LITTLE ROCK — Pooh-poohed a week ago, stats posted by Rutgers’ defense are now presented as evidence that Arkansas will be productive running the ball against Texas A&M. Clue No. 2 are the numbers compiled by the A&M defense.
In person, the Scarlet Knights were impressive, outdoing Arkansas’ offensive line and constantly knocking down Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams on first contact. As a result, Collins averaged 3.9 yards per try and Williams produced 2.1 per attempt. Through three games, they were averaging 6.0 and 7.7.
Ironically, the Razorbacks were also successful against the run, holding Rutgers to 107 yards net and limiting the nation’s leading rusher at the time to 80 yards on 17 attempts. Defending the pass was a different story, particularly in the fourth quarter when six Gary Nova completions accounted for every yard in TD drives that actually covered 100 and 33 yards.
Considering the suspect pass defense and the presence of Johnny Manziel, the Razorbacks had better run the ball well and consume time doing it if they are to have a chance to beat A&M this evening. Encouraging is Alabama’s success vs. the Aggies after A&M had closed to 42-28 in College Station and the Aggies’ surely lined up to stop the run. Listening to the game on the trip home from Fayetteville, I recorded runs of 11-0-6-9-2-5 before a fumble.
A quick TD strike by Manziel and Alabama was back at it with runs of 13-11-8-4-2-1 before a short touchdown pass. On both Alabama possessions, A.J. McCarron completed a pass for 20-plus yards, an ingredient necessary for any running team to be successful against a decent opponent. That brings us to AJ Derby, who was the object of much finger-pointing in the Rutgers’ post mortem, and who will be taking the snaps against the Aggies. Whether the result of Rutgers’ defense or Arkansas’ play-calling, Derby did not have many opportunities to throw downfield. That said, he demonstrated nice touch on a sideline throw to tight end Hunter Henry and benefited from a Javontee Herndon adjustment on a toss into the end zone.
Why Henry was not involved more at Rutgers, I have no idea. Maybe he was needed to help block the gangsome near the line of scrimmage. Be assured, Arkansas will see more of the same from the Aggies.
Advancing the Rutgers game, the theory about the Scarlet Knights’ outstanding numbers against the run was that the competition had been inferior and teams had run sparingly. When I saw A&M was No. 105 vs. the run, I jumped to the conclusion that Alabama had piled up the yardage and skewed the early-season stats. The Crimson Tide topped 230 rushing, but Rice ran for more than 300 and Sam Houston State netted 240. As a result, the Aggies are giving up 5.94 yards per rush. Only five teams in the country allow an average of more than 6.0 per attempt.
Those stats, plus center Travis Swanson’s contention that breakdowns in the offensive line last week can be easily fixed, should buoy Arkansas fans. But, there is more to the recipe for success, particularly Arkansas’ response when an adjective-evoking Manziel improvisation goes for 70 or 80 yards. When he’s taking the snaps, such a play is inevitable. Ideally, Arkansas’ offense would counter with a score and the defense would limit him to one or two spectacular plays.
Picking for Hawgs Illustrated, I went with A&M 42-30. The other eight people picking in the magazine also endorsed the Aggies and everybody agreed A&M would score 38 or more. The predictions are nothing more than relatively well informed guesses. I’m pretty sure none of the nationwide experts thought Alabama and A&M would combine for 91 points.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.