Following a rough start to 2016 for a pair of presumed SEC West heavyweights, Texas A&M is trying to emerge this Saturday as the preeminent threat to Alabama in the division. Its opponent is aiming to do the same thing.
The Aggies head three hours north to AT&T Stadium in Arlington this weekend for this year’s installment of the Southwest Classic — the team’s annual showdown with former Southwest Conference rival Arkansas. Texas A&M enters the contest ranked slightly higher in the polls at No. 10 in the AP Top 25, compared to the Razorbacks at No. 17, but there remains no clear-cut favorite as this neutral-site matchup approaches.
Both teams rely heavily on the passing game to set the tone for the offense, although with quarterback Trevor Knight attempting 119 passes through three games, the Aggies are clearly more dedicated to airing the ball out. In comparison, Arkansas’ Austin Allen has 40 fewer attempts during this stretch. While the Aggies feature volume in the passing game, the Razorbacks hang their hat on something much more important — efficiency.
Allen leads the SEC in completion percentage at 67.1, and ranks second behind Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly in passer efficiency. Knight ranks 11th and 10th, respectively.
Perhaps the most telling sign in the disparity between the two quarterbacks so far this year: Allen has compiled two more touchdowns and only 175 fewer yards, despite attempting essentially two-thirds the amount of passes.
If the Aggies are going to remain a contender throughout the season, Knight must become more efficient.
Defensively, Texas A&M will attempt to contain Allen and force him into uncharacteristic mistakes with a playmaking secondary and the heralded defensive end duo of Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. The Aggies cannot afford to hone in entirely on the pass, though, with Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams ranking third in the conference with 354 rushing yards on the season.
Matchup to watch: the Texas A&M secondary vs. Austin Allen
As noted above, Austin Allen is a serious threat — not just to the Aggies, but any team in the SEC West. The junior has thrown for seven touchdowns and just two interceptions, a touchdown-to-interception ratio that becomes even more impressive when considering both mistakes occurred within the first 26 minutes of the season. Since then, he has been nearly flawless.
Texas A&M’s pass defense is nothing to sleep on either, and will challenge Allen all night. The Aggies have recorded four interceptions with one touchdown allowed, and are holding opponents to an average of 226.3 passing yards per game. With Garrett and Hall applying constant pressure off the edge, opportunities to force turnovers are bound to arise. When this happens, the Texas A&M secondary must capitalize.
The Aggies are undefeated in this rivalry since joining the SEC in 2012. There is a strong possibility that the four-game streak will come to a halt this Saturday.
In a game that could easily be determined by quarterback play, Allen’s strong performance this year gives the Razorbacks a considerable edge. Their ability to produce a consistently legitimate ground attack is another crucial benefit they hold over Texas A&M.
What is being overlooked, though, is the added dimension Knight’s mobility provides. In Arkansas’ closest call of the season, a 41-38 overtime victory over TCU, it allowed former Aggie quarterback Kenny Hill to amass 470 total yards, including 93 yards and two touchdowns on the ground — a positive sign for the Texas A&M offense.
With a possible shootout on the horizon, it would not be a surprise for this game to be decided on the final possession.
Final Score: Arkansas 35, Texas A&M 34