Going into this weekend, it is easy to say that both of these programs are coming off a rather dubious Week 3 of the college football season. Oh, sure, both teams picked up wins, but they also opened up a ton more questions about themselves in the process.
For the second season in a row, the Razorbacks are off to a 3-0 start, having disposed of Cincinnati, South Carolina, and Missouri State. But there was nothing easy about going up against this out-manned but ornery Bears team as they escaped from the jaws of defeat last Saturday. The Hogs found themselves down 7-0 after one quarter, 17-14 at halftime, and 24-17 after three quarters. And they could've been in even bigger trouble if not for an 82-yard punt return from Bryce Stevens in the fourth quarter that put the Razorbacks up for good on the way to a 38-27 win.
The Aggies were coming off being another top-10 victim to Appalachian State, suffering a 17-14 loss to the Mountaineers the week before, and had some shaky moments in their 17-9 win vs. Miami. Granted it was an important win, but the Hurricanes mostly shot themselves in the foot, especially in the special teams department.
So this is a "prove-it" Southwest Classic for both.
No. 10 Arkansas vs. No. 23 Texas A&M
When Arkansas Has the Ball
KJ Jefferson had just a 32.9 QBR against the Bears. In his previous two games against the Bearcats and Gamecocks, he posted QBRs of 84.5 and 79.2. The good news is that this isn't just a KJ and Treylon Burks offense anymore like last year. Raheim Sanders has become a force in the running game, averaging 147 yards per game and a hearty 6.7 yards per carry. Receiving-wise, Matt Landers, Jadon Haselwood, and Trey Knox are sharing the catches in a revamped receiving corps. They'll need that diversity to overcome the Aggies even though Sanders should get his yards on that vulnerable A&M rush defense.
A&M was missing four defensive backs due to injury, suspensions, and targeting, yet the Aggies back seven was still a stalwart unit against the Hurricanes and Tyler Van Dyke, holding him to just over a 50 percent completion rate (though some bad drops and a few missed open receivers helped keep his numbers lower than they should've been). With some of these missing players back this week, it'll be a great matchup against the Hogs' passing game.
In general, look for the Hogs to be able to move the ball against this version of the Wrecking Crew. Miami had drives of 65, 44, and 73 yards in their first three possessions but had only three points to show for it. Credit to A&M who bowed up and held the Canes without a touchdown in four trips to the red zone. So far this season, the Aggies have held their opponents to just two TDs in nine red zone trips.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
The Aggies gained just 186 total yards against App State, and their offense was still in slog mode vs. the Hurricanes, getting out-gained 392-to-264. Quarterback Max Johnson, the LSU transfer, made his first start against Miami and actually had some flashes, but overall it still wasn't an "A" grade by any means, going 10-of-20 for 140 yards. Johnson is cool in the pocket but could be on a short hook if he struggles. Haynes King gives the Aggies more of a dual threat, not to mention his numbers have been better than Johnson's, with 33 completions in 51 attempts and 461 yards through the air.
The old saying is that big-time players make big plays in big games, right? Well if that's true, then running back Devon Achane and wide receiver Ainias Smith have shown flashes of brilliance but will need to step up their game for this showdown with the Razorbacks. As an example, the Aggies have converted just 13 third-down plays through three games, seven of those in the first game vs. Sam Houston. Achane and Smith will need to be more clutch when it's needed most.
Arkansas leads the nation with 17 sacks so far this season, notching eight of them against Mizzou State. Linebacker Drew Sanders leads the country with 5.5 baggers already through three games, and edge rusher Jordan Dominck is fourth with 4.0. Those two will be squarely on the Aggie O-line's radar this weekend.
The Razorbacks are a consensus top-10 team going into this game, but it's hard to really think of them that way when they struggled against the FCS Bears. And, of course, across the field will be the Aggies, a team that lost to the giant-killers known as Appalachian State. So again, both teams have plenty to prove here.
Prior to last week's win over MSU, the Razorbacks had lost 27 consecutive games when trailing after three quarters. They outscored MSU 21-3 in the fourth on the way to an 11-point win. But rest assured, if they enter the final frame trailing the Aggies, they'll lose. This ain't no FCS team they are facing here in Jerry World.
Prediction: Texas A&M 24, Arkansas 14
Podcast: Week 4 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.
*Price as of publication.