Mandatory Credit: Photo by Sam Craft/AP/Shutterstock (13398390g) Texas A&M quarterback Max Johnson looks for a receiver during the first quarter of the team’s NCAA college football game against Miami, in College Station, Texas Miami Texas A M Football, College Station, United States – 17 Sep 2022
Texas A&M (2-1) vs. Arkansas (3-0)
Game time: Saturday, September 24, 6:00pm CT
TV/radio: ESPN/XM 138 or 191
What’s at stake: A&M’s relevance in 2022
When the Aggies have the ball:
Will this be the week Jimbo Fisher’s offense wakes up?
Calling the A&M offense a disappointment so far this season might be underselling it. Jimbo and the aggie offense enter the Southwest Classic with the 109th ranked offense in the country (313.7 yards per game). As they begin SEC play, the maroon and white will need to figure out their offensive woes quickly if they want any semblance of a chance to compete in Arlington on Saturday.
Texas A&M QB Max Johnson saw his first start under center last week as the Aggies took down the then-ranked #13 Miami Hurricanes. Johnson completed 10 of 20 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the victory last week. A similar statline will not result in a win against #10 Arkansas this week, no matter how well the A&M defense plays.
The good news? Arkansas has the worst-ranked passing defense in all of college football. Dead. Last. Be that as it may, the Razorbacks possess a ferocious pass rush that ranks at the very TOP amongst FBS schools with 17 sacks on the season.
Texas A&M’s offensive line has struggled mightily in 2022 but showed improvements last week with the return of Bryce Foster. This game may very well come down to the battle in the trenches when A&M controls the ball. If the Aggie offensive line can slow the pursuit of wild hogs after Max Johnson, the junior QB should be able to find holes in Arkansas’ zone defense with on-time deliveries of the football through the air.
When the Razorbacks have the ball:
The Texas A&M defense has shown signs of greatness early this season and has allowed only two touchdowns (both vs. Appalachian State). If there is a ‘flaw’ for an otherwise stellar defensive unit in maroon, it would be stopping the run. That is music to Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman’s ears.
The one thing Arkansas will call more than the hogs on Saturday night? Hand-offs to sophomore running back Raheim Sanders. This Razorback offense is the definition of “ground and pound.” A&M’s defense will need to load the box early, stuff the Arkansas run, and look to their secondary to perform at a high level, just as they have done all season.
What’s a struggling offense’s best friend? Takeaways. Jimbo Fisher’s offense will take any help they can get right now, and flipping the field multiple times against a top ten opponent would be a welcome sight.
Key Aggies to watch:
QB Max Johnson
The LSU transfer will start his second game for Jimbo Fisher in the Southwest Classic on Saturday night. Although Johnson grabbed a win in his first start against a good Miami team last week, the offense continued to sputter for the Aggies.
The A&M offense has achieved three touchdowns in the last two weeks. Johnson might need three TDs to come off his left arm if the Aggies want a shot at opening SEC play with a win.
WR Ainias Smith
There has been one member of A&M’s offense that has been a steady hand through three games in 2022; Ainias Smith.
Jimbo Fisher should look to get the Aggie offense kick-started by getting the ball into playmaker Smith’s hands early and in space. Bubble screens, from the backfield, whatever it takes.
Ainias has a nose for finding open space, no matter where he lines up pre-snap. Quick plays to Smith early in the first quarter could be just what the doctor ordered for what has been an unsatisfactory offensive output each week for A&M.
S Demani Richardson
Due to possibly the dumbest rule in all of sports, Demani Richardson played only one-quarter last week against Miami after being ejected for ‘targeting.’ His presence in the secondary was immediately missed. With an undeniable constant pursuit of the football, the safety will often appear on your television screen at the end of any given play. Richardson is the ‘anchor’ of a strong Texas A&M secondary unit and will be looking to show it against a top ten opponent under the lights in Arlington.
The bottom line:
Ultimately, this is a great matchup for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
This year’s weakness for a struggling Texas A&M offense has been their offensive line. It just so happens that Arkansas leads the nation in sacks. The Aggie defense has struggled at times in the young season to stop the run. The name of the game for Arkansas? Run often. Run hard. Break their opponent’s spirit with a hard-nosed ‘ground and pound’ offense.
Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher answered the upset loss to Appalachian State in a big way by beating a ranked Miami team last week. Unless the A&M offense can finally find a way to be coherent and serviceable, their beginning to SEC play will be a rigid stiff arm to the face.