In college football’s marquee matchup Saturday, two SEC West schools will clash at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. The opening line in Vegas had the Texas A&M Aggies giving 14.5 points to Arkansas, which certainly raised some eyebrows. Sure, Kevin Sumlin’s A&M squad ranks second in the country in scoring through the first four weeks with 55.3 points per game , but Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks aren’t strangers to the end zone either. Arkansas is averaging over 48 points per game, which ranks just behind the Aggies for third in the country. The shootout is on.
With regards to venue, this isn’t your average neutral site game. Texas A&M is listed as the home team, and College Station sits under 3 hours away from Dallas, so expect some rabid fans to make the trip. However, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and AT&T Stadium, is an Arkansas alum, so you better believe there will be an expansive Razorback presence down in the heart of Texas on Saturday afternoon. Taking those factors into play, the line started moving. By Friday morning, it dropped all the way to Texas A&M (-9). Still, we know that all the public money swinging to Arkansas plays right into Vegas’ hands.
There's one reason, and one reason only that the line opened so high to begin with: Kenny "Trill" Hill. Texas A&M’s explosive offense is led by the sophomore QB, who has already looked better at running Kevin Sumlin’s spread passing attack than Johnny Manziel ever did. Hill went out in his first start and broke Johnny Football’s single-game A&M passing record, throwing for 511 yards against a strong SEC foe in South Carolina. He’s carved up lesser football schools in Lamar, Rice and Southern Methodist in subsequent weeks, but don't worry, Hill is no one-week wonder. He'll be letting it fly on Saturday.
Let's make one thing clear though: the Razorbacks, under head coach Bret Bielema, are a force to be reckoned with on the ground. No, they probably can’t hang with the likes of Alabama, LSU, Auburn, or Texas A&M for that matter, but he's definitely instilled a hard-nosed brand of football in Fayetteville. Bielema's Wisconsin teams always prided themselves on running the ball, and these Razorbacks are no different. They’re averaging 324 yards per game on the ground through the first month. Bruising backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins provide a one-two power punch that’s unmatched in FBS right now. Expect them to do everything possible to chew up clock and keep the ball out of Kenny Hill's hands.
So, Saturday’s clash-of-styles matchup will very simply come down to which school’s defense can slow down the opposing offensive attack. For starters, Arkansas has had trouble developing any pass rush so far this season. If they figure to stop Hill and the Aggies, that will have to change in a hurry. Reggie White is not walking through that door. Coach Bielema may be forced to send regular blitzes at Kenny Hill, forcing him to get the ball out of his hands quickly, thwarting long plays down-field.
Unfortunately for Arkansas, this Texas A&M offense has weapons all over the field, so they won't be afraid to mix up the play-calling. If the Razorbacks don't disguise their blitz packages, the Aggies could gash them by running the ball right past the extra pressure, leaving nobody to take down the ball carrier. Kevin Sumlin runs the ball on 40% of standard downs and on 38% of "passing downs," so this isn't a foreign strategy for A&M. Long story short, the Aggies will be scoring in droves, one way or another.
With Texas A&M piling on points, how long can Arkansas rely on their own ground game? Expect the Razorbacks to pound away with the run early on in an effort to shorten the game. At some point though, they'll be playing from behind, and the comeback will be put on junior QB Brandon Allen’s shoulders. He hasn’t been forced to make many big plays this season, tossing for a meager 552 yards across four games, so it would be asking too much of him to come in and lead Arkansas back from a sizable deficit. To make matters worse, this Aggie defense, which was one of the worst in the SEC last season, is much improved now. The Razorbacks will have to earn every point if they want to keep up. They must cash in on their redzone trips, and put up 7s instead of 3s, because A&M will be crossing the goal-line more often than not. You always have to be wary of a backdoor cover with a 9 point spread, but feel confident in taking Texas A&M giving the points.
Five of the best college football games going on SnapCall all day tomorrow! The first game starts at noon, so don’t be late!