After six quarters of wondering if there was fight in this Arkansas team, it all came together in an amazing second half against Texas A&M. The Hogs won the last two quarters by 25-3 to earn a 42-38 victory that catapulted them to No. 10 in this week's Associated Press poll.
This is where we go over the Top 10 List of things to watch that previews the game on Friday. There's not a better place to start than the No. 1 item, where the key was to Keep It Simple Stupid.
If you do that, you will start with quarterback Tyler Wilson and wide receiver Jarius Wright. That tandem kept the Hogs in it by hooking up 13 times for 281 receiving yards. You don't have to think hard to know they were the key to the game. But it's not simple to figure out which one of them deserves to be SEC offensive player of the week.
With Wilson hanging tough under pressure, bits and pieces of the running game starting to surface and perhaps a little more fight from the defense, the Hogs put together enough plays in the second half to win a game against a top 25 team.
The Hogs had to keep it simple on defense after their perimeter defense was wrecked by injuries. By early in the game, the Hogs were without both starting ends (Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright) and cornerbacks (Darius Winston and Isaac Madison). A&M attacked the outside both with the run and the pass. Willy Robinson said some adjustments were made to alignment and scheme at halftime after consultation with head coach Bobby Petrino. The Hogs played the A&M spread with a 4-2 scheme and some "back side movement" to slow the running game. Robinson said they drew it on the board and had some carry over from working on some of the same alignments in camp.
2. Green and Bequette
Broderick Green played and scored twice. He was a big help on the goal line when the Hogs inserted an extra tackle and went with an unbalanced line for his two touchdown runs. He also converted a third-down run in the final possession to help the Hogs run out the clock. He was part of the reason the Hogs rushed for 55 yards in the fourth quarter, perhaps their best use of the run this season. Jake Bequette dressed out, but still is having trouble with a hamstring. Perhaps he'll be back this week against Auburn.
The Hogs struggled in the first half in this area. However, the change in alignments and some personnel moves seemed to help. Elton Ford stepped in at free safety and Ross Rasner took plenty of snaps at hybrid linebacker to improve the tackling. Ford made 10 tackles and Rasner seven to boost the defense. The Hogs seemed to get more defenders to the ball in the second half.
4. Running Game
This was a sore spot again this week. The Hogs gave up 381 yards on the ground to the Aggies, including 230 to Christine Michael. However, the Hogs found a tiny bit of running room in the fourth quarter. Junior Dennis Johnson showed his best form of the year after coming back from a hamstring injury. He found some creases and broke some tackles. Combined with Green's strong game, the Hogs might get a lift from this area eventually. Green's two touchdowns came on solid blocking on the goal line when the Hogs went with the unbalanced line.
The Hogs won this battle, 2-0. They did not lose a turnover. The only UA fumble, by Cobi Hamilton, was recovered in the end zone by Jarius Wright. Following a Tyler Wilson run for a two-point conversion, that was the sequence that tied the game 35-35 in the fourth quarter. A&M had two turnovers. Greg Gatson intercepted a pass and Tevin Mitchel picked a loose ball out of the air.
6. Tyler Wilson
The junior quarterback is always listed in our things to watch. He was sometimes spectacular against the Aggies. The 510 yards passing put him atop the school charts for a single game. He's above names like Ryan Mallett, Clint Stoerner, Joe Ferguson and Bill Montgomery now. Wilson had a tough week. He was beat on by Alabama's defense -- the same one that knocked the Florida QB out of the game -- and also by quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee. Wilson's coach asked for quicker release and more steam after the Alabama game. Wilson did just that. He didn't have an interception. He was sacked four times, but kept fighting back play after play.
7. Special Teams
There were no huge breaks in this department either way. But the Hogs won some battles. Zach Hocker hit field goals of 26 and 32 yards. Hocker also was consistent and often spectacular on kickoffs. Punter Dylan Breeding averaged 48.4 yards with a net average of 41.4. That was considerably better than the Aggie punter. UA coverage was good on punts and kickoffs.
8. Four Quarters
It would be wrong to say the Hogs were good in all four quarters. They lacked something in the first half when the Aggies ran at well in assembling a 35-17 halftime lead. But the Hogs were much better in the second half than in the last two weeks when Alabama and Troy outplayed them. The Hogs won the second half by 25-3. It appeared that the Hogs raised their competitive spirit in the second half, played faster and just made more plays.
Bobby Petrino seems to downplay the role momentum plays in football games. He prefers to just insist that his team keeps grinding. That's his motto. The Aggies clearly had momentum when they scored in the final 10 seconds of the first half to take a big halftime lead. But that changed at halftime. A&M did claw back for a field goal to take a 38-35 lead, but the Hogs would not be denied. Wilson engineered a nine-play, 80-yard TD march for the first UA lead with 1:41 left to play.
It was big time. Attendance was announced at 69,838. But it was not a packed house in Cowboys Stadium. It did seem like there were more Razorback fans there than Aggies. Arkansas fans should be congratulated (and were by their head coach) for not heading for the exits when A&M dominated the first half. They were rewarded with an impressive comeback and were a loud presence at the end.
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