9:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Texas A&M -6, Over/Under: 50
A pair of undefeated SEC foes face off at College Station tonight as the tenth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies host the seventeenth-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks. Wouldn’t you know it, but the SEC West has plenty to offer apart from reigning National Champion Alabama, as both of these teams have impressed mightily through the early stages of the campaign. In the case of Arkansas (3-0, T-1st in SEC West), Head Coach Brett Bielema is nearly through with the extensive rebuilding job that the once proud program was in so dire need of. Since the former Wisconsin skipper arrived in Fayetteville four years ago, the Razorbacks have improved incrementally, capping off last year’s 8-5 resume’ with a 45-23 thrashing of Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. Now, Bielema and his charges have their eyes set on bigger prizes, namely the SEC Championship, which would almost assuredly guarantee a place in the College Football Playoff. Just as he did in Madison, Bielema has built this team from within the trenches, with their power has allowed them to outmuscle the opposition on Saturdays. Through three games, the offense has been unspectacular yet efficient, averaging 389.0 yards per game, with 170.7 of that total coming via the rushing attack. As you can imagine, Arkansas runs the ball a lot, attempting 42.3 carries per outing, while picking up a healthy 4.0 yards per rush. Sophomore Rawleigh Williams has already surpassed last year’s totals, rushing for 354 yards on 5.0 yards per carry, logging three touchdowns along the way. Though he didn’t find the end zone, he was instrumental in the Hogs 41-38 double-overtime victory two weeks, tallying a season-high 137 yards on twenty-eight carries. That kind of production makes life much easier on Austin Allen, Arkansas’ Junior Quarterback, who like Williams, has stepped into a starting position and is earning positive returns. Call him a Game Manager if you will, but it in the context of this offense, that’s not a bad thing at all; Allen has completed 67.1% of his passes for 655 yards on 8.3 yards per attempt, tossing seven touchdowns to a pair of interceptions. He too, was exceptional against the Horned Frogs, connecting on 17-of-29 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for the game-winning score in the second extra period. Also benefitting from the Offense’s merciless controlling of possession is the Defense, who while remaining fresh has performed much greater than expected. Thus far, the Razorbacks have yielded 20.3 points per game (45th Overall) on 322.7 total yards. While opponents have found success rushing against them, circumstances haven’t necessarily dictated that they should; with the Offense controlling possession, opponents have been far more inclined to throw their way back into the game, opposed to taking advantage of the 3.7 yards per carry that they’ve permitted. Harkening back to the TCU triumph once more, the hosts gained a ridiculous 572 yards, with 180 of that total coming on the ground at 6.1 yards per clip. Hell, the Frogs even ran for four touchdowns that day, but the difference ended up being turnovers, of which they committed two, ultimately negating huge chinks of that yardage. When Arkansas met A&M a year ago (a 28-21 Aggies’ win in Fayetteville), it was their pass defense not their run defense that did them in; the home side relegated the visitors to their third-fewest rushing total of the campaign (65 yards), but struggled mightily to stop their aerial assault, relinquishing 358 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-28 passing. On that day, the Hogs churned out a total of 457 yards of offense, but saw their efforts fall flat due to a couple of turnovers themselves.
Meanwhile, as their opponent tonight has grinded out their first three victories, Texas A&M (3-0, T-1st in SEC West) has looked every bit the explosive group that we’ve come to expect since Kevin Sumlin took over five years ago. After a pair of mildly disappointing 8-5 campaigns, coupled with a rocky offseason which featured the transfer of Starting Quarterback Kenny Hill, the Aggies are defying expectations with a suffocating defense, and a duel-threat transfer of their own. Former Oklahoma signal-caller Trevor Knight has been better than expected after sitting out all of 2015, beating opposing defenses with both his arm and his legs; the Senior has completed 52.9% of his passes for 830 yards on 8.0 yards per attempt, five touchdowns to two interceptions, while rushing for 151 yards and three more scores on 5.4 yards per carry. In last weekend’s 29-16 victory at Auburn, he matched wits with a stellar Tigers’ defense, completing just half of his forty attempts for 247 yards and a touchdown, as the hosts seemed resigned to keep him in the pocket. For what it’s worth, it worked too, as Knight only gained forty-two yards on a dozen carries. However, the key was that he refrained from turning the ball over, which ultimately led to Auburn’s demise. Though they were able to keep the Quarterback where they wanted him, they had no such luck with his cohort in the Backfield, Trayveon Williams, who gashed the home side for 127 yards and a touchdown on a mere eight carries. As a whole, the visitors rushed for a gaudy 231 yards on thirty-seven carries en route to a grand total of 478 yards. Then again, that’s just par for the course for Sumlin’s offense, which has averaged 42.3 points per game (24th Overall) on a whopping 530.7 total yards, with 293.7 coming courtesy of the pass and another 237.0 via the run. But that’s just part of the story in College Station, as the Aggies have been getting done on the opposite side of the ball, which is something new altogether for this program. A&M has yielded a scant 13.3 points per game thus far (15th Overall), relegating the opposition to 357.3 total yards. Pressure up front has been key, as the Front Seven has accounted for eleven sacks and twenty-nine tackles for loss. Defensive End Myles Garrett has terrorized opponents, wrecking havoc in the backfield, logging three sacks and four tackles for loss thus far. The 6-5, 265 lbs Junior has raked up at least eleven sacks in each of his previous two years at A&M, and will likely be the first defender selected in next May’s NFL Draft, if not the first player overall. Last Saturday against Auburn, Garrett put on a show racking up 2.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in a game that featured another highly-ranked defender, the Tigers’ Carl Lawson, who had just one lone tackle. Keep an eye on how this guy matches up against Arkansas’ mammoth Offensive Line, which will attempt to swallow him up in the running game.
Predicted Outcome: Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 20