There may not be many giving Arkansas a chance to win at Texas A&M this weekend – except for the Aggies rookie head coach Kevin Sumlin.
Fresh off his team's 70-13 thrashing of South Carolina State, Sumlin warned his A&M players to forget that they are a 13-point favorite against the struggling Razorbacks (1-3).
"There is a lot of talent on this football team, it is a prideful football team and we catch them with everybody coming back," Sumlin said. "As I told our football team on Monday, a wounded animal is the most dangerous animal and particularly one with its back against the corner a little bit. I expect them to come in here ready to play."
Arkansas has won its last three games against Texas A&M with all three being part of the Southwest Classic event at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
This will be the Razorbacks first trip to College Station since the early 1990s.
"There is no reason for them to be intimidated since the guys on their team have won the last three games," Sumlin said. "They'll be confident and we expecting them ready to play.
"By the same token, we have got something to prove," Sumlin added. "It will be a heck of a football game."
After whipping Jacksonville State 49-24 in its opener, Arkansas has lost home games to Louisiana-Monroe (34-31) in overtime, to top-ranked Alabama (52-0) and to then unranked Rutgers (35-26).
"I expect them to play very well," Sumlin said. "You take a game-and-a-half out of there where you lost one of the better players in the country in (quarterback) Tyler Wilson. So you take a great quarterback off of anybody's team, a returning top 10 pick in the draft off of anybody's team and they are going to struggle no matter who you play."
Texas A&M opened its season with a 20-16 loss to visiting Florida and has hammered overmatched SMU (49-3) and South Carolina State (70-13).
"We are coming off a victory, which is always a good thing," Sumlin said. "In the game last week against South Carolina State, we were able to play a whole lot of people and get some more experience with some of our younger players and were able to get out of it relatively healthy.
"Anytime you get a situation where you can play that many guys – getting 70-plus players into the football game, win and come out healthy, it is kind of a springboard into the next week," Sumlin added. "Our guys are excited to get back into SEC play this week."
Sumlin has brought his up-tempo offense from Houston to Texas A&M, who has had a balanced attack that is averaging 258 yards passing and 205 yards rushing per game this season.
The Aggies are paced on offense by redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel (6-1, 200), who has passed for 641 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 248 yards and five more scores this season.
"Any time you have a young quarterback, he makes your nervous," Sumlin said. "Whoever it's been – Case Keenum or Drew Brees or anybody that we have been around – when they are young and they are freshman or sophomores and you haven't been around them, you are nervous about almost every snap they take until you really have a good feel for how a guy is going to react to pressure, to the pocket, to different situations. It is a learning experience for the player, but also for the coach and how to deal with that.
"We are still nervous with him," Sumlin added. "We are at game four and I think the biggest compliment you can give him is how he has taken care of the football so far with moving around as much as he has. I think as we sit down with him and look at video and the opportunities to be better and be a complete quarterback, he sees that."
Sumlin is impressed with how Manziel is working to improve.
"That is a learning process so that doesn't happen overnight, but the thing about Johnny that stands out to us as a coaching staff is that he wants to be really good," Sumlin said. " Wanting to and getting there are two different things. You have to work at it and look at your shortcomings and try improve on those. He is being honest with himself and working on it. If he continues to do that, he will continue to get better."
The defense is led by junior defensive llneman Damontre Moore (6-4, 250), who has improved greatly this season and has six sacks and eight tackles for lost yardage among his 22 stops.
The Aggies are leading the nation with over five sacks per game.
"He is a long guy that has great quickness," Sumlin said. "He utilizes his length well – 6-4 and 250. I think the biggest thing about Damontre for us this year has been his consistency and his play in the run game and being able to chase the ball. From the outside looking in, he has always been a talented guy, but hasn't been consistent, has taken plays off and done a lot of things. I have been most proud of his work ethic even in the run game in that he played every snap except five against Florida in what was a pretty physical football game just kept coming.
"His biggest improvement has been his maturity and his approach to the game in trying to be a consistent player, a consistently great player instead of one that plays in spurts," Sumlin added.
A win over Arkansas would give Texas A&M its first SEC win and end the losing streak to the Razorbacks
"I think right now it means as much as anything – not about the last three years because we are not talking about that – I think because it is a conference football game, from the standpoint it is an SEC game and an SEC divisional match-up, the game becomes important."
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