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Florida A&M Rattlers vs. Arkansas Razorbacks Preview and Prediction

Austin Allen

Austin Allen

The 2017 college football season for the Arkansas Razorbacks kicks off in an unusual fashion taking on the Florida A&M Rattlers, a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program, at their home away from home at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Thursday instead of a traditional Saturday game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. The contest should be a dress rehearsal of sorts for the Hogs, as they seek to work out the kinks of their new 3-4 defense but take the field against a team that has already notched a win to their season.

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The Rattlers put their 4-7 season in 2016 behind them kicking off the new campaign with a 29-7 win over Texas Sothern in Tallahassee. Florida A&M used a stifling run defense, limiting the Tigers to 202 total yards of offense with just 62 of those coming on the ground. On offense, the Rattlers were balanced – rushing for 193 yards while passing for another 221.

Arkansas enters the season with six returning starters on offense and five on defense giving head coach Bret Bielema an experienced team across the board but with big holes to fill at the receiver spot and along the front seven. The Razorbacks will look to establish their trademark ground attack against the Rattlers early but also have the luxury of turning to senior quarterback Austin Allen to attack through the air, which in turn should help open up running lanes for a largely new group of tailbacks.

Florida Rattlers vs. Arkansas Razorbacks (Little Rock)

Kickoff: Thursday, Aug. 31 at 8 p.m. ET

Coverage: SEC Network

Line: N/A

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Three Things to Watch

1. Mobility of Florida A&M quarterback Ryan Stanley

Stanley is the type of quarterback that has given Arkansas fits in recent years, an accurate pocket passer with mobility. In fact, the Razorbacks’ struggles against athletic signal-callers is one of the reasons behind the switch to a 3-4 defense. Stanley helped the Rattlers produce 415 yards of total offense against Texas Southern in their opener, throwing for 217 yards and a touchdown while running for another score. Sophomore tailback Ricky Henrilus did the majority of the damage on the ground for A&M, picking up 81 yards on 14 carries, but Stanley’s ability to keep drives alive with his legs could be a headache for the Hogs’ new-look defense.

2. Debut of Arkansas’ 3-4 defense
The Razorbacks’ ability to stop opposing offenses has been on a sharp decline since the 2014 season when they finished the year ranked 10th in FBS in yards allowed per game. Since then the formerly executed 4-3 alignment has left holes in the middle of the field, allowing scrambling quarterbacks to eat up yardage. So with the new 3-4 under defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads finally making its debut in a game that counts, how quickly will the players instinctively respond and react instead of thinking first and moving later? A good showing against Florida A&M will help in the confidence department heading into next Saturday’s game against  TCU.

3. Razorbacks’ new receiving corps

Austin Allen led the SEC in passing yards with 3,430 and was second in the league in touchdowns with 25 in 2016. Not bad for a first-year starter. His second year as Arkansas’ field general may be more challenging after losing five of his top six targets. And the one holdover, Jared Cornelius, is banged up entering the season. Look for offensive coordinator Dan Enos to give Allen and his new targets plenty of opportunities to work on their chemistry against what should be an overmatched Florida A&M defense. The sooner a reliable target or two is established, the better for the Razorbacks’ offense moving forward.

Final Analysis

Florida A&M already has one win under its belt, but that doesn’t make its matchup with Arkansas any less lopsided. The Rattlers lost to Miami 70-3 in last season’s opener. The final outcome of this one may not reach that level, but Arkansas should have little trouble posting its first win of the season.

College football rankings: Arkansas

The Razorbacks have plenty to work on in this game, from shoring up their new defense to working in a new starter at tailback in sophomore Devwah Whaley; all while finding out if there are any game-changers at receiver. The scoreboard may signal an early end, but Arkansas should take full advantage of an opportunity to fine-tune its offense, defense and special teams throughout all four quarters to get a head start on preparations for next week’s game against TCU.

Prediction: Arkansas 53, Florida A&M 10

— 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, Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.