If the Arkansas Razorbacks’ optimistic season outlook were a wooden boat, one might say that it’s taking on water at an alarming rate. Two weeks ago, we were talking about Arkansas just needing to save face against Alabama and come out swinging. Now, after last week’s loss to Rutgers, the Hogs are sitting at 1-3, have three losses in a row and with only eight games left, must improve to 5-3 just to become bowl eligible. With the way the Razorbacks have been playing this season, that might be a tall order.
It’s clear that head coach John L. Smith isn’t the answer that everyone, including athletic director Jeff Long, had hoped he could be. On Thursday, even though Long stated that Smith would be the coach for the full season, he passed up a chance to answer if Smith had been an embarrassment to the program. Long’s response:
Even though the Hogs are 1-3, they’re only 0-1 in SEC play. That means their goal of winning an SEC Championship is still alive (granted, Alabama would have to lose two SEC games and the Razorbacks would have to win out). And aside from one last non-conference game against Tulsa in November, the SEC season really starts on Saturday in College Station, Texas where the Hogs will take on The Texas A&M Aggies.
The good news for the Hogs is that they’ve beat A&M the past three years, including last year’s incredible comeback in Dallas. This team has heart and the media has reported that all of the players are sticking together and really trying to turn the corner.
The bad news for the Hogs is this year’s game isn’t in Cowboys Stadium, it’s at Kyle Field. Bad news part two: A&M’s redshirt freshman quarterback, Johnny Manziel, is a dual-threat that makes Louisiana-Monroe’s Kolton Browning look like a high schooler. Bad news part three: A&M’s coach is first-year Kevin Sumlin, who coached the Houston Cougars from 2008-2011, amassed a 35-17 record and who’s offenses finished 2nd (2008), 1st (2009), 11th (2010), and 1st nationally (2011).
It could be a long day for the Arkansas defense and coordinator Paul Haynes, because according to Smith what stands out about the defense after the first four games:
…our ability to defend the run and the pass.
What, oh what, must the Hogs do to come away with a win?
Offensively: Quarterback Tyler Wilson and receiver Cobi Hamilton had a fun time against the Rutgers defense (currently ranked 90th in the country), that may not be the case against A&M (ranked 29th). Even though A&M hasn’t seen a passing attack as dangerous as Arkansas’, they’re also tough against the run (18th in the country) which could spell trouble seeing that Arkansas is only averaging 97 yards/game running (116th in the country). If the Aggies are able to play man-to-man effectively, the Hogs will have to find a way to run the ball. Running back Knile Davis hasn’t been the effective back he was two seasons ago since coming back from last year’s season-ending injury. Dennis Johnson, last year’s leader in rushing for the Hogs, has averaged 6.7 yards a carry — so we’re likely to see Johnson utilized more in the running game. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has proven to be a lesser play-caller than his brother Bobby — but he and Wilson have said that they’re trying to make the play-calling less predictable. The Hogs will be without Tight End Chris Gragg, who suffered a bone bruise in last week’s game against Rutgers. If the Hogs can establish a running game quickly, that could make A&M start to crowd the line, which would then give Wilson the room he needs to pick the defense apart through the air. The Aggies rank 3rd in the nation with 5+ sacks/game. That said, it’s fine time the Razorbacks’ offensive line gets mean and doesn’t allow A&M to touch Wilson.
Defensively: Week in and week out, the Hogs’ defense is making the opposing teams’ quarterbacks look like blue chippers. Last week, they found a way to limit the run more than normal, but the pass-defense wasn’t good, at all. To make things worse, starters Tevin Mitchell (cornerback) and Eric Bennett (safety) are out for this game. A&M’s Manziel, even as a freshmen, is a true scare in the backfield (262 yards running, 641 yards passing, 12 overall TDs). Lining up to run the ball for the Aggies are backs Ben Malena, Trey Williams and Christine Michael (200+ yards, 5 TDs total). The big receiving threats for A&M are Mike Evans, Thomas Johnson, Kenric McNeal, Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu (49 rec, 599 yards, 7 TDs total). Sumlin’s offense is a spread attack and is extremely balanced. If the run is there, they run it, if the pass is there, they pass it and if neither is there, Manziel will tuck and run. Haynes continues to simplify the game plan, let’s hope the simplification starts this week and the Hogs can put a stop to A&M’s attack. If they watched the same Florida/Texas A&M game that I watched in week 2, they should have a plan to do just that.
Special Teams: Kickers Zach Hocker and Dylan Breeding are doing their jobs well, when special teams don’t break down. Hocker is currently 2nd in the country in kickoffs, averaging 65+ yards a kick and 16 touchbacks. Breeding is averaging just under 45 yards/punt. The Aggies have scored a punt return TD this season, so special teams have to be ready and have their containment set.
The weather in College Station should be in the mid 70s and thunderstorms are likely — which Smith says suits Arkansas well. If that means Smith wants the game to be decided on the ground, he could get his wish — and it might not be the result he’s really looking for. Each week from here on out is going to be a battle and the Hogs are inching closer and closer to missing out on a bowl game. The current line is A&M by 14.5, and it’s a line that’s achievable. I’d like to see the Hogs come back home with a victory, but I have a bad feeling that this season is about to go from really bad to even worse. Texas A&M 42, Arkansas 28.
Let us know what you think the final score will be. If you’re the closest (see rules below), you’ll get a free t-shirt from Bearstate Supply.
How to enter
Leave a comment with your game prediction. If you want to add anything else, please feel free.
What you’ll win
One t-shirt of your choice (design, color, size) from the Bearstate Supply online store. (Hoodies, ringers and tri-blend AA’s not included)
- You only may enter this specific contest once.
- Contests are open to anyone anywhere except staff of Fayetteville Flyer and their immediate family members.
- The winning entry must pick the winning team and have the smallest combined difference from each team’s final score. Example: If the Razorbacks win by a score of 21-7, and your prediction was Razorbacks 20-10, your difference would be 1 + 3 = 4. In the event of a tie, a winner will be selected by a random drawing.
- You must pick the score by 15 minutes before kickoff for each game.
- Make sure you leave a valid e-mail address when filling out the comment form since that’s how we’ll contact you if you’ve won.
Arkansas at Texas A&M
Date: Saturday, Sept. 29
Time: 11:21 a.m. Central
Location: Kyle Stadium, College Station, Texas
Broadcast: SEC Network