The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
The Arkansas Razorbacks of the SEC and the Texas A&M Aggies of the Big 12 Conference are set to do battle at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Arkansas has had two weeks to prepare for Saturday's game, as the squad has been idle since a heart-breaking 24-20 loss to top-ranked Alabama, the defending national champ. The Razorbacks, who are 3-1 overall, led that contest in the fourth quarter and simply allowed it to slip away.
"We just couldn't find a way to win in the 4th quarter," said head coach Bobby Petrino after the tilt. "We had the opportunity and just couldn't get it done."
Like Arkansas, Texas A&M won its first three games of this season and carried plenty of confidence into a September 30th road clash with Oklahoma State. In that Big 12 opener, the Aggies played well enough to win in many regards, but turnovers crippled the team in a 38-35 loss.
Arkansas owns a 39-24-3 advantage in the all-time series with Texas A&M, which includes a 47-19 thrashing of the Aggies a year ago.
Entering the game against Alabama, many fans and analysts believed that Ryan Mallett of Arkansas was the best quarterback in college football. While that still may be the case, the big signal-caller threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions and was picked off three times in all by the Tide, causing many to question whether he has the ability to excel under pressure.
"We really took advantage of them in some ways, and in some ways we just didn't execute," said Mallett. "We started off really good. We just came out in the second half and forgot to finish. We should've finished that game out and had a win right now."
Mallett threw for 357 yards and a score while also running for a touchdown. Jarius Wright was his favorite target, tallying six receptions for 131 yards. The Razorbacks didn't make much of an effort to establish the run in that tilt, as they finished with nearly twice as many passes as rushing attempts.
Arkansas is averaging 31.5 ppg this season to go along with 468.0 total ypg. Mallett has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,438 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. Greg Child leads the receivers with 22 catches and three scores, while Joe Adams is tops in receiving yards (389). Childs, however, has an hamstring injury that leaves his status for this weekend questionable. The team lacks a featured tailback.
Defensively, Arkansas was pushed around at the line of scrimmage by Alabama. The Crimson Tide were able to rack up 227 rushing yards on 40 carries, and two of their three offensive touchdowns came on the ground. The Hogs also permitted 18-of-26 passes to be completed, but they did come up with a pair of interceptions. Arkansas has to do a better job of getting off the field on third down, as the Tide finished 8-of-14 on conversion attempts.
Opponents are scoring 14.5 ppg against Arkansas, which is yielding only 297.0 total ypg. The Razorbacks are solid against the run, holding foes to 3.5 yards per attempt. The pass defense has posted more interceptions that touchdowns allowed, but teams are averaging 13.5 yards per pass completion against Arkansas, a figure that can certainly stand some improvement.
The man at the helm of the Texas A&M offense is Jerrod Johnson, a talented performer who is a bit erratic at times. Johnson has completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 1,274 yards and 12 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Ryan Swope is a possession receiver who has made a team-high 27 catches for 282 yards and a score, but Jeff Fuller is the man to watch, as he had posted 26 grabs for 349 yards and five touchdowns. Christine Michael has rushed for 428 yards and three scores through four outings, and the Aggies are generating 39.5 ppg to go along with 509.8 total ypg.
The offense ran 106 plays against Oklahoma State, establishing a new school record, and the Aggies kept possession of the ball for over 38 minutes en route to 535 total yards. Unfortunately, Johnson was intercepted four times, and Texas A&M finished with five turnovers.
"It's extremely tough," said a disappointed Johnson after the game. "At the beginning of the year I circled this on the calendar. We talked about it as a team a lot. It was our first chance to showcase our talent on national television and get Aggie football to where it needs to be."
Opponents are scoring 20.2 ppg against Texas A&M while generating 279.5 total ypg against the Aggies. Clearly, the defense can feel good about those numbers, but the defensive stats were even better before the last contest against Oklahoma State.
The Aggies yielded four touchdowns to the Cowboys and 351 total yards, but it needs to be pointed out that the defense was consistently put in bad situations by Johnson and the offense. Texas A&M did a tremendous job against the run, permitting a mere 67 yards on 26 carries despite the fact that Oklahoma State has one of the top tailbacks in the nation.
"I have no doubt in my mind that our defense and team got better today," said linebacker Michael Hodges. "It's encouraging to see it, but it's hard to smile about it right now."
The Razorbacks are the choice in this clash, as Mallett is undoubtedly eager to get back on the field after the shaky performance against Alabama. Expect a high-scoring affair.