A 17-9 victory in College Station against a No.13-ranked Miami team gave Texas A&M football its toughest test of the season, and yet, for the third week in a row, A&M’s defense is facing a tougher offense than its last opponent.
On Saturday, Sept. 24, the Aggies will visit the Arkansas Razorbacks at AT&T Stadium in Arlington for another rendition of the Southwest Classic. This time, the Aggies sit at No. 23 in the AP Poll and Arkansas at No. 10. After winning nine straight bouts over Arkansas, A&M lost the matchup in 2021 as the Aggies struggled to contain a prolific Razorback offense. This year, a lot of the same issues exist.
Many will look at Arkansas’ redshirt junior quarterback K.J. Jefferson’s dual-threat ability to create defensive mismatches all over the board. Last year, Jefferson threw for 212 yards on just 15 attempts and rushed for 50 yards as well.
“He is athletic. He can run and throw. He can run and throw at the same time,” redshirt freshman defensive lineman Albert Regis said. “We have to keep him in the pocket.”
Arguably more threatening than Jefferson, though, is Arkansas’ running game. Raheim Sanders will prove to be a threat to A&M’s defense.
The Aggies have played strong this season defensively, sitting in the top 10 in the nation in terms of least passing yards allowed per game and least points allowed per game. However, they have been susceptible to the run game, allowing 154.3 yards per game, third worst in the SEC.
Appalachian State exploited this when junior running back Camerun Peoples ran for 112 yards on 19 carries. Miami had two running backs combine for 162 yards on 30 carries.
Four of the Razorbacks' five starting linemen from last season return this season, two of whom landed on the Preseason All-SEC lists, senior center Ricky Stromberg and junior guard Brady Latham. Senior tackle Luke Jones, junior guard Beaux Limmer and senior Dalton Wagner also round out a very talented unit that sits atop the country in production. According to Pro Football Focus, the unit is top six in both run blocking and pass blocking grades.
“They have a veteran team,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “They’re an older team. Those guys have been around a long time, and that makes a difference. They’re talented, and they’re well-coached.”
And when the immovable object that is Arkansas’ offensive line is matched with an unstoppable force like Sanders, who has 557 scrimmage yards in three games, it’s a tough challenge to match for A&M’s defense. Furthermore, Sanders, nicknamed “Rocket,” is fully capable of exploiting A&M’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities against the run.
But the Aggies’ defense has been dominant in its own right, looking its best in Week 3 against the Hurricanes. Facing a good offensive line, A&M had a season-high six quarterback hurries, even if none resulted in sacks. The team also accumulated three tackles for loss against a run-heavy Miami offense.
More impressive than the front seven, though, were the defensive backs. Even after freshmen cornerbacks Denver Harris and Smoke Bouie were suspended for the game and senior defensive backs Brian George and Demani Richardson were disqualified, the unit stepped up to hold redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Van Dyke to one of his worst statistical performances in recent memory. The Aggies battled back with their depth on defense.
The defensive backs added a season-high eight pass breakups, and the crew stepped up as Miami attacked the perimeter on offense, forcing the unit to make tough tackles. The top-five leading tacklers for A&M in Week 3 were defensive backs. The Aggies battled back with their depth on defense.
“It says a lot,” sophomore linebacker Edgerrin Cooper said. “We make sure everybody is prepared no matter how far down the depth chart you are.”
The Aggies’ defense will be put to the test against a pair of potential Heisman hopefuls in Jefferson and Sanders, but even at a neutral site, the Aggies will have the advantage of the 12th Man, a crucial factor in last week’s defensive outing.
“Our 12th Man is unbelievable,” Regis said. “They make us feel at home wherever we are [on the road] ... It helps us a lot.”