Texas A&M-Arkansas Preview
A challenging period for Bret Bielema and Arkansas doesn't figure to get any easier this week.
Saddled with a two-game losing streak amidst other distractions, the Razorbacks attempt to renew their focus in Saturday night's SEC opener against No. 14 Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium.
Expected to contend in the rugged SEC West, Arkansas (1-2) has instead been one of college football's biggest early season disappointments following breakdown-filled losses to Toledo and Texas Tech. The last triggered a contentious exchange between Bielema and Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury after Texas Tech's 35-24 win in Fayetteville last week.
Kingsbury, upset over Bielema's public criticism of spread offenses at a Texas high school coaches convention over the summer, made clear his personal gratification over the victory during his postgame comments. Bielema in turn took a dig at the Red Raiders' relative lack of success the past two seasons during Monday's weekly news conference.
"I'm happy he got to vent and hopefully he feels a lot better," Bielema said. "As a coach who has been in it for 10 years, I know better than to worry about somebody that's been around for a couple and they're .500. So we'll just go forward."
Bielema does have other matters to address after the Razorbacks surrendered 486 yards to Texas Tech's spread attack and didn't force a punt. Patrick Mahomes completed 26 of 30 passes and the Red Raiders averaged 8.4 yards per play.
"If we just could have come up with a stop or two that could have been the difference in the game," Bielema said.
Arkansas also had trouble slowing down the Aggies' similar offense in a 35-28 overtime loss in Arlington on Sept. 27. Texas A&M racked up 523 yards and Kenny Hill threw four touchdown passes, including two long ones to Edward Pope and Josh Reynolds in the fourth quarter that erased a 28-14 deficit.
A&M (3-0) hasn't skipped a beat with Kyle Allen (594 passing yards, nine TDs, two INTs) now solely under center following Hill's transfer to TCU. The Aggies have averaged nearly 500 yards and 46 points in wins over then-No. 16 Arizona State, Ball State and Nevada - all by at least 17 points.
Allen threw for four touchdowns and Tra Carson rushed for 137 yards in last week's 44-27 victory over Nevada, though coach Kevin Sumlin expressed concern over his team's two turnovers and six through three weeks.
"(If we) just eliminate bad football, we'll become a better football team and I think our guys understand that," he said.
Texas A&M has been able to offset those mistakes with a penchant for big plays, mostly from Reynolds (136 receiving yards, 3 TDs) and dynamic freshman receiver Christian Kirk, who's produced 16 catches for 269 yards with two touchdowns along with a 79-yard punt return score against Arizona State.
"We've got some things we need to clean up, but we've got some playmakers on both sides of the ball," Sumlin said.
Among those areas for improvement is a run defense that surrendered 240 yards in a 56-23 win over Ball State on Sept. 12. The Aggies were also gashed for 285 on the ground by the physical Razorbacks last season.
Alex Collins (351 yards, three TDs) had 131 yards on 21 rushes in the 2014 meeting and is coming of a 170-yard, 28-carry effort against Texas Tech.
Texas A&M has averaged 46 points in winning all three series meetings since joining the SEC in 2012. One of those victories came in Arlington, where the Razorbacks had won the first three matchups held there.
Arkansas is 0-2 in SEC openers under Bielema and 0-8 in games decided by fewer than 10 points during his three-year tenure.