Hogs gear up for Texas A&M

By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — No. 10 Arkansas is set to try and win its second consecutive game against No. 23 Texas A&M on Saturday night in Arlington’s AT&T Stadium.

For the first time since Bobby Petrino left as coach of the Razorbacks they defeated the Aggies 20-10 in 2021. Arkansas went on to a 9-4 season and won all four trophy games beginning with the Southwest Classic.

Sam Pittman knows his team will be in another very tough game.

“We’re excited to go to Dallas and play Texas A&M,” Pittman said. “They have a really good team, and obviously a big win for them over Miami on Saturday. They have a lot of speed. Speed in the secondary. They’re big. Big on the D-line, big at linebacker. They can really stretch the field at wideout. They had some guys suspended last week. I don’t know if they’re coming back or not.

“You have to stop 6 (RB Devon Achane) and 0 (WR Ainias Smith) on offense. That’s hard to do. Achane is really fast, and of course Ainias Smith is dangerous running the ball, catching the ball and obviously on punt returns along with Achane on kick returns. Max Johnson played really well, I thought, against Miami. They’ve got a good special teams group. Really solid team. Big team. They look like a big, physical SEC team. I have a lot of respect for Coach (Jimbo) Fisher. I consider him a friend of mine, and I certainly have a lot of respect for him and his program and the guys on his staff.”

Arkansas’ offense is built to move the football running or passing. App State controlled the A&M defense by power running. Miami tried to beat them passing the football. Pittman saw that as the difference in the A&M defense the past two games.

“Well, in my opinion, they played two totally different offenses,” Pittman said. “Miami tried to throw the ball quite a bit. Was having success running the football, but Miami had wideouts they wanted to get the ball to. App State was more of a ‘we’re coming at you, we’re going to run to the football,’ a little bit of play action, things of that nature — we’re going to try to run right at you, stuff like that. So there was two different offenses going against their defense. Their defense is big and physical and can run. They’ve got a lot of strengths. One of them is their secondary. They’re really good in the back end. So I think they got better last week. You’d have to ask Jimbo, but I think they got a lot better in a week’s time. But there was two, in my opinion, totally different offenses ran against the defense.”

Arkansas also gained some confidence against the Aggies by defeating them last season. Pittman feels that has benefitted in various ways including recruiting.

“Well it felt good. I’ll say that,” Pittman said. “I remember going into the locker room after the game and we were 4-0 at the time and it felt awful good. I think we had lost nine in a row. I think they’ve won 9 out of 10 and something like 9 out of 13. I think we won the first three, the trophy game I’m talking about, in the Southwest Classic. It felt really good. I think it was really important to us because we had been fortunate enough to beat Texas and then come back and beat Texas A&M. I felt like it would do something for us on a national appearance, and I knew it would help us in recruiting in Texas. It was a CBS game, a 2:30 p.m. game and I felt like it would help us in recruiting. Yeah, it felt awful good. I thought it was an important game for us to have as a win.”

Fisher was asked how big this game is to the Aggies?

“I think they’re all big,” Fisher said. “It’s your first conference game and you want to get off to a good start in your own conference. Now it’s not their first conference game, it’s their second. I think that’s very critical. But for us… It’s a hard road to hoe for everyone. That’s the SEC West. It’s tough each week. It’s another critical game. But it’s one game. That’s what it is, but it’s a very important game because it’s the next one and you’d rather be on the top side of it than the bottom, I promise you, with what’s coming.”

Fisher, like most others, is impressed with Arkansas’ pair of talented linebackers Drew Sanders and Bumper Pool.

“Barry (Odom) does a great job,” Fisher said. “He’s tweaked a lot of little things, a lot of little turns and things and unitizes his people different. His scheme, the foundation of it is the same, but Barry knows how to use his people and he moves them around, he gets them in things. I have a lot of respect for Barry as a coach. He does a great job and he puts those guys in position to make a lot of plays and they do.”

While the Aggies have a lot of speed and talent on offense they have struggled to sustain drives. Pittman chimed in on that.

“Well, they have a physical offensive line,” Pittman said. “They have great skill on the outside. With Max Johnson in there, he runs offense well. He can also run … with his feet. They’re still running read plays with him. He’s very accurate with the ball. They have an elite running back. More than one, but certainly an elite wide receiver in Smith. They have several. So I’m sure coach is working on whatever problems they may have. I don’t see a whole lot of them. I see a really great opponent that we’re getting ready to play.”

The Aggies have been impressive on special teams. Pittman talked about why on Wednesday.

“Any time you have a squad full of really good athletes, which they do, you should be good on special teams, as long as you have the returners,” Pittman said. “And in my opinion, they have as good a kickoff returner in Achane and certainly a punt returner in Smith as there is in the country. And they’ve got an entire team of wonderful athletes. So that’s where your recruiting really shows up is in special teams. And they’ve done an outstanding job.”

The game will kickoff at 6 p.m. on ESPN Saturday night.

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