Texas A&M vs. Arkansas: Johnny Manziel Will Shine, but Will Aggies Stop the Run?

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 26, 2013

Texas A&M LB Steven Jenkins (bottom)
Texas A&M LB Steven Jenkins (bottom)Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will understandably dominate headlines wherever he goes.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner has become one of the most polarizing figures in college football, thanks to his offseason world tour, autograph scandal and (gasp) his refusal to stop having fun now that he's a full-fledged celebrity.

Manziel-mania will hit northwest Arkansas this weekend as the Aggies hit the road for the first time to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Manziel torched the Hogs last season, passing for 453 yards, rushing for 104 more and totaling four touchdowns in a 58-10 romp in College Station that wasn't even as close as the score indicated.

Arkansas RB Alex Collins
Arkansas RB Alex CollinsNelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

But this year's matchup between the former Southwest Conference foes will take on a much different feel. 

Despite falling to Rutgers on the road last weekend, Arkansas's offense has been quite impressive this season. True freshman Alex Collins ranks second in the SEC in rushing with 120.25 yards per game, while sophomore Jonathan Williams isn't far behind him in sixth with 104.5 yards per game.

Facing off against this potent rushing attack will be an Aggie defense that ranks last in the SEC in rush defense at 218.25 yards per game. That's 32.58 yards per game behind 13th-ranked Kentucky in the SEC and has the Aggies tied with Georgia State at No. 106 nationally.

That's atrocious.

There's no Damontre Moore on this defense. There's no Sean Porter or Jonathan Stewart, either. 

Texas A&M DB Toney Hurd, Jr.
Texas A&M DB Toney Hurd, Jr.Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Roster attrition in the front seven has been a major problem for the 2013 Aggies, and it's been compounded by the absence of several starters, including linebacker Steven Jenkins and defensive lineman Kirby Ennis due to suspensions.

This defense doesn't have a lot of experience playing together, and now it's going up against one of the most punishing rushing attacks in the SEC.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
Texas A&M head coach Kevin SumlinTroy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

So should Texas A&M be on upset alert?


This is an Arkansas team that can and will play keep-away from "Johnny Football," grind out the clock and limit the impact the potent Aggie offense has on the game. That puts a little more pressure on Manziel. He's made a name for himself on the field with his ability to freelance and improvise but lives on the edge at times, which can lead to turnovers.

In the end, though, Texas A&M will take a step in the right direction defensively. This is still a work in progress, but Arkansas is a perfect opponent to build off of.

Quarterback Brandon Allen's status is questionable after injuring his shoulder versus Southern Miss two weeks ago. His backup, A.J. Derby, doesn't exactly strike fear in opposing defensive coordinators. This team is one-dimensional by choice and now necessity, which will help A&M's defense during game preparation.

The Aggies will be able to get a stop or two in the second half to allow the offense to pull away and force Arkansas to change its offensive philosophy and put the game in the hands of its quarterback. 

But don't sleep on the Hogs. They have an offense that plays into the weakness of Texas A&M's defense, which makes this game incredibly intriguing.