Southwest Classic preview/prediction: Aggies will make it 9 straight against Arkansas
There will be a change of venue this season, but expect the Southwest Classic to be just as wild as it always is.
Arkansas and Texas A&M will face off at 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday at Kyle Field, making it the first time the game has been played there since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. The teams began playing at AT&T Stadium in Dallas in 2014 but were forced to find a new location this year because of COVID-19.
The last time the game was played in College Station was in 2012, when A&M won in a 58-10 blowout. That was also the Aggies’ best season since joining the SEC, as Johnny Manziel led them to an 11-2 season culminating in a Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma.
Don’t anticipate another lopsided game this season.
While A&M is on a path to its best season since then, Arkansas has emerged as the most surprising team in the SEC. The Razorbacks are a botched call at Auburn away from being 3-1 and potentially ranked. The series has a history of close games, with five of the past six outcomes being decided by a touchdown or less.
So what can we expect from the 2020 version?
The Aggies have their best offensive line since Jimbo Fisher took over. They rank third in the country in sack rate, having given up only 1 through four games. They’ve paved the way for the emergence of Isaiah Spiller, who has been among the SEC’s best running backs. A&M has not shied away from using him recently, as the sophomore has 45 carries in the Aggies’ past two games. Expect them to go with what has been working against an Arkansas defense that ranks 11th in the SEC against the run.
The Razorbacks have otherwise had one of the best defenses in the SEC, and that run defense ranking might be a result of their aggressive strategy to defend the pass. They have forced 13 turnovers, including 6 interceptions in their last game against Ole Miss.
The key matchup here will be how the defense can affect Kellen Mond. If the pass rush can get past the stout offensive line and put pressure on him, it will play more into Arkansas’ game of forcing turnovers.
On the other side, the Razorbacks have done enough offensively to stay close in all their games so far.
Feleipe Franks is putting together a solid season coming off an ankle injury, having thrown for 974 yards and 8 touchdowns. He has his top receiver back in Treylon Burks, who has posted 100 yards receiving in both full games he has played. Burks also showed last week that he is capable of catches like this:
Arkansas WR Treylon Burks with an absurd touchdown catch. pic.twitter.com/ZGFSknPhKN
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) October 17, 2020
However, Arkansas will need their running game to step up if they hope to have a chance in this one. Rakeem Boyd suffered a leg injury against Mississippi State in Week 2 and made his return against Ole Miss. Hopefully an extra week of rest is what he needed to get closer to full strength. He was expected to be one of the SEC’s premier backs this season, but he is so far averaging just 2.7 yards per carry.
He’ll have a rough time getting going against an A&M defense that ranks second in the SEC against the run. Linebacker Aaron Hansford has received tremendous praise after converting from a tight end last year. Hansford wasn’t expected to start this season, but he moved into the role after Anthony Hines opted out. He has 24 tackles, including 2 for loss.
One prospect that’s made a jump from junior tape is @AggieFootball LB Aaron Hansford. First-year starting converted TE has gotten better every game so far in 2020. Athletic 240-lber that excels on sub-downs and sources think he could clock high-4.5’s. 📈#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE pic.twitter.com/XbcCdrA9Vd
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) October 23, 2020
Expect this game to stay close but for the Aggies to ultimately come out the victor. Arkansas has had a lot of success against prolific quarterbacks this season, but Mond is arguably the best they have seen. It’s highly unlikely that the Razorbacks are going to force as many turnovers out of him as they did Matt Corral and K.J. Costello. If Spiller and the running game continue to thrive, there might not be many opportunities anyway.
There is also the home-field advantage, though that could be less of a factor this season with limited fans.
If the Razorbacks get their run game going, they could still have a chance. Either way, this year’s matchup on paper looks like one of the most interesting ones in a while. Hopefully, it leads to similar results on the field.
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: Texas A&M 34, Arkansas 24