The bottom line, you need to be Rain Man -- the ultimate numbers guy from the old hit movie with Dustin Hoffman playing the role -- when Arkansas plays Texas A&M. Or, maybe that just happens every time Johnny Manziel takes the field, rain or no rain.
For certain, Manziel lights up the scoreboard when he faces the Arkansas defense. He did even when he was handing off Saturday night in Texas A&M's 45-33 victory over Arkansas.
That's the tough news for an Arkansas defense that looks improved, but still aching for more talent at cornerback and linebacker to help Chris Ash's rebuilding task. Ash, the new defensive coordinator, went after Manziel with a front loaded with defensive end types, but the Hogs made few plays against the Heisman Trophy winner.
Arkansas gave up a lot in the second half by deploying two extra guys in the secondary to stop the pass. It gave up something in the box by going light there and A&M took the slow boat to China approach. The Aggies were not as fast to the end zone, but they still got there most of the time.
Arkansas actually slowed the Aggies a bit in the second half. A&M punted only once in the first half while scoring 24. The Aggies scored only two offensive touchdowns while punting three times in the second half. The free score with the pick six made the difference.
Arkansas punted twice with two turnovers in the second half. So the Hogs didn't surpass what the Aggies were doing. The Hogs had just one penalty for 5 yards, so there was improvement there. The Hogs doubled their rushing total from last week from 101 to 201.
After giving up 713 last year, the Aggies made 523 this season. They "held" Manziel to 261 passing and 59 rushing by loading the defensive scheme with lighter ends and safeties instead of defensive tackles and strong side linebackers. That's the reason the Aggies went to mash tactics with a full backfield and inside running.
Arkansas must continue to develop linebackers. Otha Peters, Brooks Ellis and Martrell Spaight appear to be the most physical trio of that linebacker group and will help as they get more comfortable in scheme and more sure in alignments.
The other weakness in this Arkansas defense is at cornerback. The Hogs had to provide too much help to slow the A&M passing game. Tevin Mitchel had the toughest matchup of the day, A&M wide receiver Mike Evans. That was obvious on the first play of the game when Evans beat Mitchel deep. Mitchel left the game with a head injury making a tackle on a short pass, but should be fine this week at Florida.
The bright spot on defense was safety Alan Turner, now playing the best of the two Junction City finds. Turner looked fast and sure as he flashed to the line of scrimmage to make a team-best 12 tackles. Byran Jones, the other Junction City product, made three tackles in his battle to hold off redshirt freshman Darius Philon (five tackles) at nose tackle.
Florida's defense will be much better than Texas A&M's defense. The Aggies were vulnerable to wheel routes and play-action and the Hogs dialed up a nice variety to score enough points to win most games. The key was Manziel. He presents so many issues in coverage and pass rush dangers that it's tough to blitz or keep the box properly loaded to stop the run. Few teams the rest of the way present that pressure on the scheme.
But there will be more big fast, SEC backs on the schedule. Can the Arkansas linebackers match those big backs? That will be the match-up to watch each week. Expect more teams to spread the defense in an effort to expose those linebackers in running situations. A&M, like Southern Miss three weeks ago, pulled the tight end to take a defender out of the box and liked the numbers they got inside from the Arkansas defense.
The positive from the game is that Arkansas has a quarterback. He made a sophomore mistake to start the second half when he locked into the loaded side of the coverage and the free safety, in under coverage, read his eyes with a great break on the ball.
But Allen gives the Hogs hope that they don't have to rely on the ground game. There is hope for the desired balance and the ability to make defenses pay for loading the box. As they move through the next three weeks, hope is a good thing to pack as two of those are SEC road trips.
Allen should improve with good coaching and it was clear in watching the play selection by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, that the quarterback is getting great coaching. Allen didn't get many snaps in the last two weeks, so there had to be great time in the meeting room with Chaney and then unbelievable learning by Allen to take that to the field. That bodes well for the future with a young quarterback.
1, Pounce -- There was nothing to pounce upon as far as mistakes by the Aggies. There were no turnovers and few chances at turnovers. Manziel seemed to lose the handle going down, but fell on the ball. No fumble was charged, but that could have been a statistical error. At any rate, the Hogs didn't pounce. Manziel did throw the ball up for grabs towards spectacular wideout Mike Evans in the end zone and none of the Hogs could make a play. Evans did. That may have been about the only real shot at one of Manziel's throws.
2, Travel in Numbers -- That's how the Hogs got their only sack, a collaboration between Chris Smith and Deatrich Wise on Johnny Manziel late in the first half. Otherwise, the best the Hogs could do was chase the Heisman Trophy winner to the sideline or get a glancing blow down the middle of the field after a scamper. He eluded almost every one-on-one attempt at a tackle. As Smith said afterwards, Manziel "didn't win the Hiesman for nothing."
3, Play Clean -- Ah, the Hogs did in one area, but not in another. There was only one penalty for five yards. Bret Bielema said afterwards that there was a heavy emphasis in practice during the week. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash didn't say what the punishment had been during the week, but admitted there was some. The key was the pick six thrown by Brandon Allen. The Aggies didn't have a turnover. Allen also had an interception late in the game, but it was the one just after halftime that proved to be the difference.
4, Special Teams -- There were no problems here for the Razorbacks, but they didn't win special teams, either. Zach Hocker booted two field goals to stay perfect on the season. Korliss Marshell shed his redshirt and returned a kickoff 38 yards, also taking a sweep 16 yards. There were no real problems in coverage, although Trey Williams hauled back a kickoff 35 yards. Punt coverage was improved. Martrell Spaight made a big hit on a kickoff cover play, perhaps the first time he's "Spaighted" an opponent, a term coined by teammates in August for his big collisions.
5, Control the Line -- That came in spurts for the Arkansas offensive line, retooled during the week with true freshmen Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland starting at guard in place of Brey Cook and Mitch Smothers. Cook was praised by Bielema for an impressive week of practice as Grady Ollison's backup. Cook got some rotations at tackle for Ollison, still bothered by a sore ankle from the Southern Miss game. The Hogs did not control the line of scrimmage on defense. A&M ran between the tackles in the second half against a nickel defense.
6, Ball Control -- A&M won the rushing battle, 262 to 201. The Aggies controlled the clock in the second half when the Hogs looked dangerous on offense. They held the ball for 9:45 in the fourth quarter when the Hogs were blanked for the second straight week. The Aggies ran it 16 straight times on their two second-half scoring drives, getting a pick six for their other touchdown after intermission.
7, Accuracy -- That improved with Brandon Allen back at quarterback. He was just 17 of 36 passing, but he threw the ball away several times when the coverage was solid and he also came up incomplete on several tries into decent coverage down the field. There was nothing wrong with his passing shoulder despite a sprain that caused him to miss the Rutgers game. With Allen back, it's clear that Chaney is comfortable calling all of the passes in the offense.
8, Home Field -- The crowd was announced at 72,613, amazing after heavy rains moved into the area about three hours before kickoff, dousing the tailgate parties. Bielema praised the atmosphere. The head coach didn't enjoy all of the atmosphere, most notably the Hog Walk two hours before kickoff. He slipped down on the asphalt parking lot as he walked towards the Broyles Center. He went down on both knees, gathered himself in a three-point stance and bounced back to his feet to continue to the locker room.
9, Wide Receiver Play -- It seems to be improving with Keon Hatcher back in the mix. D'Arthur Cowan practiced after getting clearance for the broken foot that required surgery in August. He was active in pregame warmups, but didn't get on the field. He was a big-play threat and displayed the best hands in camp before the injury. Texas A&M had the best wide receiver on the field, 6-5 Mike Evans. The Aggies went to him on the first play of the game, a 49-yard pass on a post route to beat Tevin Mitchel. The Hogs spread the ball around, using tight end Hunter Henry for some big plays.
10, Swanson and Small -- The Hogs pounded at the Aggies with the ground game for 201 yards. Both Travis Swanson and Kiero Small had solid games. Swanson praised his new freshmen guards, Kirkland and Skipper. Swanson also had praise for the poise and toughness displayed by Allen in returning from the shoulder injury. The Hogs didn't get the action on the corner in their toss sweep. The Aggies seemed to string out the tight ends, thus making it tougher for Swanson and Small to turn the corner, but there were a few perimeter plays with those two leading the way.
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