Arkansas and Texas A&M enter Saturday night’s neutral site matchup in Arlington, Texas as two programs seemingly headed in opposite directions this season. While both were projected as top 25 teams by most outlets this preseason, the Razorbacks are 1-2 and the Aggies are 3-0 after three weeks.
Texas A&M started its season with a marquee win over Arizona State in non-conference play in Houston and followed the opening weekend victory with one-sided affairs against Ball State and Nevada. Arkansas opened its season with a dominant performance against UTEP, but the Razorbacks lost by four to Toledo and by 11 to Texas Tech. Luck has not been on Arkansas’ side in the injury department this season, as running back Jonathan Williams was lost for the year with a foot injury, and receivers Keon Hatcher and Jared Cornelius are sidelined indefinitely due to ailments.
Arkansas owns a 41-27-3 all-time edge over Texas A&M, but the Aggies have claimed the last three (and only meetings as SEC foes) in this series. The Aggies won by 48 in their first meeting against the Razorbacks as SEC opponents (2012), but Arkansas has cut that margin to 12 in 2013 and by seven in 2014.
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Texas A&M -7
Three Things to Watch
1. The Battle in the Trenches
This game features one of the nation’s top offensive lines (Arkansas) versus one of the nation’s most talented defensive lines (Texas A&M). Through three games, the Razorbacks have yet to allow a sack on 94 pass attempts and are paving the way for rushers to average 4.8 yards per carry. The Aggies’ defensive line has thrived under new coordinator John Chavis, leading the nation with 15 sacks and limiting opponents to 3.9 yards per carry. Something has to give here. Arkansas’ line is anchored by standout left tackle Denver Kirkland, and it’s a safe bet the junior will spend some time blocking sophomore Myles Garrett (6.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks). The Razorbacks have been throwing more under new coordinator Dan Enos and senior quarterback Brandon Allen, but the receiving corps was hit by injuries recently to Keon Hatcher and Jared Cornelius. If the Razorbacks protect Allen, there should be plays available against the Texas A&M secondary. And it’s critical for the Aggies to slow running back Alex Collins to force Arkansas into third-and-long situations.
On the other side of the battle, keep an eye on the Arkansas’ defensive front against the Texas A&M offensive line. The Razorbacks have generated only one sack but are going against an Aggie front that has allowed 10 sacks through three games.
2. Tempo/Style of Play
Through three games, Texas A&M has a 234 to 202 edge in offensive plays. That’s not a huge difference, but these teams have a different approach on offense. Arkansas is methodical behind a powerful offensive line and rushing attack, while Texas A&M prefers to push the tempo and utilize its deep receiving corps and quarterback Kyle Allen to stretch the defense. Which style will win out on Saturday night? Can the Razorbacks establish the run and control the clock? The Aggies would prefer to jump out to an early lead and force Arkansas to take to the air to win. Considering the Razorbacks injuries in the receiving corps, Bielema’s team does not want to get into a shootout.
3. Red Zone Performance
One of the main factors in Arkansas’ 1-2 start is its performance in the red zone. The Razorbacks converted just 64.3 percent of their opportunities inside of the red zone for scores, which ranks 13th in the SEC. Against a high-scoring team like Texas A&M, Arkansas has to take advantage of all of its opportunities. Simply, when the Razorbacks get into the red zone, they need touchdowns – not field goals. The Aggies’ red zone defense has struggled, giving up scores on 11 of 13 drives inside of the 20. However, those stats could be skewed, as Nevada scored 17 points in the second half with the outcome no longer in doubt, while Ball State scored 20 in the final two quarters (in a 56-23 win). If Texas A&M limits Arkansas to three points on red zone trips, that’s a win for Chavis and this defense.
After back-to-back losses, a victory in this game would help Arkansas right the ship and turn the momentum around for SEC play. However, the path to a victory for the Razorbacks in this neutral site affair is challenging. The rushing attack isn’t as potent as it was last season, and the offense is without two key receivers. Quarterback Brandon Allen should target tight end Hunter Henry frequently on Saturday night. But even if Arkansas performs better on offense, the Texas A&M defense has improved, and the offense is just as explosive (if not better) as it was in 2014. Expect quarterback Kyle Allen and a deep receiving corps to challenge an Arkansas secondary that has allowed only three passing scores so far. The Razorbacks will fight, but the Aggies have too much on both sides of the ball.