HOGS at Texas A&M in-depth preview
FAYETTEVILLE - Even in this age of prolific Spread offenses and defenses designed to stop them, effectively running the football and stopping the run remains the formula most in vogue.
And that could mean the Arkansas Razorbacks run into trouble at 6:30 Saturday night at No. 8 Texas A&M. Each coming off a bye week, first-year heas coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks (2-2) and Coach Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies (3-1) clash in an SEC West game televised by the SEC Network at A&M’s Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.
Only an egregious officiating error deprived Arkansas of a fumble recovery and 28-27 win at Auburn and what would have been a three-game winning streak.
Nevertheless, their SEC surge under Pittman after consecutive 0-8 SEC campaigns during the 2018 and 2019 Chad Morris regimes is tempered by what they run into at Kyle Field.
Other than Georgia, a 37-10 victor over Arkansas in the Sept. 26 season opener, no SEC team stops the run better than the Aggies, who allow but 75 yards rushing per game.
Other than Air Raid Mississippi State, no SEC team runs for less than Arkansas’ 102 yards per game.
Conversely, A&M ranks second in the SEC by averaging 172 rushing yards. A&M running back Isaiah Spiller alone has outrushed Arkansas’ team average per game in three out of four games. Spiller peaked with 174 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries in the Fisher era’s signature win, 41-38 over then-No. 4 Florida on Oct. 10. Spiller followed up by netting 114 and two TDs on 18 carries in a 28-14 win over Mississippi State.
“Isaiah Spiller is really good and playing exceptionally,” Pittman said.
Arkansas senior middle linebacker Grant Morgan of Greenwood calls Spiller, “probably the best back we’ve faced all year. He runs super hard. He hits the gaps. He has the best vision we’ve seen.”
A&M boasts perhaps the best offensive line these Hogs have seen. And most physical, Pittman said.
As for A&M’s quarterback, Pittman says it seems “Kellen Mond being there forever.”
Tell Arkansas about it.
Since joining the SEC, the Aggies are 8-0 in their annual SEC West game with Arkansas. Mind, a senior dual-threat QB, has won the last three, starting as a true freshman against Bret Bielema’s 2017 Razorbacks.
Back from old Arkansas vs. Texas A&M Southwest Conference days, the Aggies annually fielded defenses big, fast and mean.
These Aggies fit their mold.
“Their D-line,”Pittman said. “Bobby Brown is a guy that sticks out and Buddy Johnson. Their secondary is very, very physical. Safeties will come down and flat hit you. And they are very good at corner. Just a really solid football team that’s ranked in the Top Ten and should be.”
Fisher, a former national champion coach at Florida State, praises Arkansas in all phases.
Barry Odom’s Arkansas defense will try to stop the run and force Mond to pass instead of choosing to pass. Arkansas’ 10 interceptions lead the SEC, and it runs the ball and stops the run better than stats show, Fisher implied.
“They’re generating tons of turnovers on defense,” Fisher said. “They’ve had goal-line stands on the 1-yard line twice I know in the Ole Miss game.”
Fisher said the Hogs have “run the ball solidly. They’re not averaging tons of yards but they make you play the run.”
That opens up the passing game for Arkansas’ graduate transfer QB Feleipe Franks. He is four games new to Arkansas but started at Florida from 2017 through his third game of the season-ending injury in 2019.
“Feleipe’s a big, (6-6, 228) strong guy who’s playing really good football,” Fisher said. “Eight touchdowns, three picks, high percentage of completions, can get the ball to any part of the field at any time.”
Fisher knows of Rakeem Boyd, an Aggie freshman in 2016 transferred to junior college and since 2018 Arkansas’ leading rusher. Boyd rushed 1,133 yards last year. He’s been injury-hampered this year but has had two weeks to heal.
“I mean Boyd is a big, strong guy, physical, runs hard, runs through people,” Fisher said.
Boyd popped 25- and 24-yard runs the past two years against A&M on a combined 28 carries for 136 yards.
A&M’s 8-0 run on Arkansas has not come easily. Even Morris’ abysmal teams battled A&M to the wire in 24-17 and 31-27 losses in 2018 and 2019. In 2017, A&M won in two overtimes 50-43 over Bielema’s 2017 Hogs who wallowed 1-7.