Arkansas coach Mike Anderson recaps the Razorbacks' ...
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M Preview
Arkansas' game with Texas A&M could turn into an offensive shootout, featuring the Razorbacks' running game, led by Alex Collins (pictured left) and Jonathan Williams, and the 2012 Heisman trophy winner, Johnny Manziel (pictured right).
After getting torched for over 300 passing yards by Rutgers, Arkansas faces one of the most formidable attacks in college football, in Texas A&M’s Air Raid with Heisman winner Johnny Manziel as its trigger-man. The Aggies torched the Razorbacks for 700 yards in 2012, winning 58-10 in College Station.
Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin (14-3, 2nd season)
11-2 (6-2 SEC)
3-1 (0-1 SEC)
11 (6 offense, 5 defense)
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney should be familiar with one another, since Sumlin worked under Chaney as Purdue’s wide receivers coach from 1998-2000. Neither has the scoop on the others’ offense, however, since both run different systems now. Sumlin made it to Oklahoma in 2003 and learned the Air Raid under offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who had learned it from Mike Leach before him. Sumlin headed out to Houston in 2008, taking the Air Raid with him. There, he found Case Keenum, and the Texas Tech-style Air Raid was his offense of choice.
TEXAS A&M OFFENSE
The offense Texas A&M runs may be described as an “improvised Air Raid.” It often does not look like what Mike Leach or Kliff Kingsbury are doing due to the improvisation abilities of its quarterback, Johnny Manziel. Sumlin also inherited a better run-blocking offensive line than most Air Raid coaches have at their disposal, so the Aggies have added some zone running plays to the playbook. The between-tackles running ability of tailback Ben Malena against spread-out defensive fronts provides a great complement. These runs plus Manziel’s scrambles (over 1,000 rushing yards, mostly improvised but some called runs) helped A&M lead the SEC in rushing yards last season.
Texas A&M’s offensive line took a dip in quality when left tackle Luke Joekel was drafted second overall in the NFL draft. Right tackle Jake Matthews is still pretty good, and the line overall is quality. The wide receivers are where A&M is truly amazing. Mike Evans (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) is a mix of size, speed, and athleticism unlike any in college football. He had seven receptions for 279 yards against Alabama. If a team is able to contain him with only a couple of defenders, the rest of the A&M receiving corps isn’t quite as deadly. Malcome Kennedy is the next-best target for Manziel. They throw a lot of bubble screens (often packaged with zone runs) to keep the defense honest, and then take deep shots when the defense creeps up. If Arkansas is unable to tackle in the open field against these physical wide receivers, this game will turn into a rout rather quickly.
TEXAS A&M DEFENSE
At this point in the season, it appears that Texas A&M’s defense exists to fulfill the requirement that they keep 11 men on the field when the other team has the ball. Last season, Mark Snyder’s unit was rather feisty, though. They gave up a lot of yards and points, but much of that was because they were on the field for large chunks of time and had a lot of blowouts, which led to junk time scoring by their opponents. If the 2013 defense can reach the level of the 2012 defense, the Aggies will be right back in the national title picture. Until then, the Razorbacks are providing a tough matchup.
Texas A&M lost both interior defensive tackles. Opponents have had major success running the football straight up the middle. Two of the three linebackers are gone as well, and the Razorbacks' offensive line have an easy time opening up holes through the middle. The Aggies defense is pretty fast, however, so if they stack the box, getting the seal on the edge will not be as easy as it was against Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Miss.
Therefore, in order to soften up the A&M defensive front, Arkansas must be able to throw the ball. If AJ Derby is the Razorbacks' quarterback (Bret Bielema tweeted that Allen will be available Saturday), he does not provide much of a deep threat, but did a decent job working the middle, underneath routes. Giving him help is the offensive line, who has given up just three sacks this season. The only sack allowed against Rutgers (top-10 nationally in sacks by coming in) came in desperation time. Texas A&M’s pass rush is not as good as Rutgers’, so Derby (or Allen) should have all day to throw on most plays. The Aggies will blitz a lot, but it will probably take a six-man rush (two blitzers) to generate major pressure. As long as whoever is playing quarterback for Arkansas can recognize blitzes and read his hot routes (not a given), the Hogs should avoid taking sacks.
Hog fans want something to hope for against an old SWC rival that is bursting with confidence. Here are some nuggets to hang your hat on.
Opposing quarterbacks have rushed 27 times for -72 yards against the Razorbacks this season. Half of those runs (14) are sacks, but Arkansas did a fantastic job of containing two mobile quarterbacks (Terrance Broadway and Gary Nova) this season. Every quarterback has been sacked at least twice and rushed for negative yardage. Next up? Containing Johnny Manziel, whose ability to scramble supplements his ability to pass.
A Bret Bielema-coached team has never surrendered more than 48 points. This may be a moot point because it’s debatable that Arkansas could possibly score near 48 even if A&M did, but Bielema-coached teams rarely get torched defensively. The most points scored by a Bielema team (84) is nearly twice that number.
The matchup of Arkansas’ offense vs. Texas A&M’s defense may actually be more favorable than the matchup of Texas A&M’s offense vs. Arkansas’ defense. The Aggies’ D is truly bad. Despite just one noteworthy opponent (Alabama, whose offense has floundered in its other two games), the Aggies are dead last in the SEC and 110th nationally in total defense. They are 106th against the run and 87th against the pass.
Let’s start with how NOT to stop Johnny Manziel. Alabama came out shockingly unprepared for the game a couple of weeks ago. They did change their usual 3-4 defense into a 4-2-5 look with some 4-1-6 dime packages, but other than that, they tried to play base defense, with their usual man-to-man bump-and-run coverage on the outside. Their early-game blitz packages were very vanilla and not tailored to A&M’s attack at all. Perhaps this was just so Saban could make Sumlin show his hand, because as soon as A&M jumped up 14-0 six minutes into the game, Saban abruptly switched to a better attack, apparently a more A&M-specific game plan. Although the Aggies still scored 28 more points, the defense did enough the rest of the way to allow the offense to win the game.
Here’s a bad blitz from early in the game. Linebacker CJ Moseley is going to blitz around the A&M right tackle, while the Tide defensive end (#42) is going to stunt to the inside, attempting to draw the tackle into blocking him and freeing up Moseley to have a free run at Manziel.
However, as you can see, this play breaks the cardinal rule of defending Manziel: NEVER LOSE CONTAIN. Manziel is much too fast for the blitzing Moseley, whose momentum carries him away from Manziel and allows the speedy QB to get outside the box for a 15-yard gain.
LSU had it right. The Tigers held Manziel to 27 rushing yards on 17 carries in 2012, and won the game 24-19, keeping the Aggies scoreless during the second and third quarters and half of the fourth.
Here, Barkevious Mingo crashes hard at left defensive end (bottom), but he’s not going straight for the quarterback. His job is to pull up and close off Manziel’s scramble lane to his right side. At the top of the screen, fellow defensive end Sam Montgomery is crashing hard to force Manziel to make a decision. If Manziel wants to scramble to his left, the spy linebacker (highlighted) is there to close off that lane. LSU is also reliant on its two defensive tackles to get pressure straight up the middle.
Here’s the result. Notice that Manziel has no scramble lane. The defensive tackles are coming up the middle, and the spy has closed off the lane around the defensive end. Manziel has to look to a running back screen that is not open, but since he has nowhere to go, he has to throw it and the play goes for no gain.
Arkansas is going to be best served by trying what LSU did. Unfortunately, Arkansas’ secondary is not near the level of LSU’s, so the Razorbacks will either need some luck or they will need the defensive line to have a truly legendary game. The Hogs will need all of the following to use the "contain Manziel" strategy:
Extremely fast and agile defensive ends, capable of tackling Manziel in the open field... If they do manage to contain. Just getting leverage on Manziel isn’t enough, as he’s perfectly capable of escaping the grasp of even the surest tacklers.
Defensive tackles capable of getting pressure up the middle. Spread offenses like to “spread” a defense out and attack in space, but the same concept can be used by a defensive line to get one-on-one blocking matchups. If Byran Jones/Darius Philon and Robert Thomas can get pressure up the middle, they can force Manziel to react quicker, shaving precious seconds off the amount of time the secondary has to hold coverage.
The Hogs have to be able to survive with just one or two linebackers on the field. Lake and Mitchell have to spy and make open field tackles, along with covering the zone read plays to Texas A&M running back Ben Malena.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ARKANSAS MUST win first down, offensively and defensively. This was a key to the game last week, and the Hogs failed on offense but were mostly successful on defense. Offensively, the Hogs faced way too many 2nd-and-9+ situations. For the game, Arkansas averaged 3.14 yards per play on first team. The goal needs to be 4.5-5.0 yards per play on first down. Arkansas' three best first-down plays were Williams’ 21-yard pass to Henry on a trick play, and two runs by Keon Hatcher, one for 11 yards and another for an 8-yard gain. Without those three plays, Arkansas averaged a meager 1.53 yards per play. That is not going to win games. Defensively, the Razorbacks need to hold Texas A&M to under 4.0 yards per play on first down. Rutgers managed 4.44 yards per play on first down. These numbers include gains of 33, 16, 16, 11, 25, and 42, but also include three sacks and nine incomplete passes.
TEXAS A&M MUST slow the Arkansas running game and force the Razorbacks to beat them through the air. This one seems pretty obvious. Rutgers was very successful against Arkansas’ run, holding the Hogs to 107 yards on 30 called runs (sacks and sneaks taken out). It might be tougher for the Aggies, who are 101 spots lower than Rutgers in the rush defense rankings (5th vs. 106th), and who gave up over 300 rushing yards to Rice.
ARKANSAS MUST be at least +3 in turnover margin. This may not be as hard as it appears. Arkansas finished +3 against a Rutgers team that traditionally takes care of the football. One of the turnovers was a little fluky, but the other two were forced by the defensive line getting pressure. AJ Derby hasn’t turned the football over in seven quarters as the Hogs QB and Allen threw just one interception in three starts. The Razorbacks will not win if they turn it over. Defensively, pressure will force turnovers, as Manziel is apt to make a bad decision with the football when under duress.
TEXAS A&M MUST be patient with the underneath routes. Arkansas blew a couple of coverages against Rutgers, but the Razorbacks are probably more stout against the deep pass than they looked in that game. Almost every successful pass route thrown against Arkansas’ defense this year has been into the seam and hook zones (4-10 yards across the middle of the field), where Razorback linebackers and safeties rolling underneath have given coverage that is too soft. The Aggies are too good for the Hog defenders to slow down on shorter routes, but if Johnny Football gets an itching to go deep, the Hogs may have a chance at some turnovers.
MATCHUP OF THE GAME is Arkansas’ offensive line against Texas A&M’s defensive front. To put it frankly, Arkansas is going to have to get lucky on defense to hold A&M under 42 points. Either the Aggies are going to have to come in unfocused, Manziel is going to have to try to force some passes that aren’t there, or he’s going to have to try to scramble against contain and get sacked or fumble against the Razorbacks' defensive ends. Or, perhaps less politically correct, some Aggies are going to have be injured or suspended. Ultimately, Arkansas’ best defense is its offense. If Arkansas can work the clock, keep the defense resting, and score almost every time they have the football, it could be a relatively close game.
Without Brandon Allen, I don’t think Arkansas would be able to produce the offense necessary to keep up in a shootout. The Razorbacks should still rush for over 200 yards, and will probably top 400 yards of total offense either way, but they’ll need to score on every possession to keep up. I think Arkansas’ defensive line is able to get penetration against a very good Texas A&M offensive line, but once you are through the line, actually corralling Manziel is a whole different animal. Arkansas’ secondary often struggles to cover for five seconds, but 10, 15 seconds? Gulp.
Prediction: Texas A&M 49, Arkansas 28