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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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Johnson takes on Jerry’s World

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Photo by Robert O’Brien

Junior QB Max Johnson (14) jumps in the air to pass the ball during the Southwest Classic on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

It’s that time of year again.
After the infamous “Oink Doink” gave Texas A&M football a stunning victory over Arkansas last season, the Aggies and Razorbacks are set to square off on Sept. 30 at AT&T Stadium at 11 a.m.
The rivalry has lived up to its title as the Southwest Classic, as the game has played host to many memorable endings over the years. Since the game was moved to a neutral site in Arlington in 2014, there have been six one-score finishes, with three going to overtime. Despite the competitive nature of the series, it has not been in the favor of the Razorbacks. Since A&M has joined the SEC, Arkansas has only beat the Aggies once — in 2021.
Senior Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson is still at the helm for the Razorbacks this season, and he presents the same challenges as he has the last two seasons. The Sardis, Mississippi native is not only a threat through the air but his legs as well. It’s something the Maroon and White know all too well, as Jefferson rushed for 105 yards in last year’s game.
“Offensively, it starts with KJ Jefferson,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He reminds me of Cam Newton so much. I mean, he’s six foot five, 250-245 pounds, whatever they say. I know he’s a giant. I don’t know what they weigh him at, but he’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast. He’s throwing the ball excellent, making great decisions. He’s hard to get on the ground.”
Jefferson struggled with holding onto the ball this season. Through four games, he threw three interceptions. Jefferson also fumbled five times, but has not turned it over once.

The Razorbacks look different in the backfield this season, as junior running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders has been out with a knee injury since Arkansas’ Week 1 victory over Western Carolina.

“No [update on Sander’s status],” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “I wish I knew. We’re going to find a little bit more today at practice. Obviously, he ran and did some things last week, but it wasn’t stop and starts, things of that nature … We need him, but to say he’s going to play or not play right now, and this has nothing to do with A&M, or who knows. I really don’t know right now.”

Sanders, a preseason Second-Team All American and preseason All SEC selection, only rushed for 42 yards in the Razorbacks’ season opener.

In Sanders’ stead, junior RB AJ Green and sophomore RB Rashod Dubinion have been the workhorses. Combined, both have accounted for 364 of Arkansas’ 591 rushing yards and half of its rushing touchdowns.

“The backs are running the ball,” Fisher said. “I know Sanders isn’t in the game, their starting back, but they’re still moving it really well and scoring 36-and-a-half points a game.”

Last season, Arkansas ranked No. 101 in total team defense, giving up 30 or more points five times. In the offseason, Arkansas brought in defensive coordinator Travis Williams from UCF after Barry Odom left to become the head coach at UNLV.

In his two years at UCF, the Golden Knights held the No. 71 ranking in total defense, coming in No. 39 in scoring defense and No. 76 in rushing defense.

Since his arrival, Arkansas’ defense has vastly improved, coming in at No. 41 in total defense nationally and No. 21 in rushing defense. 

On the defensive line, Arkansas boasts Week 2 SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week, senior Trajan Jeffcoat, fellow senior Taurean Carter, junior Landon Jackson and sophomore Cameron Ball. Combined, all four account for 41 total tackles and five sacks. Jackson is also tied for 19th in the country in tackles for loss.

“Jeffcoat can rush up front, [Jackson], the big defensive end, can play up front,” Fisher said. “The inside guys are physical.”

Where the Razorbacks really shine defensively is their linebackers. Despite losing Drew Sanders, an All-SEC selection, and Bumper Pool, Arkansas’ all-time tackles leader, in the offseason, the Razorbacks have not missed a beat filling that void. 

Taking over the spots are junior Jaheim Thomas and sophomore Chris Paul Jr. Both rank No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in total tackles on the team, while Thomas leads the team in sacks with 3. Also, Thomas is tied for 11th in the country in total tackles.

“Defensively, [Paul] and [Thomas] can run, make plays,” Fisher said. “They’re athletic, they’re long.”

In the secondary, senior preseason All-SEC Second Team selection Dwight McGlothern highlights a Razorback defense that comes in with six interceptions on the year.

“We know McGlothern, he’s a preseason all-conference player,” Fisher said. “Long, athletic at corner. Really makes plays.”

In a matchup that has had its fair share of down-to-the-wire finishes, the eighth installment of the Southwest Classic has a chance to follow tradition and offer both Aggies and Razorbacks a game to remember.

“They’re 2-2, we’re 3-1,” Fisher said. “So, it’s the next step we’re going to have to do. We’re going to have to play a really good football game all the way and we’re going to have to improve on some things to get better, but they’re a good opponent. Sam [Pittman] always has those guys ready to play. He’s a good coach.”

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