A&M steels for road date with rival Arkansas
Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 23:09
The No. 10 Aggies (3-1, 0-1 SEC) hit the road for the first time this season as they travel to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks (3-1, 0-0 SEC). Saturday’s game is the first of four straight conference matchups for Texas A&M and the first of two consecutive games away from Kyle Field.
The Aggies enter the game fresh off a rebound victory over SMU, in which they tallied more than 580 yards of total offense while the Razorbacks are coming into the matchup following a 28-24 defeat at the hands of Rutgers.
The Texas A&M offense has been a dynamic factor in A&M’s success so far this season. The Aggies lead the SEC with an average of 50.2 points per game and have scored more than 40 points in each of their first four games for the first time in school history.
The Aggie offense is headlined by Johnny Manziel, who leads the SEC with 1,228 passing yards. Manziel also tops the SEC with an average of 370.8 total yards of offense per game and ranks third in the conference with a quarterback rating of 192.5.
“With [Johnny], we see a lot of progress,” said offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney. “He’s checking us in the right play and the younger guys are learning. Arkansas’ front is really good. It will be a challenge for [the] offensive line to keep those guys off him.”
A favorite target of Manziel has become fellow redshirt sophomore Mike Evans. Evans is averaging 143.8 receiving yards per game this season, placing him first in the SEC. Alongside Evans, junior Malcome Kennedy has emerged as a reliable target for Manziel.
Kennedy is second on the team with 19 catches for 218 yards and leads the team with four receiving touchdowns.
“[Kennedy] had a great off season and has become a complete player,” said head coach Kevin Sumlin. “You can work yourself into being a really, really good player. [Kennedy] is an example of that.”
A compliment to the passing game has been the effectiveness of the rushing attack for the Aggies. Entering this weekend, A&M is averaging 211.2 rushing yards per game. This has been benefited by the return of sophomore running back Trey Williams, who missed two games due to a minor ankle injury suffered in week one against Rice.
The Razorback defense is entering the game allowing an average of 93 yards rushing and has only given up three rushing touchdowns on the year. In addition to their run defense, Arkansas currently has two of the top three sack leaders in the SEC. Senior defensive end Chris Smith leads the conference with five and a half sacks this year while junior defensive end Trey Flowers ranks third with three.
The Aggie defense has been helped by the play of converted receiver to linebacker in senior Nate Askew. Askew has 10 tackles on the season and a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown against Sam Houston State. He caught three passes for 10 yards last season and is now expected to start his first game at linebacker Saturday.
“[Askew] is up for the challenge against Arkansas,” said defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. “It is a chance for Nate to show he’s a complete player.”
Both Arkansas’ and Texas A&M’s defense are among the SEC’s best in terms of turnover differential. The teams are tied for third in the conference with a turnover margin of plus three, meaning they have forced three more turnovers than committed through four games.
"Our league is becoming more and more diversified in the attacks that you see week in and week out,” Snyder said. “We’re going from ‘big boy football,’ to the spread, and now back to ‘big boy football.’ We’ll see how it goes. It’ll be another challenge for our guys, especially our young guys.”