Texas A&M’s first year in the SEC last season was filled by dominant play on the road at the Aggies went 7-0 away from Kyle Field.
The 10th-ranked Aggies will make road trip No. 1 Saturday when they play at SEC West rival Arkansas.
While road success in 2012 would figure to give a team an idea of what to expect, Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin quickly dismissed that Wednesday.
“It doesn’t play into it at all,” Sumlin said on the SEC conference call. “It was last year.”
The road trip will be the first for many Aggies as A&M (3-1, 0-1 in SEC) has already played 17 true freshmen and a total of 25 players who are playing for the Aggies for the first time this year. Eleven of the 17 true freshmen are on defense where the Aggies have 12 either true freshmen or redshirt freshmen on their two-deep.
That, plus early-season suspensions, have led to some growing pains for A&M on defense but Sumlin believes his team is starting to make strides.
“That’s where we’re at,” he said. “We signed 31 players this year and we’re at a point in our program where we’re trying to build depth. We’ve got some talented youngsters that have made some mistakes but they’re playing hard and you don’t turn over one-third of your roster in one year without having to play young guys. Some of them have progressed quicker than others. They’ve done a great job but obviously they’re learning on the job. What they lack in experience they make up for in enthusiasm.”
The defense will be tested Saturday by an Arkansas (3-1) team that has been able to pound teams with its rushing attack. The Razorbacks are averaging 246 yards a game on the ground.
While the Aggies know they have to stop the run, Arkansas first-year coach Bret Bielema and his team know that the key to the A&M offense is Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.
In last year’s 58-3 rout of Arkansas, Manziel threw for 453 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 104 yards and a score.
Bielema is always aware that if Arkansas puts too much emphasis on Manziel, it could spell trouble for the Razorbacks.
“Our kids know how great a player he is,” Bielema said. “The players around him are very special. They’ve got a great offensive line and wide receiver. They’ve got a couple of running backs who are very special. Defensively they’ve got some guys who can play the game in a right way. They’re a complete football team.”