Last week, Texas A&M lost to No. 7 Auburn in the Aggies’ SEC opener. The game started out slow as A&M struggled to find any momentum on offense, but the team eventually refocused towards the end to provide some optimism looking forward. This week, No. 23 A&M has Arkansas on its slate in a game that is always interesting no matter the trajectory of the two teams. Here’s five things to watch for.
1. Arkansas starting quarterback Nick Starkel
Yes, it’s that Nick Starkel. After transferring from Texas A&M this past offseason, Starkel has earned the starting job in Fayetteville. Though Starkel was not the starting quarterback to kick off the season, he earned the role in the second game of the year against Ole Miss. In the past, Arkansas has been a run-heavy team. This year’s squad is looking like a deviation from the norm as in the past three games they’ve thrown more times than they’ve ran. Last week against San Jose State, Starkel threw for 50 passing attempts and five interceptions. Led by a familiar face, this Arkansas offense is completely different from what the Aggies have seen in the past.
2. Texas A&M’s secondary
On the other end of the Arkansas offense passing attack, the A&M secondary is playing the best it has in years. Through the first four games of the season, the secondary has five interceptions compared to seven all of last season. Despite giving up 28 points at home, the back end actually had a relatively strong performance. Auburn quarterback Bo Nix only had 100 yards through the air. Cornerback Debione Renfro is back on the field after missing the first two games. Renfro provides some veteran experience, having played in all thirteen games during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. And he certainly has some practice experience against Nick Starkel. With Arkansas moving toward a pass-heavy offense, look for the A&M secondary to be very opportunistic.
3. Rakeem Boyd
Rakeem Boyd was a star in the Netflix Original Documentary Series “Last Chance U.” He played running back and was vital to that junior college team’s success. This season for the Razorbacks, Boyd has been the leading rusher in all the games played through week four. Despite becoming a more pass-heavy offense this season, Boyd has still averaged 98 yards a game. Look for him to be a stabilizing force for the Arkansas offense whenever the pass game falter.
4. AT&T Stadium matchup
When A&M and Arkansas first played each other in 1903, the Aggies were on the winning end of that initial contest. Since 2014, the two teams have met up in Arlington for the historic matchup. During that span, only once was the game decided by more than one score. The two teams may not have a lot of animosity toward each other, but this matchup is certainly a rivalry. The Aggies and Razorbacks play their best against each other no matter what is going on in that particular season. Despite Arkansas losing to an FBS team last week, expect this matchup to be a close one, not any different than what we’ve seen in the past.
5. The A&M passing attack
A pattern has emerged in both of the teams’ losses this season — when the passing attack isn’t working, the offense is stalling. In the past, critics pointed the finger at quarterback Kellen Mond for his inconsistency. This past week, it became evident that the fault should not be put on Mond alone. The junior quarterback felt pressure the entire game and was sacked a total of three times. Mond has been let down by his receivers as well, with drops coming at the most inopportune times. The passing attack eventually got it going late, and played hard even when the game was out of reach. If this A&M offense is going to reach the heights it is capable of, the passing attack must become more cohesive, starting with the offensive line all the way through to the receivers.