One of college football's best-kept secret rivalry games is lining up for another exciting matchup when the Arkansas Razorbacks travel to College Station to face the No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies. A&M owns an eight-game winning streak in this series, which dates back to the Southwest Conference days, but five of the last six games have come down to thrilling one-score finishes. While this game has been played in AT&T Stadium the past six years (and nine of the past 11), COVID-19 forced its relocation back to campus, this time being Kyle Field.
After a surprising start to the 2020 season, one that could easily have included another win coming against Auburn, the Razorbacks (2-2) return from a bye to face a familiar foe. With this series renewing in 2009 as the Aggies joined the SEC, one thing that has been consistently missing for the Hogs is strong defensive play. Having already faced three ranked opponents in Georgia, Mississippi State, and Auburn, the Razorbacks have improved greatly from a year ago, giving up 25.5 points per game compared to 36.8 in 2019. That defense will have to travel against a balanced A&M attack for the Hogs to secure their second road victory of the year.
The start to Texas A&M's (3-2) 2020 season has not been particularly easy either, having taken on the No. 2 team in the nation, Alabama, and then-No. 4 Florida. The 41-38 home win against the Gators opened eyes, especially after falling 52-24 the week prior to the Crimson Tide. The Aggies avoided a letdown against Mississippi State, winning 28-14 in Starkville before going on a bye. If A&M can clear the Hogs, a perfect run to the finish line might be had.
Arkansas at. No. 8 Texas A&M
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Texas A&M -12.5
When Arkansas Has the Ball
As Arkansas works through the early part of the season without the benefit of facing a few non-conference cupcakes, the offense is showing signs of both improvement and balance. The offensive line has busted open holes in back-to-back efforts for 100-yard games, netting a season-high 150 rushing yards against Ole Miss. With starting tailback Rakeem Boyd banged up, Trelon Smith has stepped in to fill his void, and he leads the team with 221 rushing yards.
An area where Texas A&M has excelled on defense is against the run. The Aggies are second in the SEC and seventh nationally at 75.5 rushing yards per game allowed. Even Alabama's powerful ground game had troubles in the trenches, coming up with 109 yards on 28 carries, but did punch it into the end zone twice. More production from the ground game is needed for Arkansas, especially in the red zone. Boyd is responsible for the Hogs' lone rushing touchdown.
Where Arkansas can find some daylight moving the chains is through the air. The Aggies are allowing 279.0 passing yards per game, with Bama going for 435 yards and four touchdowns and Florida throwing for 313 and four scores. Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks has shown improvement over the first four games, including a 318-yard, four-touchdown performance against Auburn. His top targets on the outside are Treylon Burks, Mike Woods, and De'Vion Warren. Burks is a rising All-SEC talent who will draw double-coverage from A&M. Smith also has been effective as a receiver out of the backfield with 14 catches for 113 yards and a touchdown.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
Sophomore tailback Isaiah Spiller is on track for a "most improved" award in 2020. Without the benefit of all the carries afforded to those ahead of him on the SEC rushing list, Spiller is fourth in the conference with 430 yards off just 64 carries with four touchdowns. As Arkansas has clamped down against the pass, running lanes have opened up with only five in the box. Both Auburn and Ole Miss went for more than 240 rushing yards against the Razorbacks. Spiller already has three 100-yard games this season, including a season-best 174 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries in the win over Florida.
If senior dual-threat quarterback Kellen Mond is anything, he is consistently inconsistent. One game he will be held to under 200 yards and the next he'll throw for more than 300 against a top-tier team. Mond upped his game against Florida, hitting 25-of-35 attempts for 338 yards with three touchdowns. When Mond drops back, he has a stable of pass catchers at the ready in Ainias Smith, Chase Lane, and Jalen Wydermyer.
The matchup of the game is Arkansas' defense against Texas A&M's offense. The Hogs' defense is winning games by forcing turnovers and getting key stops. Arkansas has picked off 10 passes in four games and is holding teams to a 32 percent success rate on third down. The Aggies' receivers haven't produced many big plays (nine pass plays of 20-plus yards, 12th in SEC), so if the Hogs can keep everything in front of them and make the first tackle, it will allow them to put more men in the box to slow down Spiller. Mond has done a good job protecting the football this season (9:2 TD-to-INT ratio), so Arkansas fans should not count on him giving it up.
The last time we saw Arkansas, the defense played out of their minds for three quarters against Ole Miss, including two pick-sixes. The Razorbacks compiled 394 yards of offense against the Rebels but maintained a trend of not being able to punch it in for six points once inside the red zone. Did the bye week give this offense extra time to build chemistry for the stretch run?
Forgetting the Alabama game, Texas A&M has looked good this season on defense, especially against the run. The Aggies' offensive line is big and physical, which will draw more defenders in the box. Arkansas' zone defense will be challenged by Kellen Mond's arm and experience, which should help the Aggies earn their ninth straight win in this series.
Prediction: Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 28
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
— 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 and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.