Aggies run game will test new-look defense

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Arkansas linebacker De'Jon Harris lines up for a play during a game against Florida A&M on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Little Rock.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas linebacker De'Jon Harris lines up for a play during a game against Florida A&M on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Little Rock.

— Arkansas’ defenders know what’s in store Saturday. It’s no secret.

The Razorbacks are going to get a heavy dose of Trayveon Williams, Keith Ford and Kendall Bussey, one of the better backfields in the SEC.

Williams is the speed back, shifty and quick, capable of explosive plays. A freshman All-American last year, he ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries in the Aggies’ 45-24 win over Arkansas in 2016 and began his sophomore season by running for 203 yards and two scores against UCLA in the season’s opener.

Ford is more the power back of the two, a senior downhill runner who offers a nice change-of-pace option. Bussey is a sophomore, the least experienced of the three, but has run for 204 yards on 6.4 yards per carry this year.

“Each of them have their great abilities and each of them have their different spots in the way they run the zone,” sophomore linebacker Scoota Harris said.

Texas A&M is going to run it. Often.

The Aggies rank second in the SEC in rushing offense (252 yards per game) and first in attempts (50 per). They ran for a season-high 366 yards against the Razorbacks in last year’s victory, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry and wearing down what would prove to be a weak run defense. Arkansas has changed defenses and Saturday will be the 3-4’s first test against a power running attack.

“Our philosophy is to stop the run, so we’ll start there,” linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said.

A large chunk of the ground production last year came from quarterback Trevor Knight, who carved up Arkansas for 157 yards and two long touchdowns on just 10 carries. Knight graduated but true freshman Kellen Mond, the new starter, also poses a running threat, the top-ranked dual threat quarterback in the nation according to one service.

“We had trouble with (quarterback runs) last year, so we expecting them to try to run the quarterback a little,” Harris said.

Through three games, Mond has only completed 50 percent of his passes, including a 3 of 17 performance in his college debut against UCLA, the only other Power 5 opponent he’s faced. If Arkansas can make him a passer, it may bode well for the defense.

“He’s probably getting his legs underneath him as well, but he’s still young, so we’re going to do whatever we can try to do to try to get him off track, get him off the spot and make him a little uncomfortable if we can,” Hargreaves said.

The Razorbacks held TCU to two scores until late in the fourth quarter, but the Horned Frogs ran for 195 yards, often spreading the defense and attacking between the tackles. Arkansas’ run defense will have to be better Saturday.

Better than last year and last game. That starts with limiting big plays, an area the Razorbacks did a good job in against TCU. The Horned Frogs’ long rush was 15 yards. Last year, Arkansas allowed 32 runs of 20 or more yards, including seven runs of 20-plus against Texas A&M and four more that went for at least 10 yards.

“The stats, they don’t lie,” Harris said. “The less big plays we give up, 25 yards or less, missed tackles in games, then we most likely won the game last year.”

They’ll need to stick to that formula in the 3-4’s first big test Saturday.

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