SEC football is unforgiving, and the No. 17 Arkansas Razorbacks were reminded of that fact in their 45-24 loss to the No. 10 Texas A&M Aggies in week 4 of the college football season.
Sure, by the numbers, the Razorbacks did alright — offensively at least. Bret Bielema’s squad put up 491 total yards of offense, led by quarterback Austin Allen. The junior from Fayetteville completed 28-of-42 passes for 371 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Arkansas also got good production out of Rawleigh Williams III, who rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
Still, it wasn’t enough for the Razorbacks, mainly because they couldn’t capitalize on opportunities and gave too many away.
Arkansas was only 4-of-7 in the red zone. That included a 19-play, 89-yard drive that ended with the run game stuffed multiple times within Texas A&M’s five-yard line. Another red zone trip ended in a fumble from Williams III at the Aggies’ 1.
In all, the Razorbacks gave the ball up three times on fumbles. They also didn’t help themselves with penalties, committing seven for 62 yards. Arkansas was 9-of-16 on third down and 1-of-3 on fourth down.
Missed opportunities, inefficiency and mistakes.
Those are the three strikes all offenses try to avoid on a weekly basis, and they’re incredibly hurtful to a team’s chances of success — especially when playing a ranked SEC opponent.
“We didn’t do some things that we need to do for us to win in these type of environments,” Bielema said after the game. “Uncharacteristic. A little loose with the football. We gave up some turnovers and some penalties that were very,very costly. It seemed like when those hit they really, really cost us.”
What made the loss even tougher for Arkansas is that the game was tied at 17 going into halftime.
Despite missed opportunities in the first half, the Razorbacks were still in position to win the game coming out of the locker room. They were even gifted a goal-line fumble from Texas A&M on the first drive of the second half. Arkansas could have seized momentum at that point and run with it. Instead, the Razorbacks came up empty due to the aforementioned 89-yard drive that produced nothing.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, A&M had scored seven more points. The Aggies scored 14-straight in the fourth before Arkansas got back on the board, and that was basically the game.
Bielema alluded to the fact that attitude became an issue for the Razorbacks once the game got out of hand. It became discouraging to see a close game slip away so drastically, and the head coach mentioned the team’s vibe during the final quarter.
“In the fourth quarter, I just think that there were some guys that really took the field with poor demeanor,” he said.
“Uncharacteristic, to not make an effort and do certain things. We’ll definitely address that on film.
“I told our guys in the locker room it should hurt. A lot of long faces, as there should be. Obviously SEC is a challenging schedule. We gotta get back on track.”
The Razorbacks were also hurt by their defense’s inability to stop Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight.
The Oklahoma transfer scored four times for the Aggies, including two rushing touchdowns. Arkansas allowed him to put up 225 yards and two touchdowns through the air while leading his team in rushing with 157 yards and two scores on 10 carries.
Knight was especially efficient on drawn-up quarterback keepers, taking two to the house — one from 42 yards out and the other from 48. Knight also threw a 92-yard touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds at the end of the third quarter, which had an ironic flair to it considering Bielema’s halftime mention of the Aggies’ quarterback:
— TAMUHighlights ᴴᴰ (@TamuHighlights) September 25, 2016
The Razorbacks are now 3-1 and face an almost-certain bounce-back game against Alcorn State next weekend. They’ll need a win to get the bad taste out of their mouths and hopefully get their heads screwed on straight as well.
They better hope they recover from the Aggies’ punch in the mouth by Week 6, because Arkansas welcomes No. 1 Alabama in what will be a tough matchup, to say the least.
“I think they need to get their minds back just as much as their body,” Bielema said, describing his players after the loss.