The start of the 2015 season for Arkansas and Texas A&M could not have started out any differently with both teams hurdling in opposite directions. The Hogs were preseason No. 18 in the AP poll while Texas A&M was unranked. After a 3-0 start that included a 38-17 opening win over then-No. 15 Arizona State, the Aggies are the No. 14 team in the nation. Arkansas has lost back-to-back, close non-conference games to Toledo (16-12) and Texas Tech (35-24) falling from SEC West contender to a bowl invite hopeful.
When the two teams meet on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, some familiar threads from a year ago will be at play.
In 2014 A&M rolled into Arlington as the No. 6 team in the nation with a 4-0 record. Arkansas was 3-1 but a heavy underdog. The Razorbacks defied the odds, building a 28-14 lead before their secondary gave up an 86-yard Kenny Hill-to-Edward Pope touchdown pass and Josh Reynolds hit pay dirt on a 59-yard Hill connection. In overtime Hill found Malcome Kennedy on a 25-yard pass play on the opening series, as the Aggies won 35-28.
Hill lit up the Razorbacks defense, completing 21-of-41 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception. The Razorbacks stayed in the game by controlling the clock, rushing for 285 yards. Alex Collins splintered A&M defense for 131 yards on 21 carries with one touchdown, while the now-injured Jonathan Williams had 18 carries for 95 yards with another score.
A&M would finish the season with the No. 26 scoring offense in the nation, averaging 35 points per contest and the No. 12 passing offense, netting an average of 306 per outing.
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As time goes by some things change and some do not. Hill is no longer under center for Texas A&M but Kyle Allen has picked up the torch continuing to burn opposing college football defenses. Allen is completing 61 percent of his passes, tallying 594 yards in the air with nine touchdowns against two picks. Backup true freshman quarterback Kyler Murray has completed 15-of-27 passes in limited action coming up with another 146 yards a score and a pick.
What Arkansas, and every other team on A&M’s schedule in 2015, must brace for is arguably the best receiving unit in the nation on the outside and in the slot. Junior receiver Josh Reynolds is continuing his assault on A&M’s record book picking up three scores in three games after setting the school single-season receiving touchdown record a year ago with 13. Ricky Seals-Jones has nine receptions in three games for 83 yards and Speedy Noil has six receptions for 68 yards and a score.
Two 2015 recruits have contributed right from the start for A&M, Damion Ratley and Christian Kirk. Ratley, a rangy (6-2) target, has seven receptions for 93 yards, proving to be a valuable addition to the team. Perhaps the most impressive freshman out of the 2015 recruiting class in the entire nation thus far in the season has been Kirk. Kirk has 16 grabs for 269 yards with two scores. He also has been explosive in the return game, highlighted by a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown and an impressive 37 yards per return average on his four attempts.
Can the Hogs stop this elite unit?
In Week 3 against Texas Tech, the Hogs were picked apart by Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes completed 26-of-30 passes for 243 yards with one score, and the silver lining of hope for Razorback Nation, two picks.
The Air Raid offense is known for dinking and dunking all the way up the field but the Red Raiders had an explosive 72-yard touchdown pass on a trick play in the second quarter when Jakeem Grant hit Reginald Davis on a run-pass option. Tech did have four other receivers bring down passes of 16 yards or longer.
Arkansas' pass defense did succeed in one respect, as the 315 passing yards allowed to Tech was well below the Red Raiders’ per game average, which is now at 399 per contest. A&M averages 261 yards passing per game while Arkansas is giving up 233 per contest. Can the Hogs hold another high-octane offense well below its typical aerial production?
Arkansas’ secondary is young with only one senior in the two-deep, starting safety Rohan Gaines. The secondary is a good unit but gets very little help up front from the defensive line. While A&M leads the nation with 15 sacks in three games, Arkansas is tied with Tulane, Western Michigan, Illinois and San Jose State for dead last in FBS with just one sack in three games.
If the Razorbacks seek to put pressure on Allen in the pocket a change in coordinator Robb Smith’s defense is forth coming. A mix of blitzing a linebacker, a safety, or a cornerback should be coming, which means big-play potential for the Aggies if Allen can read the defense quickly picking up the hot route.
Arkansas still has enough talent on the roster to give A&M troubles. The opening betting line went out A&M -3 but bettors quickly bumped up the line to -7. With all of the Razorbacks’ woes, to only be an opening -3 point underdog is interesting. Someone in Vegas must know something the rest of us are missing!
The old Southwest Conference rivals kick off Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.