When No. 23 Texas A&M (2-2, 0-1 SEC) and Arkansas (2-2, 0-1) meet on the field for the Southwest Classic at AT&T Stadium on Saturday, the SEC West matchup pairs two desperate teams in need of a win. A&M is coming off a hard-fought 28-20 slugfest with Auburn while Arkansas took an embarrassing 31-24 home loss to Mountain West Conference member San Jose State. The winner saves faith among their respective fan bases with a mathematical shot at competing for a divisional title.
For three quarters in Week 4, Auburn was able to restrain A&M’s high-flying offense to a holding pattern on the ground while building a 21-3 lead. As the fourth quarter kicked off, the Aggies found traction, scoring 17 points making the final 2:12 of the game interesting. The Aggies picked up an impressive 391 total yards of offense with 335 coming from quarterback Kellen Mond in the loss. The Tigers put a glaring spotlight on the lack of ground power for A&M, especially with the loss of running back Jashaun Corbin for the season.
In a game where nothing seemed to go right for the Hogs, Arkansas was down 24-7 at halftime to the Spartans but rallied in the fourth to tie it. Looking at a possible overtime situation, San Jose State tailback Dejon Packer took a handoff 19 yards into the end zone with 1:13 left as the Spartans left Fayetteville with a program-lifting victory. The Razorbacks offense clicked, but turned the ball over five times, contributing to a worn-out defense that yielded 503 yards.
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 28 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Spread: Texas A&M -23
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
If there was a bright spot for Arkansas against San Jose State, it was the rush defense. The Hogs had been benevolent in previous games but put the clamps down and limited the Spartans to 101 rushing yards. A&M’s ground game is in trouble after a 56-yard performance against Auburn. The Aggies ran the ball 21 times but with little success as Mond led the way with 26 yards on nine carries. There was one 22-yard run belonging to sophomore running back Jacob Kibodi, but considering he finished with 21 yards on six carries that tells the story — too many negative gains when the Aggies tried to run the ball. Which Arkansas team and which Texas A&M team shows up on Saturday? Arkansas allowed 237 rushing yards to Ole Miss in Week 2. Against Clemson, also in Week 2, the Aggies managed just 53 yards on the ground but stung FCS opponent Lamar for 223 in Week 3.
Another big in-game matchup is A&M's receivers against Arkansas' secondary. The Aggies have one of the more talented groups in the nation led by the trio of Jhamon Ausborn (25/364/2), Quartney Davis (16/226/2), and Kendrick Rogers (17/200/0). Against San Jose State, the Hogs had trouble covering one receiver, Tre Walker. Walker hauled in 12 passes for 161 yards. The Hogs are now in the bottom tier of the FBS ranks in passing yards allowed per game (252), ranked 93rd out of 130 teams.
A&M's offense centers around Mond. As Mond goes, so go the Aggies. Mond had a modest game a year ago against the Hogs throwing for 201 yards on a 17-of-26 performance. The Hogs have done a good job of getting to the opposing quarterback with 11 total sacks, but this comes at a cost. Arkansas' defensive line is not getting to the quarterback alone needing help from a linebacker or defensive back. This has left holes in the defense with quarterbacks taking advantage. Will Mond be able to take advantage of Arkansas' blitzes and find the open receiver?
When Arkansas Has the Ball
Even though the Hogs have the nation's 79th-ranked rushing offense, there is talent in the backfield. Rakeem Boyd has All-SEC potential and leads Arkansas in rushing yards (394) and touchdowns (3) followed by Devwah Whaley (32/136/2). The problem is coming from the interior, especially between center Ty Clary and right guard Ricky Stromberg. A&M's rush defense has been up and down against Power 5 teams, holding Clemson to 121 yards but allowing 193 to Auburn.
Arkansas has a quartet of receivers capable of making plays in Trey Knox, Mike Woods, tight end Cheyenne O'Grady, and Treylon Burks. Knox leads the way with 21 receptions for 299 yards and two scores, followed by Wood's 17 receptions for 239 yards and a touchdown. Burks missed the last game (hand), and his status for Saturday is unclear. An area where A&M has done well is against the pass. Teams are averaging just 165 passing yards per game against the Aggies.
The most interesting subplot to this game is Razorbacks quarterback Nick Starkel going up against his former teammates. An Aggie in 2017-18, Starkel could have a slight advantage since he's familiar with Texas A&M's defensive tendencies and weaknesses. Starkel took over in the second half of the Ole Miss game for opening starter Ben Hicks as consistent quarterback play has been an issue for Arkansas. There is no question Starkel can sling the rock and makes quick decisions, which is needed because of the line play. But he's also prone to ill-timed throws. Against San Jose State, he put up 356 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed five interceptions.
The A&M fan base may not be happy with two losses, but both were to top-10-ranked teams; Arkansas cannot make that claim. For the Razorback fans, they are waiting for the proverbial lightbulb to click on for the players under head coach Chad Morris, but sloppy and/or lethargic play seems to keep setting the program back. There is potential for Arkansas to make a game of it, as four of the last five meetings between the two longtime rivals have been decided by a touchdown, but until Arkansas answers the call, A&M appears to have the better coaching. A&M wins an eighth consecutive game against the Hogs.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Arkansas 21
— 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.