Ten minutes into the game, I almost did it. I almost formed the Wrecking Crew hand signal after the Aggies forced the third consecutive three-and-out to start the game. In all, the Razorbacks and their explosive passing game managed zero yards in nine plays with three punts. The A&M offense parlayed that effort into a 10-0 lead and all seemed right again with the world of Aggie football.
Then, reality struck, and the secondary lost sight of Arkansas receiver Joe Adams and then a series of missed arm tackles turned a 20 yard pass play into a 67 yard dagger that led to Arkansas' first score. At that point, the bubble burst and the clock struck midnight for this Cinderella group of young, inexperienced defenders. Arkansas quickly scored on its next series on a short field thanks to the shanked rugby punt. Then there was the fumble return, a field goal, and another touchdown to close out the first half. Obviously, it was a complete meltdown, but we'll always have the first 10 minutes, right? In all, the Piggies scored on seven of its next nine drives after the trio of three-and-outs.
For some reason, I'm thinking more about the start of the game than the subsequent debacle. A&M was sacking Ryan Mallett in the base four man rush. Von Miller was making tackles that aren't called sacks. Kyle Mangan made plays in coverage and the front seven stuffed the Razorback rushing game. In fact, the Hogs gained just 26 yards (not counting the -10 yards in sacks) on 14 carries despite the 30-10 halftime blowout. For now, I'm going to give the A&M defense the benefit of the doubt and chalk up the later touchdowns to being young and losing focus in a blowout game. Hopefully, the whole team will learn a lesson that you must stay composed and focused under any circumstances. This would be inexcusable with a veteran team, but considering this was the first piece of adversity many of these freshmen have experienced at this level on the national stage, I'll give them a pass this one time and call it a lesson learned.
Defensive Line B
I thought the defensive line had one of its better games on Saturday. They neutralized the Razorback push which contributed to the defense's ability to contain the running game. Von Miller had his best game as a collegiate player, making plays at the line of scrimmage in double teams. Spencer Nealy continues to impress with his ability to shed blockers and make plays near the line of scrimmage and Matt Featherston got in the act as well. Both Eddie Brown and Tony Jerod-Eddie were active in the middle and making plays
It was a mixed bag for the linebacking crew, but overall they had a decent game. Kyle Mangan had his best game as an Aggie with a very nice pass break-up early and the interception could have potentially shifted momentum of the game if not for the penalty on the return. I thought the freshmen backers, Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter, were tentative most of the night and didn't seem to let it fly.
Defensive Backs C-
I was disappointed in the effort from this unit. Giving up the long pass and catch on the first play from scrimmage after the A&M touchdown was a back breaker, especially with the poor arm tackling. That poor play was the first of many momentum changers late in the first quarter. Whether it was a good call or not, the secondary committed a costly third down interference penalty in the red zone. When the secondary needed to make a stand and slow down the Arkansas passing game during that run in the second quarter, they didn't have an answer.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE C
Special Teams C-
There were problems with the punting game long before the shanked 8 yard rugby kick. Punts were short, low, and returnable. Luckily, the return teams continue to bail out the punter. Randy Bullock looked solid in his attempts on the big stage. Lionel Smith had a solid day on the kick returns, but if he used better technique in catching the ball moving forward as opposed to having his weight on his back foot, he could save himself a half second and hit the lanes another 5+ yards down the field. That must be corrected.
Hop's Defensive Grades - Arkansas
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