Arkansas hopes to slow Manziel, Texas A&M offense
Bret Bielema watched plenty of Johnny Manziel before he ever thought about pursuing the Arkansas job.
While at Wisconsin last season, Bielema saw the Texas A&M quarterback from afar as Manziel ran circles around the Southeastern Conference - all the way to the Heisman Trophy.
The first-year coach of the Razorbacks will have the opportunity to witness Manziel in person on Saturday when Arkansas (3-1) hosts the Aggies, who are making their first trip to Razorback Stadium since 1990.
Bielema can only hope the Razorbacks fare better in their second go-around again Manziel than they did in their first - a 58-10 drubbing at the hands of Texas A&M (3-1, 0-1 SEC) last season. The quarterback accounted for 557 yards of total offense (453 passing, 104 rushing), a coming-out game in a season-long, coming-out party for the talented signal caller.
''I just don't want him to be great on Saturday,'' Bielema said.
Manziel hadn't even been born the last time the Aggies played a game in Fayetteville. The two schools were both members of the Southwest Conference at the time, before Arkansas jumped to the SEC in 1992.
Though Texas A&M joined the SEC as well last season, this will be its last trip to Arkansas for the foreseeable future. The schools, which played three nonconference games in Cowboys Stadium from 2009-11, are slated to renew their rivalry there next year through the 2024 season.
Arkansas hopes a return home is enough to at least slow down Manziel and the Aggies, especially after a disappointing loss at Rutgers last week. The Razorbacks, who played without quarterback Brandon Allen, led by 17 points in the second half before falling 28-24.
Senior defensive end Chris Smith, who leads the SEC with 5 1/2 sacks, knows all-too well what a difficult challenge Texas A&M - in particular, Manziel - provides this week.
''Johnny's going to be Johnny,'' Smith said. ''That's one thing about him is he is a great player, and I feel like he might win the Heisman again this year. We've got to be able to contain him.
''... We don't want to get Manziel-ed.''
Five things to watch as Arkansas searches for a way to slow down Manziel:
1. DEFENSIVE HOPE: Led by Smith, Arkansas leads the SEC with 14 sacks. The Razorbacks have preached a new, more physical approach in their first season under Bielema - one they'll need to practice against Manziel. The sophomore quarterback hasn't slowed down at all this season, with the Aggies leading the SEC in scoring (50.2) and total offense (602.2 yards per game). Manziel has played a large role in that, particularly in a 49-42 loss to No. 1 Alabama in which he accounted for 562 yards of total offense. ''His knowledge of the system in year two is and should be better than it was last year,'' Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.
2. QUARTERBACK DERBY: Arkansas played last week against Rutgers without quarterback Brandon Allen, who won the starting job in the spring and had performed well in his first two games. The sophomore injured his throwing shoulder in the first quarter of a win over Southern Mississippi, however, and he's questionable to play Saturday after not throwing a football during practice over the last two weeks. If Allen is once again unable to go, junior-college transfer AJ Derby, who was 14-of-26 passing for 137 yards against the Scarlet Knights, will start for the Razorbacks.
3. NEW FACES: The Aggies entered this season facing plenty of turnover, particularly on defense. They played 16 true freshmen in the season-opening win over Rice, including 11 on defense. It was the most true freshmen ever used by Texas A&M in a season opener, and many of the youngsters will play their first game away from home on Saturday in the Aggies' first road trip of the season.
4. RECEIVING HELP: Texas A&M has struggled mightily on defense with its new faces this season, ranking last in the SEC in scoring and total defense - allowing 30.2 points and 475.2 yards per game. One area, however, that hasn't been a concern has been the production of wide receivers Mike Evans and Malcome Kennedy. The two have combined for 41 catches and 793 yards receiving through four games, highlighted by Evans' seven-catch, 279-yard effort in the loss to the Crimson Tide. Kennedy has also proved more than capable of big games on his own, finishing with six catches for 83 yards in a win over SMU last week.
5. RUNNING WILD: For Arkansas to slow down the Aggies' quick-strike offense, it will likely need to play keep-away. The Razorbacks have the duo at running back to try and do just that, with freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams combining to average 224.7 yards rushing this season. Both struggled to find running lanes last week against Rutgers, which concentrated on stopping the run with Allen out, but they'll have to perform better on Saturday if Arkansas is to have a chance at the upset.