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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Aggies look to start SEC play on positive note versus Razorbacks

Photo by Ishika Samant

Senior WR Ainias Smith (0) is stopped by the Miami defense at Kyle Field on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

Aggies. Arkansas. Arlington.

The No. 23 Texas A&M football team opens SEC play at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, against the No. 10 Razorbacks at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. This season’s Southwest Classic marks the 79th meeting between the old Southwest Conference foes, a rivalry that the Hogs lead, 42-33-3. 

Despite the overall record, the maroon and white have won nine out of the last 10 matchups, an annual game that never fails to bring excitement. Three of the Aggies’ victories during that span came in overtime, and five of their wins were by seven points or less. Arkansas capped the Aggies’ win streak versus the Razorbacks at nine games with a 20-10 win in the 2021 season, a victory that also ended A&M’s 11-game overall win streak dating back to 2020.

Heading into their first conference matchup, the Aggies and Razorbacks are contending for second place in the SEC West behind perennial power No. 2 Alabama after finishing the 2021 regular season with an 8-4 overall record and a 4-4 mark in conference play. Both teams have stumbled already this season against non-Power 5 opponents, as A&M fell to Appalachian State in Week 2, while Arkansas had to rally late to defeat Missouri State last week.

“Most definitely, we’re ready for SEC play,” junior running back Devon Achane said. “This week, we’ve got Arkansas. They’re a great team. This week, we’ve just got to go in, watch film, study our opponent and just try and get better every week — knowing that we’re getting into SEC play so it’s getting harder and harder every week for us.”

After the Aggies’ 17-14 loss to the Mountaineers, coach Jimbo Fisher discussed the need for serious reevaluations of how the team’s offense is run. The fifth-year coach followed up on his remark, starting junior quarterback and LSU transfer Max Johnson against Miami in place of sophomore signal-caller Haynes King. After passing for 140 yards and a touchdown versus the Hurricanes, Johnson will likely be the team’s QB1 for the remainder of the season.

“I think he managed the game,” Fisher said. “The game wasn’t too big. He made good third-down throws. He led us, had good poise, understood the information getting back on the sideline in what was happening in the game and played a very solid game … he’s developing, and I love his attitude and demeanor.”

Leading the A&M offense as well are Achane and senior wide receiver Ainias Smith. As a whole, the Aggies are averaging 20.7 points per game this season, which seems to be a far cry from what the talent on the roster is capable of.

“[It’s] really just executing,” Smith said in regard to how the offense can be successful. “Executing the game plan, executing the plays. Everybody plays a role, and we’ve just got to make sure that we’re all on the same page. Execution is the most important thing.”

Arkansas enters the contest with the lowest-ranked pass defense in the country, giving up an average of 353 yards per game this season. This presents an opportunity for the Aggies’ passing attack to have a breakout game and showcase the abilities of other talented wideouts, such as freshman Evan Stewart, sophomore Moose Muhammad III and senior Jalen Preston.

“We can get confidence in that,” Smith said. “They still have a pretty good defense. That’s something we need to take advantage of.”

On the other hand, the Razorbacks boast the seventh-best rushing defense in the nation, allowing just 68.3 yards per game and 2.2 yards per rush. If the A&M offensive line can’t grow up quickly and create holes for Achane, the 12th Man may see the Aggies rely heavily on Johnson and the receivers to put points on the scoreboard.

“Defensively, [Arkansas is] extremely well-coached,” Fisher said. “Up front, they’re very good. Their safeties, their scheme on defense, four-down, three-down, different blitzes, the things they do are very dynamic in what they do.”

Offensively, Arkansas is anchored by its run game, which ranks 10th in the country. Sophomore running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders leads the group, averaging 146.7 yards per game and 6.7 yards a rush. The Florida native has three rushing touchdowns so far, as well as a touchdown reception. KJ Jefferson, now a redshirt junior, is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the game, averaging 56.3 rushing yards a game with three scores on the ground so far.

Jefferson’s arm isn’t to be taken lightly either, as he’s thrown for an average of 256.7 yards per game with six scores. Redshirt junior wide receiver Jadon Haselwood and senior tight end Trey Knox have been Jefferson’s favorite targets thus far, with each catching two touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Matt Landers leads the team in receptions with a total of 14.

The A&M defense will undoubtedly have its hands full come Saturday giving the Razorbacks multiple methods of getting to the end zone. The unit has been the highlight of the team this season, keeping the Aggies competitive in games even when the offense isn’t doing much. Through three games, A&M has allowed just two touchdowns, good for the ninth-ranked scoring defense in the nation. 

“Our confidence is high because we trust in each other,” freshman defensive lineman Albert Regis said. “We study our opponents day in and day out, and we come up with the perfect game plan –– from the coaching staff to the players –– and then when it’s time to play, we execute it. That is why our confidence is high, because we trust ourselves, and, most importantly, we trust the coaches and what they tell us to do.”

2022 marks the eighth time the Aggies and Razorbacks have met in Jerry World, with the exception of 2020, when the game was played at Kyle Field. Despite the three-hour drive from College Station, student tickets have already sold out for the game.

“Our 12th Man, I Tweeted about it earlier, it’s unbelievable,” sophomore linebacker Edgerrin Cooper said. “They make us feel at home wherever we are. All the people that come to support us … it’s crazy, you know, how loud they are. They give us a great advantage. We feel the support. We look forward to that every game, and it helps us a lot.”

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Luke White
Luke White, Sports Editor
Luke White is a junior telecommunication media studies major and sport management minor from Round Rock, Texas. He has served as head sports editor since May 2023.
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