Arkansas vs. Texas A&M Advance

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Even in this age of passing prolific Spread offenses and defenses designed to stop them, effectively running the ball and stopping the run remains the tried and true football formula most in vogue.That formula indicates the Arkansas Razorbacks running into trouble against the nationally No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies.Each coming off a bye week,  first-year Head Coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks, 2-2, and Coach Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies, 3-1, clash in Saturday night’s 6:30 SEC West game televised by the SEC Network at A&M’s Kyle Field in College Station, Texas. Only an egregious officiating error depriving Arkansas of a fumble recovery and running out the clock up 28-27 instead of Auburn kicking 30-28 game-winning field goal with seven seconds left prevents the Razorbacks from rolling 3-1 with a 3-game winning streak.Nevertheless their SEC surge under new Coach Pittman after consecutive 0-8 SEC campaigns during the 2018 and 2019 Chad Morris regimes is tempered by what they run into at Kyle Field.Other than Georgia, a 37-10 victor over Arkansas in the Sept. 26 season opener, no SEC team stops the run better than the Aggies allowing but 75 yards rushing per game.Other than  forget the run Air Raid Mississippi State, no SEC team runs for less than Arkansas’ 102 yards per game.Conversely, A&M ranks second in the SEC averaging 172 rushing yards.Offensively, A&M running back Isaiah Spiller in three games out of four has outrushed Arkansas’ team average per game. Spiller peaked  174 and two touchdowns on 27 carries in the Fisher era’s signature win, 41-38 over  then No. 4  Florida on Oct. 10.  Spiller followed netting 114 and two touchdowns on 18 carries beating Mississippi State, 28-14.“Isaiah Spiller is really good and playing exceptional,” Pittman said.Arkansas senior middle linebacker Grant Morgan of Greenwood calls Spiller, “probably the best back we’ve faced all year.  He runs super hard.  He hits the gaps. He has the best  vision we’ve seen.”A&M sports perhaps the best offensive line these Hogs have seen.And most physical, Pittman said.As for A&M’s quarterback, Pittman says it seems “Kellen Mond being there forever.”Tell Arkansas about it.  Since joining the SEC, the Aggies are 8-0 in their annual SEC West game with Arkansas. Senior dual threat quarterback Mond started winning the last three as a true freshman starter over Bret Bielema’s 2017 Razorbacks.Back from old Arkansas vs. Texas A&M Southwest Conference days the Aggies defensively inevitably fielded defenses big, fast and mean.These Aggies  fit their mold.“Their D-line,”Pittman said.  “Bobby Brown is a guy that sticks out and Buddy Johnson.  Their secondary is very, very physical. Safeties that will come down and flat hit you. And they are very good at corner.  Just a really solid football team that’s ranked in the Top Ten and should be.”Fisher, a former national champion coach at Florida State, praises Arkansas in all phases.Particularly if the Barry Odom coordinated Arkansas defense stops the run and forces Mond having to pass instead of choosing to pass. Arkansas’ 10 interceptions lead the SEC. And the Hogs both run the ball and stop the run better than stats show, Fisher implied.“They’re generating tons of turnovers on defense,” Fisher said. “They’ve had goal-line stands on the 1-yard line twice I know in the Ole Miss game.”Fisher said the Hogs have “run the ball solidly.  They’re not averaging tons of yards but they make you play the run.”That opens up the passing game for Arkansas’ been around the SEC forever quarterback.  Graduate transfer Feleipe Franks is four games new to Arkansas but started at Florida from 2017 through his third game of the season-ending injury in 2019.“Feleipe’s a big, (6-6, 228) strong guy who’s playing really good football,” Fisher said. “Eight touchdowns, 3 picks, high percentage of completions, can get the ball to any part of the field at any time.”Fisher knows with Rakeem Boyd, an Aggie freshman in 2016 transferred to junior college and since 2018 Arkansas’ leading rusher, is one back away from greatness.Boyd’ rushed 1,133 yards last year. He’s been injury hampered this year but has had two weeks to heal.“I mean Boyd is a big, strong guy, physical, runs hard, runs through people,” Fisher said.Boyd popped 25 and 24 yard runs the last two years against A&M on a combined 28 carries for 136 yards.A&M’s 8-0 hold  on Arkansas has not recently come easily.  Even Morris’ abysmal teams battled A&M to the wire in 24-17 and 31-27 losses in 2018 and 2019 and in 2017 required two overtimes to outlast 50-43 Bielema’s 2017 Razorbacks wallowed 1-7 in the SEC.Both teams exhibit major improvements since 2019. 

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