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Can the Hogs Bring the Heat in Arlington?

KJ Jefferson
Posted at 2:47 PM, Sep 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-23 15:47:27-04

ARLINGTON, Texas. — It is believed to be the battle for the strongest challenger to Alabama in the SEC West this season as Arkansas travels to Arlington, Texas to face Texas A&M. But you can be assured, neither are looking for a runner-up finish. Texas A&M boasts the best recruiting class money can buy according to one SEC coach, and it is hard to argue when you see the numbers. But a lackluster start, including a loss to Appalachian State has the Aggies reeling and their yell practice exploits the fodder of every sports outlet in the country. They bounced back with a win over a ranked Miami team, but the offense still has a lot of questions to answer.

The Aggies had only 264 yards of total offense against Miami. Max Johnson completed half his passes for 140 yards. Devon Achane seemed to be the only spark, leading in rushing with 88 yards and second in receiving with 42 yards and a score. The Aggies have struggled to run the ball in every game this season, and have not done well stopping the running game.

Miami rushed for 175 yards against the Aggies last week, and for perspective, rushed for 174 the week before against Southern Miss. Appalachian State ran for 181 yards against Texas A&M in their upset win. The Aggies secondary has just been mediocre. With teams able to seemingly run at will, the passing numbers seem, if anything, average. The Aggies will have some of their touted freshman class returning for this one, so the defense may get some help.

For Arkansas, it was all roses and a top 10 ranking till Bobby Petrino came to town. The 3rd ranked FCS team in the nation gave the Hogs quite a scare last week, with the Hogs trailing late. It was a punt return for a score that broke the game open and led to a 21-point fourth-quarter win for the Razorbacks. It was the first trip to Fayetteville for Bobby Petrino since he was fired with cause and sent the Arkansas program into a downward spiral. That was the biggest storyline entering, and his ability to scheme offensively for a big game was on full display.

The Razorback secondary is ranked near the bottom in FBS, and the poor tackling against Missouri State made the numbers even more pathetic. The Bears threw for 357 yards against the Hogs. This is the third straight game to open the season that Arkansas has faced a strong passing offense, and well, they survived. They did rack up 8 sacks on the day and have two players ranked in the top 5 in the nation in sacks. They also rank 7th in the nation in run defense, and only gave up 52 yards last week on the ground. Simply put, with all of the injuries in the secondary, the Razorbacks have made opposing offenses one-dimensional.

Arkansas' offense was the key piece a week ago, for a few reasons. Dropped passes early on hurt fast-paced drives that had the defense on their heels. Then there was the goal-line fumble by the normally secure Rocket Sanders. Trey Knox, who has been a key receiver from the tight end position, bobbled a pass that was intercepted. Add on a KJ Jefferson fumbled and you can see why the game was close. KJ Jefferson threw for 385 yards, with Matt Landers and Jadon Haselwood combining for 211 of those yards and a score. Add 212 yards on the ground, 167 of which were by Rocket Sanders, and you can see the Arkansas offense did what it has done all year. They moved the ball effectively and ran with authority. The only problem, three turnovers at key times made the game close. In the end, it was a two-score game, but it took a lot to get there.

Keys to the game:

The recap is significant for this. The Aggies did little to show they are the preseason giant most expected and Arkansas did not look like the 10th ranked team in the country. Arkansas will now enter as a 2.5-point underdog in Arlington as everyone (over)reacts to last week. Had Texas A&M played bad and won against Appalachian State, they would have a lot more respect. Arkansas wins a close one and everyone panics. Looking at the big picture, here are my keys to the game.

Arkansas’ Secondary:

They will get Miles Slusher back along with Jashaud Stewart on the edge, so the secondary should get some help both in coverage and pressure. Tackling has to be better. The secondary took too many chances a week ago, looked flat-footed at times, and then did not tackle well. They were putting a lot of inexperienced players in roles to fill for injuries, but that must be better this week. Expect Arkansas to bring pressure and force the Aggies to throw under pressure against man coverage.

Texas A&M secondary:

Have they been tested yet this year? While everyone thinks of KJ Jefferson as a runner, and he does so with authority, it was the Aggie secondary that was dominated a year ago. The only time the Hogs looked back last year was when Treylon Burks looked over his shoulder on an 80-yard touchdown reception. KJ Jefferson can throw the deep ball, and while Burks is no longer there, they have amassed a very talented group of receivers and spread the ball around. The secondary will be tested because the Aggies will have to stack the box to stop Rocket Sanders and company on the ground.

Turnovers:

The game could hinge on this one stat. Even when Arkansas was a struggling team, this game was close and often settled in extra time. Arkansas cannot turn the ball over like they did a week ago.

Defensive Line:

Texas A&M enters the game with 4 sacks on the season, while Arkansas enters with 17. Drew Sanders and Jordan Domenic are wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks and would be expected to blitz early and often against the Aggie front. Arkansas needs to give KJ time to get the deep ball off when the opportunities arise, and let him get the edge in the RPO game.

My bold projections:

If Arkansas does not turn the ball over, they should win this one.

Arkansas 27-10

Rocket Sanders rushes for 150 yards

Texas A&M plays both quarterbacks

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