After letting one slip through their fingers in New Jersey, the Razorbacks return to Fayetteville this week and prepare to host the Texas A&M Aggies (3-1). The 6:00 kickoff will be televised by ESPN2.
That one is going to leave a mark. It wasn’t just the 28-24 loss, but how the Hogs let the 17-point third quarter lead evaporate. Trying to nurse a lead with a backup quarterback is like watching a small animal get tortured…slowly.
Give Bret Bielema credit though – he pulled out all the stops – successfully executing a fake punt to keep a first half drive alive and a third quarter halfback pass for a touchdown. Penalties and two long punt returns (one for a TD) made for a long plane ride home.
The positive though was the play of the defense. A blocked field goal, securing 3 turnovers, a defensive score, posting 5 sacks, and holding Rutgers to 54 rushing yards and 17 points – all are things you can build on.
Meanwhile, A&M had an ‘off week’ as they hosted SMU and won easily 42-13. Head coach Kevin Sumlin (14-3 2nd Year, 49-20 6th Year Overall) pulled the Aggie starters – including quarterback Johnny Manziel – in the third quarter.
Two weeks ago, the Aggies lost an ‘instant classic’, nearly toppling top-ranked Alabama. A&M rolled up 628 total yards and scored 42 points on the best defense in college football. Manziel accounted for 562 of those yards (464 passing, 98 rushing).
A year removed from winning the Heisman Trophy, Manziel has changed his game a bit in 2013. So far, teams have been more successful in keeping him in the pocket. As a result his passing numbers are slightly ahead of his 2012 pace, while his rushing numbers are about half (63.8 Rush YPG) of what he went for last year.
He remains though the most potent scrambling quarterback the Hogs have seen since Cam Newton in 2010. And like him or not, he is the best player in the country and well worth the price of admission.
Pre-season All-American wide receiver Mike Evans (22 Rec, 575 RecYds, 3TDs in 2013) – who is Johnny Football’s favorite target – is having a monster year so far. His 143.8 YPG rank third nationally.
The Aggies though have struggled to stop anybody on defense thus far. Giving up a staggering 475.3 YPG (110th nationally), and 218.3 rush YPG (105th nationally), A&M is still searching on that side of the ball. They have only posted 4 sacks on the season.
With or without Brandon Allen this week, for the Hogs to keep this one competitive, they will have to run the ball well and play keep away from the Aggies offense. You can’t blitz a quarterback like Manziel, so being able to get pressure on him without blitzing is a must.
The game is a sellout. Extended forecast for Saturday night calls for 30% chance of rain with game time temperatures in the upper 60s. Despite some false reports of Vegas lines, the game is currently listed as ‘OFF the board’ due to the uncertainty of the Arkansas QB situation.