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Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Texas A&M Aggies Preview and Prediction

Trevor Knight

Trevor Knight

Arkansas and Texas A&M meet for the third consecutive season in Arlington, Texas for a neutral site matchup of two teams on the rise and plenty at stake in the SEC. The recent contests between the Aggies and Razorbacks have provided plenty of entertainment. Each of the last two matchups were decided by seven points in overtime, with Texas A&M winning both games. The Aggies also have a four-game winning streak over the Razorbacks and the winner of Saturday night’s contest should have a strong case as the No. 2 team in the SEC.

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Arkansas opened its 2016 season with a one-point victory over Louisiana Tech but scored an impressive victory at TCU in Week 2. The Razorbacks soundly defeated Texas State last Saturday and is off to a 3-0 start for the second time under coach Bret Bielema’s direction. Bielema has this Arkansas program on solid footing after inheriting a mess in 2013 and poised to push for his best overall record at the helm of the Razorbacks.

While Arkansas was on the rise entering 2016, question marks surrounded Texas A&M and the future of coach Kevin Sumlin. After a 20-6 start to Sumlin’s tenure, the Aggies slipped to back-to-back 8-5 records and the pressure was building on this coaching staff to show progress in 2016. So far, so good. Texas A&M earned a solid non-conference victory over UCLA in Week 1 and defeated Auburn on the road last Saturday. The Aggies aren’t in the same category as Alabama, but Sumlin’s coordinator hires (John Chavis and Noel Mazzone) have helped this program take a step in the right direction this year.

Arkansas holds a 41-28-3 series edge over Texas A&M. These two teams were previously conference foes in the Southwest Conference and did not play after the Razorbacks left for the SEC in 1992. No matchups were played between Arkansas and Texas A&M from 1992-2008, but a non-conference series was renewed for 2009-11 and is now an annual event with these two teams in the SEC West. The Aggies have defeated the Razorbacks in all four meetings as SEC members.

Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (Arlington, Texas)

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 9 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Texas A&M -5.5

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Three Things to Watch

1. Battle in the Trenches

The battle up front is going to play a huge role in deciding which team wins on Saturday night. The Aggies and Razorbacks are strong on the defensive line, while both teams enter this game with some uncertainty up front. Texas A&M’s defensive line ranks second in the SEC with 12 sacks through three games. Ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall headline this unit and are a nightmare matchup off the edges. But the Aggies are developing a solid interior, which was critical after giving up 213.7 rushing yards per game last fall. Texas A&M is seventh in the SEC against the run after three weeks, but Arkansas’ massive offensive line and ground attack is probably the best test this unit has faced so far in 2016. Left tackle Dan Skipper is the anchor for coach Bret Bielema, but right guard Frank Ragnow (recently moved from center) is another emerging standout. The Razorbacks have shuffled this group over the last two weeks and seem to be finding the right mix. However, Arkansas has yet to face a defensive front with the overall athleticism and speed like the Aggies can bring on Saturday night. Will the Razorbacks provide enough protection for quarterback Austin Allen? And can this group clear enough rushing lanes against Texas A&M’s defensive front?

While not as heralded as Texas A&M’s defensive line, Arkansas also brings a stout front four to Arlington. Deatrich Wise is one of the SEC’s top ends, while tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter (2.5 sacks so far) is off to a fast start. Hall and Ledbetter have been instrumental in the performance of Arkansas’ defensive line, as the Razorbacks have generated 10 sacks and rank third in the SEC against the run. Texas A&M’s offensive line has passed its first two tests in matchups against Auburn and UCLA. The return of line coach Jim Turner has helped this unit progress, which features two freshmen – Colton Prater and Erik McCoy – in the starting lineup. The Aggies have allowed only three sacks in three games and average 6.1 yards per carry. Will this unit have the same amount of success against an active and stout Arkansas defensive line? Can Wise get to quarterback Trevor Knight? Getting pressure on Knight is critical, as the Aggies have a deep set of playmakers and depth is an issue for Arkansas’ secondary.

Related: Predictions for Every Week 4 College Football Game

2. Trevor Knight vs. Austin Allen

Quarterback play was a mystery for most of the SEC entering the 2016 season. However, a few preseason question marks have emerged as strengths. Texas A&M and Arkansas both have found the right answers under center, with Oklahoma graduate transfer Trevor Knight leading the Aggies, and Austin Allen guiding the Razorback attack. Knight can be streaky as a passer (52.9%), but he can create plays with his legs and has connected on five passing plays of 40 yards or more in 2016. Allen leads all SEC quarterbacks by completing 67.1 percent of his throws and has passed for 655 yards and seven scores. The junior already has a huge road win (at TCU) under his belt and seems to get more comfortable in his role as the starter with each snap. Both of these quarterbacks will have their hands full on Saturday night against tough defenses. Allen should test a Texas A&M secondary that had to replace both cornerbacks entering the season, while Knight and his receiving corps is a tough matchup for an improving Arkansas secondary. Which quarterback will step up with a close game in store on Saturday?

3. The Playmakers

As we mentioned above, this game is likely going to come down to which team wins the battle up front and how the two quarterbacks perform. However, both offenses possess their share of skill talent and rising stars to watch on Saturday night. Texas A&M’s ground attack has improved under new coordinator Noel Mazzone, with big-play threat and freshman Trayveon Williams (8.4 ypc) and Oklahoma transfer Keith Ford (4.8 ypc) leading the way. The Aggies also have a deep group of playmakers, which should test an Arkansas secondary short on depth. Christian Kirk (18 catches) is Knight’s favorite receiver, but big targets like Josh Reynolds (17.6 ypc) and Ricky Seals-Jones (14.2 ypc) and playmaker Speedy Noil are a tough matchup. On the other sideline, Arkansas needs its ground game to deliver to keep the potent Texas A&M offense on the sidelines. Time of possession isn’t an important stat to track in most games, but the Razorbacks need to win it on Saturday night. Sophomore Rawleigh Williams has recorded back-to-back 100-yard efforts and has help from Kody Walker and talented freshman Devwah Whaley. Additionally, the Razorbacks might have the nation’s most underrated group of receivers. Keon Hatcher (18.5 ypc) and Drew Morgan (15 catches) are the top options for quarterback Austin Allen, but keep an eye on tight end Jeremy Sprinkle. The senior could be a tough matchup over the middle of the field for Texas A&M’s linebackers. Additionally, the Razorbacks need to find ways to get the ball in the hands of Dominique Reed (19.1 ypc in 2015).

Final Analysis

This one is about as even as it gets. And as evidenced by the last two matchups, another close game – perhaps another overtime contest? – is in store. Both teams are strong on defense in the trenches, but a slight edge goes to Texas A&M. However, the Aggies will face their toughest passing attack so far with a matchup against quarterback Austin Allen and a deep group of Arkansas receivers. On the other side, Texas A&M’s offense leads the SEC in total yards per game and has found the right mix of balance and big-play potential behind coordinator Noel Mazzone. One area to watch: Turnovers. The Razorbacks were minus-two in last season’s meeting and minus-two in the 2013 game. A slight edge to the Aggies on Saturday in another Arlington thriller.

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Prediction: Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 27