thomas who moves well laterally for someone his size in order to establish anything on the interior. In pass protection, Jake Matthews will face off versus Smith who is much quicker than anyone Alabama used on the perimeter but Flowers will pose similar issues for Ogbuehi. Rutgers was unable to block Arkansas' front on slow developing running or play action pass plays so things must happen quickly for A&M.
Texas A&M 38, Arkansas 28.
Don't expect a 48-point loss by the Razorbacks this time around. At home in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Saturday night's environment should be electric.
Arkansas will have success on the ground against a subpar Texas A&M rush defense, limiting the Aggies high-powered offense. However, Manziel will still be able to put up big numbers when he is out there against an Arkansas secondary coming off a shaky performance.
The Razorbacks D-line will get pressure on Manziel, but their concern with the quarterback will open up the passing game, allowing Evans and the receivers to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
Because Collins and Williams will have success on the ground, Arkansas keeps it close, but ultimately, Manziel and the Aggie offense will be too much as the Hogs fall.