Arkansas: 5 reasons the Razorbacks will upset Texas A&M, end losing streak
So many times, Arkansas has been so close. Yes, Texas A&M has won 9 in a row over the Hogs — the entire rivalry since A&M joined the SEC. But unlike many lengthy series winning streaks, A&M hasn’t exactly rolled over Arkansas. Of those 9 A&M wins, 3 came in overtime and 2 more were one-score games.
Coming in 2021, this game wasn’t singled out as a likely Arkansas win. A&M was expected to contend with Alabama for the West title, and Arkansas, while on the way up, was still generally considered to be a year or two away from winning a game like this.
Not so fast.
The 3-0 Razorbacks meet the 3-0 Aggies as a 5.5-point underdog and have probably had the more impressive season to date.
Here are 5 reasons Arkansas is ready to end the streak and mildly surprise the world.
1. Dual-threat KJ
KJ Jefferson has emerged (since a ho-hum opening game) as one of the best dual-threat QBs in the SEC (632 yards passing, 180 yards rushing). The A&M defense has been great (albeit in blowing out Kent State and New Mexico and squeaking past Colorado), but it hasn’t been great against the run. The Aggies are 3rd-worst in the SEC in run defense, allowing 162 yards per game on the ground and 4.1 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Arkansas has the 4th-best rush attack in the SEC and averages 6.1 yards per carry. If Kent State and New Mexico can get rush yards on the Aggies, KJ Jefferson is highly likely to show some key 3rd-down escape skills for Arkansas.
2. Red-zone success
A&M survived Colorado in large part because of some timely defense. The Aggies lead the SEC in red-zone defense (allowing scores in just 3 of 6 red-zone defensive opportunities), although since 2 of their 3 red-zone stops are missed field goals, it’s debatable how much of that is skill and how much is luck.
Meanwhile, Arkansas is tied for 3rd in the SEC (with Alabama) for red-zone conversions — and that isn’t luck. Arkansas has scored on 15-of-16 possessions that reached the red zone, with 10 going for touchdowns. On the other hand, A&M is last in the league in red-zone offense, scoring on just 8-of-12 opportunities, with 3 turnovers in the other red zone.
3. QB pressure
The injury to Haynes King in that 10-7 squeaker over Colorado nearly cost the Aggies, as backup Zach Calzada was not ready for prime time. Calzada was better last week against New Mexico (as most would be), but the problem that got Calzada in the lineup could haunt him. A&M has been pretty poor in protecting its QBs, allowing 7 sacks on the season, tied for 3rd-most in the SEC. Arkansas meanwhile has allowed 2 sacks — only Auburn has allowed fewer. With an inexperienced QB on the run, Arkansas could just cause some defensive problems particularly via …
4, Jalen Catalon is a problem
Arkansas’s super safety remains the only FBS player in 2021 to have a double-digit tackle, 2-interception game. A&M’s 5 interceptions thrown ties with Florida for the most in the conference. A&M’s top receiver is a tight end, which should demonstrate that the Aggies lack the game-breaking receiver they’ve been able to lean on in years past. Instead, they’ve got a porous offensive line that will get them behind the chains, no big-play wideout, and a Madden-looking DB studying the offense that leads the SEC in interceptions. Sounds like a recipe for another big game for Catalon.
5. Meet The ‘Backers
Don’t sleep on Arkansas’ advantage at linebacker.
A&M has some scary talent up front, but Arkansas has 3 of the top 12 tacklers in the SEC in their linebacking corps (Catalon is also on that list, 2nd overall). Pool, Henry & Morgan — Bumper Pool, Hayden Henry and Grant Morgan — might sound like a Fayetteville law firm, but their ability to set the edge against the run and contain A&M’s passing game may well be the difference in this game.
It’s a more experienced Arkansas defense that goes up against an A&M offense that, while not devoid of playmakers, doesn’t have as many as it has for most of the past 9 years.