FAYETTEVILLE – On whether it’s more difficult to replace the starting quarterback or reshuffle a starting offensive line the Texas A&M Aggies and Arkansas Razorbacks can compare notes.
Arguably either is often the most difficult situation for an offensive staff to adjust.
The 3-0 nationally No. 7 Aggies start their backup quarterback while the 3-0 nationally No. 16 Razorbacks likely start a reshuffled offensive line in their 2:30 p.m. Saturday CBS televised SEC opener at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
A&M during the first quarter of its second game lost starting quarterback Haynes King to a broken leg.
Previously seldom-used third-year sophomore Zach Calzada struggled early with the Aggies trailing Colorado, 7-0 early but after a field goal threw the 18-yard touchdown pass to running back Isaiah Spiller to beat the Buffaloes, 10-7.
Last Saturday in his first career start for Coach Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies, Calzada completed 19 of 33 for 275 yards with three touchdowns vs. an interception as A&M whipped New Mexico, 34-0.
Meanwhile in last Saturday’s Arkansas 45-10 victory over Georgia Southern, left tackle Myron Cunningham was the Razorbacks’ lone offensive lineman finishing where he started.
Injuries to starting center Ricky Stromberg and starting right tackle Dalton Wagner had Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman and offensive line coach Cody Kennedy playing senior co-first team guard Ty Clary first at guard then right tackle and finishing at center with starting left guard Brady Latham moved to right tackle and starting left guard Beaux Limmer switching guard sides as backup guard Luke Jones replaced Latham moving to tackle.
Going into Wednesday’s entirely closed practice it appeared the availability of Stromberg and Wagner was questionable at best vs. A&M.
“Neither one of them have practiced this week,” Pittman said at his pre Wednesday press conference. “So I don’t know that it looks good or not that they’re going to be able to play. We’ll see.”
Pittman’s prepared to start the line they finished against Georgia Southern.
Fisher obviously must feel more Calzada comfortable than when he first had to thrust the backup into the game at Colorado.
“I was really proud last week,” Pittman said of how the reshuffled line dealt an offense amassing 633 total yards. “It was good for our team. It’s sort of like Calzada for A&M. He’s the guy now for them. He’s practiced a full week and a half now as the No. 1 quarterback. It’s the same way with our guys. They’ve had a game now to practice in that way. Certainly they have all this week. We’re fortunate we have several offensive linemen that can play.”
Of course they feel more fortunate counting upon Stromberg, named SEC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week for his performance against Georgia Southern before his fourth-quarter injury, and Stromberg.
“There’s a reason a 1 is a 1,” Pittman said of first-team players. “Certainly wish we could have gotten Wagner and Stromberg back, but we’ll just have to wait and see. But I’ve been proud of that group, proud of Cody Kennedy, their coach.”
Just as he knows Fisher is proud of Calzada.
“I thought Zach, in his first start, to come out hot as he did,” Fisher said Monday. “Very proud the way he managed the game, controlled the game.”
Throwing the winning TD pass against Colorado obviously carried over to build Calzada’s confidence, Pittman said, adding that last week’s experience should help his line if required to be reshuffled again in a game which he preps them to be in practice.
“Depth is such a key part to any game. You can’t be devastated if you lose X, whoever that may be. A good offensive line coach will be ready for every situation that he has thrown in front of him. And certainly we have a good offensive line coach (Kennedy). So we were ready. There was no panic with our team.”
Of course it helps when the key, most versatile substitute, Fayetteville native Clary, is a fifth-year senior who opened the 2017 season as a true freshman starting guard for Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks, started at center in 2018 and 2019 for Chad Morris’ Razorbacks, swapped center for guard with Stromberg under Pittman last year and started once at center when Stromberg was under covid tracing quarantine.
“ He’s unbelievably valuable to our football team because he can play any position on the field,” Pittman said.
Luke Jones, the fourth-year junior via Little Rock and Pulaski Academy who first attended Notre Dame before transferring back home to Arkansas, apparently is a Clary in waiting.
“He’s a little bit like Clary,” Pittman said. “Luke can play left tackle, he can play center. He’s very, very valuable to us. “