Arkansas Game Preview: Keys to Success

After facing the No. 1 passing offense in the nation last week, the Aggie defense is now tasked to shut down Arkansas' No. 2 passing offense. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop previews the game by analyzing the keys to success for the Aggies against the Razorbacks

The Texas A&M football program desperately needs a break-through win. They get another shot at that signature victory on Saturday as the farmers will face SEC offensive power and the No. 11 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks. The statistics suggest that the Aggies are making improvements on both sides of the ball. In fact, with the No. 14 ranked defense and No. 6 rated offense in the nation, college football observers have to shake their heads why Mike Sherman's team is still looking for success on the field against quality competition. But in this case, the reasons for the disappointment are easy to pinpoint…turnovers. While the Aggies are ranked near the top of the NCAA in many offensive and defensive categories, they are listed among the worst programs in losing the football ranked No. 114 out of 120 programs. So it's no secret that for Texas A&M to leave Cowboys Stadium on Saturday with a big win, Jerrod Johnson and his teammates must protect the ball and win the turnover margin against the Hogs. There are other major keys to Texas A&M's success against Arkansas. Let's preview the important storylines for the game:

1) Establish Consistent Rushing Attack

According to the statistics, the Aggies have a slight advantage in the run game. Arkansas allowed Alabama to run all over them to the tune of 224 yards. Texas A&M is averaging 185 yards a game, compared to just 103 yards a game for the Razorback offense. But running the ball is more important for the Aggies given the turnover struggles of Jerrod Johnson in recent weeks. If Texas A&M can run the ball for positive yardage and set up 2nd and 5 and 3rd and 2 situations, Mike Sherman can take the pressure off Johnson to make the big play and reduce the risk of a turnover. While the Aggies are rated No. 38 in rushing offense, many of those yards are coming on long runs. The offensive line has struggled to win the battle along the line of scrimmage, and that has caused many runs for loss or no gain and an inconsistency that has forced A&M into long down and distance situations. If the Aggies can win the battle up-front and control the clock, that will not only make it easier for Johnson to execute but they can also keep Ryan Mallet on the sidelines.

2) Win Red Zone Game

Both offenses are successful moving the ball to the tune of a combined 977 yards a contest. Thus, both teams will move the ball and eat up yardage in the middle of the field. The key is the ability of both offenses to score touchdowns in the red zone. The Razorbacks have history on their side, having scored touchdowns on 71% possessions into the red zone while Texas A&M lags behind at 62%. But, Texas A&M has a strong group of cornerbacks and with a compressed field can force the Hogs to run the football…and running the football has been their one weakness. Arkansas has not rushed for over 100 yards against its three against D-1 opponents this season, and Bobby Petrino has been searching for a go-to running back. The leading runner (Broderick Green) has just 134 yards and the team's 412 total rushing yards is less than Christine Michael's season total (428). Petrino has decided to start Texas native Knile Davis who has rushed for 121 yards in four games. Thus, if A&M can shut down the limited passing lanes in the red zone, they should be able to keep the runners neutralized and force field goal attempts.

3) Protect Jerrod Johnson

Historically, Johnson has been at his best when he has time to throw and space to run. In the past two games, the senior signal caller has thrown eight interceptions which is uncharacteristic for the preseason Big 12 Offensive MVP. But, the pass protection broke down in those two games with the offensive line giving up a hefty 10 sacks, and Johnson is prone to forcing mistakes when under severe duress. Any quarterback needs time to throw to be successful, but it's even more critical for Johnson who has a slower throwing motion and delivery. It's simple. If Texas A&M's offensive line can give him adequate time in the pocket, Johnson will pick apart Arkansas' secondary. If Arkansas is successful flushing Johnson from the pocket and forcing quick throws, the Razorback defense will create multiple turnovers and win the game.

4) Force Pressure on Mallett

Since both defenses will be facing productive passing offenses, pass rush is critical for success for both teams. The Aggies are battling the arguably the best throwing quarterback in the nation who has a cannon of an arm and can complete passes at any spot on the field. If Mallett is given plenty of time, he will pick apart anybody, including a very good A&M secondary. But Mallett is not a mobile QB and the Aggie pass rush can pin their ears back and not worry so much about their target scrambling for positive yardage. Ideally, Texas A&M would like to have success in pressuring Mallett with a base pass rush or even sending some linebackers on blitzes. On Thursday against Oklahoma State, the Aggies had early success with cornerback and safety blitzes, but it cost the defense a couple of touchdowns with the linebackers unable to cover receivers over the middle. Regardless, the defense must find a way to put pressure on Mallett and at the very least force a quick throw. After all, Mallett has throw six interceptions and most of those have come with pressure from the opposing defense.

5) Win the Turnover Battle

This key to success is obvious. Texas A&M will be run out of Cowboys Stadium if they have an encore performance of Thursday night's five turnover effort. In terms of talent, scheme, and skill set, Texas A&M is on equal footing with Arkansas despite the difference in ranking. The Aggies can win without getting a lot of gifts from the Razorbacks, but they will lose and lose big if they give the ball to Ryan Mallett and an explosive Arkansas offense. Thus, the Aggies must hold on to the ball and focus on ball security. If they can do that, Texas A&M will have a fighting chance on Saturday. If Texas A&M can have the good fortune of actually winning the turnover battle, Aggie fans just may have that breakout win in the Sherman era.

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