Texas A&M vs. Arkansas: Final thoughts and prediction
This is going to be a most intriguing matchup when No. 10 Arkansas (3-0, 1-0) takes on No. 23 Texas A&M (2-1) in the 79th Southwest Classic at 6 p.m. CT Saturday in Arlington.
It’s the first game of the season for each team away from home, and quite possibly a de facto elimination game in the SEC West. The winner would have to be considered the biggest threat to Alabama for division honors, although Ole Miss might have something to say about that.
Either way, this game offers some classic battles. Look for Texas A&M to start fast. The Aggies are 26-0 under head coach Jimbo Fisher when leading after the 1st quarter, and 28-4 when scoring 1st. They’ll need a fast start, because Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson will have his team ready to strike. The Razorbacks have scored 30-plus points in 12 of Jefferson’s 18 career starts.
Here are a few more final thoughts before these 2 former Southwest Conference foes go at it again, and also a prediction.
Will Max Johnson look Heisman-like against Arkansas’ pass defense …
Arkansas has given up a ton of yardage through the air. Not only are the Razorbacks last by a wide margin in the SEC, they’re last in the FBS. No team in the country has given up more passing yards per game than Arkansas. Through 3 games, the Hogs have allowed 352.7 yards per game through the air.
Johnson threw for a career-high 435 yards for LSU against Ole Miss in the 2020 COVID season finale. It will be interesting to see if Fisher turns him loose in his 2nd start with the Aggies, or maintains a balanced attack on offense.
… or will Sanders and Co. put the Aggies’ QB on his backside
The Razorbacks have been able to somewhat offset their lack of a pass defense by getting to opposing quarterbacks. Linebacker Drew Sanders leads that charge. The Alabama transfer has already accumulated 6.0 sacks, which is tops in the nation. He has recorded at least 1 sack in each game.
As a team, Arkansas leads the country with 17.0 sacks. Adding to Sanders’ numbers, Jordan Domineck has 4.5 sacks, and Zach Williams another 2.5.
A beleaguered Texas A&M offensive line is beginning to get healthy and starting to round into shape. It will be interesting to see if it can hold off the Arkansas rush, especially considering the Aggies haven’t had much of a running game this year, and the Razorbacks have given up the fewest rushing yards in the SEC, yielding just 68.33 per game.
Arkansas’ unstoppable rushing attack
Can the Hogs control the tempo with a run game that ranks 2nd in the SEC, averaging 243.67 yards per game, against an Aggies rush defense that is 12th in the league, giving up 154.33 yards per outing?
Rocket Sanders leads the SEC in rushing with 440 yards. Credit a talented veteran offensive line for opening up running lanes for both Sanders and Jefferson. There’s a chance that Dominique Johnson will see his 1st playing time after suffering a knee injury in the Outback Bowl last season.
Texas A&M has been prone to giving up double-digit-play drives this season, and that doesn’t bode well against this lethal running game.
Special teams/field position will be critical
Last week, the Aggies were able to keep Miami out of the end zone by pinning the ‘Canes deep in their own territory time and time again with pinpoint punting from Nik Constantinou. The junior punter dropped punts at the Miami 9-, 8-, and 1-yard line. He was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts.
In addition, the Aggies have the nation’s leading kick returner in Devon Achane, who returned an Appalachian State kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. For the season, Achane is averaging 39.6 yards per kick return.
Penalties could be the ultimate factor
Here’s where the game very well could be won or lost. Arkansas is the most penalized team in the SEC. The Razorbacks have been flagged for 81 yards per game. In a game as evenly matched as this one appears to be, that is a devastating statistic.
Prediction: Texas A&M 33, Arkansas 24
Both teams will move the football almost at will and turn this game into a high-scoring affair. Texas A&M is allowing just 8.7 points per game, but that’s only because the Aggies have been able to stiffen up in the red zone. They won’t have that same success against an Arkansas team that has scored 10 touchdowns in its 14 trips inside the 20.
However, the Hogs won’t keep Texas A&M from reaching paydirt, either. Johnson has a field day against Arkansas’ secondary, and a much healthier offensive line gets the running game going as well with Achane leading the way.
This is a must-win for Texas A&M, and with its back against the wall, the Aggies prevail in a shootout.