SEC: Arkansas Razorbacks

SEC morning links

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
8:00
AM ET
1. Stop me if you've heard this one before. On Tuesday, Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said he and Will Muschamp are on the same page. Despite looking horrendous offensively against Alabama two weeks ago, Roper and Muschamp are standing arm in arm. As a matter of historical context, I'd refer you to this story from late last season where Brent Pease said essentially the same thing. A week later he was fired. Now I'm not saying Roper is going to suffer the same fate, nor should he. But isn't this too early for votes of confidence and closing of the ranks? Much like the product on the field, it's not a good look for the Gators.

2. Arkansas deserves a bye week. After the fight they put up against Texas A&M, the Razorbacks need to catch their breath. As defensive end Trey Flowers said, "We’ve got to go into this off week, prepare for ‘Bama and just keep our heads up.” But what Arkansas really should be doing is recruiting. The saying, "There's no time like the present," should be ringing in every coach's ears. After the hurt Arkansas put on Texas A&M and the dominance it showed a few weeks earlier against Texas Tech, Bret Bielema should be sending a caravan into the Lone Star State to make hay. The Razorbacks are a respectable 22nd in ESPN's Class Rankings today. But with all the positive publicity surrounding the program and all the talk about playing their unique brand of old-school football, Bielema and his staff can do better. They should be beating down every blue-chip offensive lineman's door right now. After all, what's the use in having all this momentum if you're not going to capitalize on it?

3. Now you're starting to look like an SEC team, Kentucky. You're playing with the big boys, suspending multiple players the week of a pivotal game against South Carolina. But all joking aside, the loss of Dorian Baker and Stanley "Boom" Williams hurts. Kentucky has played well on the offensive line and Patrick Towles has done well for himself at quarterback. The one thing Towles needed was help at receiver, and now his third-leading pass-catcher, Baker, is gone. The absence of Williams, who has been a revelation at running back and on special teams, leaves little in the way of explosive playmakers for coach Mark Stoops to turn to. I was thinking upset with Kentucky-South Carolina before this. Now I have to rethink my position. I trust the UK defense, but I don't know whether they'll put up enough points to beat the Gamecocks.

SEC Heisman watch: Week 5

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
1:00
PM ET
Well, Todd Gurley isn't exactly slowing down these days.

The Georgia running back just keeps chugging along, leaving defenders shamed along the way. On Saturday, Gurley ran for a career-high 208 yards, had two touchdowns and averaged 7.4 yards per carry against Tennessee. Not bad. No wonder he now has 16 career 100-yard rushing games.

On the season, Gurley has 610 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He's averaging an SEC-high 8.8 yards per carry.

Again, we know how good Gurley is and he should be at the top over everyone's Heisman ballot, at least for the SEC. He should be at the top of it nationally, but some folks are hung up on that Mariota guy.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill, Kevin Sumlin
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesKenny Hill showed his moxie against Arkansas, propelling Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies to 5-0.
But let's take some time to talk about Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill -- the trillest of them all.

We've been impressed with how he has terrorized defenses through the first part of the season, but I think he had his best performance this past Saturday against Arkansas. First, he had to bring his team back from a 14-point deficit in the second half. Then, he had to win in overtime. All he did was throw touchdowns of 86 and 59 yards to tie the game in the fourth. In overtime, he needed just one play, finding Malcome Kennedy, who was somehow behind three Arkansas defenders, for a 25-yard game-winning touchdown.

Kenny Trill's gutty performance showed us that he's more than just a kid tossing the ball around in a pass-friendly system. He had to bring his team back from the edge and then win the game. He did both without really breaking a sweat, throwing for 386 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.

On the season, Hill leads the SEC with 1,745 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. No SEC quarterback is on his level right now.

Here are four others to keep an eye on in the SEC:

  • Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: He was off this past weekend but still leads the SEC with 43 receptions and 655 receiving yards. He's tied for first with five touchdowns.
  • Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: He was also off but has been the SEC's best dual-threat quarterback this season. Prescott has 964 passing yards and 11 touchdowns. He has rushed for 378 yards and three more scores.
  • Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: Even though the Hogs lost to A&M on Saturday, Collins had another solid outing, rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown. However, that failed fourth-and-1 attempt in overtime will haunt him. On the season, Collins leads the SEC with 621 rushing yards and is tied for the league lead with six rushing touchdowns.
  • Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: Off as well, Robinson is fourth in the SEC with 485 rushing yards and has four rushing touchdowns. He's averaging 7.8 yards per carry.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
10:00
AM ET
video 
There was a ton of big recruiting news from around the Southeastern Conference this weekend. Several top prospects made their verbal commitments, Georgia flipped an FSU commit, and Missouri -- despite its big win against South Carolina on Saturday -- lost a commitment. Here is a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.

Arkansas striding toward SEC relevance

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
1:30
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas — The stage was set for Arkansas to make a significant statement to the rest of the SEC West.

Once possessing a two-touchdown, second-half lead and on the verge of making it three touchdowns, the Razorbacks gave No. 6 Texas A&M all it could handle on Saturday at AT&T Stadium. They had the Aggies on the ropes; all they needed was one decisive knockout blow.

They couldn’t land it. As a result, the Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2 SEC) remain on the hunt for their first league win since 2012.

“When you got your foot on somebody’s throat, keep on it,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said after his team’s 35-28 overtime loss to Texas A&M. “I think we need to have that killer mentality, to put that thing away.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Williams
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJonathan Williams and the Hogs face six ranked foes in their final seven games, but their recent play has put all opponents on notice.
Despite the loss, Arkansas continues to take big steps forward. Bielema’s first year in Fayetteville was lined with struggles as the Razorbacks finished 3-9. This season they’ve already matched that win total and their two losses have come to teams ranked in the top six nationally (Auburn and Texas A&M).

In their season opener against Auburn, they went toe-to-toe with the Tigers for a half before Auburn broke the game open in the third quarter. On Saturday, the Razorbacks looked even better -- and probably should have won, considering how they controlled the game in the first three quarters.

“For whatever reason, we weren't able to have the success we wanted to in the end here,” Bielema said. “But there are a lot of positive steps. But I didn't fly to Dallas to make a positive step. I came here to win, and I think our players did, and to get that close and to not have it, it's a critical week for us.”

That’s the kind of mentality that has to be fostered if the Razorbacks are going to start closing these types of games out. The SEC West is unapologetically difficult. Arkansas’ schedule is brutal down the stretch after their open date this week. Alabama is waiting on the other side of it. So are dates with Georgia, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss and Missouri.

What’s clear is the Hogs have a system and a style they believe in and they continue to improve while staying true to both. Bielema has a well-documented history of success with his teams playing this physical, old-school style, and the seeds are being planted for future success in Fayetteville now. There is quality on both the offensive and defensive lines and that’s where everything starts. Their running back tandem of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams is a challenge for any team to deal with.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin argued leading up to Saturday's game that Arkansas should have been considered to be a top-25 team. The Razorbacks validated that opinion for much of the day, and it's clear Arkansas is moving closer to being a real factor in the SEC.

The disconnect came late for the Razorbacks, who couldn’t close things out Saturday. By leaving the door creaked open slightly, the Aggies burst right through it, scoring a come-from-behind win, something they’re quite used to. The Aggies have learned how to finish tight games in their still-young SEC tenure. The Razorbacks, in their second season under Bielema, are still learning how to close games out against good teams in crunch time, perhaps signaling the difference between where the two programs are currently.

The Razorbacks were on the losing end of an SEC game for the 14th consecutive time because of critical mistakes that prevented them from building an even bigger lead than the 14-point advantage they once held Saturday.

In the first quarter, Arkansas fumbled a center-snap exchange in Texas A&M territory that killed a drive. In the second, a 34-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Allen to Hunter Henry was wiped off the board thanks to a holding penalty by left tackle Dan Skipper. In the fourth, a 56-yard run by Williams all the way to the Texas A&M 2-yard line was also revoked because of a tripping call on Skipper. If not for the penalty, Arkansas would have had a prime opportunity for a 21-point lead.

“It comes down to playing clean and not doing anything to hurt ourselves,” Allen said. “That’s what it came down to [Saturday]. Anytime you get those big plays called back on something you’re doing to yourself, it’s tough to win.”

Bielema and everyone in that locker room knew that minus those mistakes, things could have been different. Even so, the Razorbacks had their chance to finish late, missing a field goal, breaking down on defense and not getting a first down in overtime. They couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities. The Aggies made them pay for it as a result.

What's clear though, is that the necessary steps are being taken in Fayetteville, but growth doesn't come without growing pains. Saturday was evidence of both for Arkansas.

“There's a lot of really good things coming,” Bielema said. “This could be a very exciting time ahead of us.”

Aggies' run D shows signs of progress

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
9:00
AM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas — It was far from perfect, but Texas A&M’s run defense passed its first real test of the season on Saturday.

Arkansas, the SEC’s No. 1 rushing team, was every bit the challenge the Aggies – an improved bunch but still working to shake the reputation as the SEC’s worst rush defense last year – expected and then some. But when it was all said and done, it was the Aggies’ front that made the biggest play of the game, a fourth-and-1 stuff of running back Alex Collins to secure a 35-28 overtime victory, a moment that served as a microcosm of the progress the Aggies’ defense is experiencing.

[+] EnlargeJulien Obioha
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsGetting critical stops against Arkansas was a reason to celebrate for Julien Obioha, No. 95, and Texas A&M.
Texas A&M’s defense did a little growing up Saturday.

“There's a lot of things from this game that we can learn from,” coach Kevin Sumlin said Saturday. “But there's also … some confidence that we can draw from it, because that team's good at what they do running the football.”

The raw numbers read as such: Arkansas finished with 285 rushing yards on 47 carries, eye-popping by any measure. But take away 51 yards from that total, because those belong to the special teams after the Razorbacks converted an incredible fake punt that resulted in a touchdown run by Sam Irwin-Hill.

So that leaves the Aggies’ defense allowing 234 rushing yards on 46 carries, an average of 5.08 yards per carry. Ideal? Not at all. But it’s an improvement from last season’s mark (5.38 yards per carry) and significantly better than what the Aggies allowed against Arkansas last season (6.7 yards per carry, though the Hogs ran just 30 times in last year’s meeting).

This year’s Arkansas team is better and more experienced. And in the first half, things didn’t look terribly different for the Aggies, who yielded 143 non-fake punt rushing yards on 21 totes, an average of 6.8 yards per carry. That total included a 50-yard touchdown run by Collins.

“I thought [Arkansas offensive coordinator] Jim Chaney had an excellent plan,” Sumlin said. “They formationed and got us in some different situations to create some real problems, some gaps. And then they went unbalanced a lot.

“It's a nightmare for what they do. They don't just line up and run over you. They formation you, unbalance, tight ends, motion. And all that time, when you're doing that, you know, you have to fit the gaps properly. And all it takes is one guy to be out of one gap, and -- those backs are good.”

As the game progressed, so did the Aggies’ run defense. It allowed only 30 yards on nine carries in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter and overtime it kept the Razorbacks to 71 yards on 16 carries, a much more reasonable 4.43 average. Of those 71 yards, 46 came on a three-play sequence on an Arkansas drive midway through the fourth. But the Aggies cleaned things up after that.

They began to react better to everything the Razorbacks threw at them.

“It was by eye control,” junior defensive end Julien Obioha said. “Coach talks about eye control. Keep your eye on the key. There are a couple times when you saw in the big plays where nobody was covering a guy. Somebody took their eyes off their key. Once we fixed that problem, everybody was on the same page. Everybody was doing their job.”

The final possession of the game was a snapshot of that. A year ago, when the Aggies' defenders were less experienced, it would be hard to believe that they could turn a team over on downs in a critical situation with as talented a backfield as the Hogs have with Collins and Jonathan Williams and as big an offensive line as they have.

But on its final possession, Arkansas ran the ball three times: a gain of 2 for Williams, then a loss of 1 for him before the final play, when Obioha met Collins and stopped him for no gain to secure victory. That stop was aided by the entire line holding up at the point of attack when the ball was snapped, a moment that surely made defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and defensive line coach Terry Price proud.

“The running back bounced to my side,” Obioha said. “I did what my coaches taught me to do. I cross-face and made a play. It was a play that ended the game and gave us a W. It was just a great play.”

It wasn’t their first taste of success this year -- the Aggies held South Carolina to only 67 yards on 22 carries on Aug. 28. But the Aggies raced out to a lead and made the Gamecocks play catch up, plus star running back Mike Davis wasn’t at full strength.

Arkansas wasn’t about to abandon the run and provided two healthy, gifted backs and a large offensive line to challenge Texas A&M up front in a way that hadn’t been this year. The Aggies showed they still have plenty of room for improvement, but their timely play Saturday give them reason for optimism as the SEC schedule stiffens.

“You saw what we can do out there,” Obioha said. “We could stop one of the best rushing attacks in the country when we're all on the same page.”

SEC bowl projections: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
8:00
PM ET
Alabama was off this week, so it remains in the top spot as a College Football Playoff representative, but we have some movement in the next couple of teams in this week’s SEC bowl projections.

We’re moving Auburn up a spot in place of Texas A&M, which won but showed it might still have some work to do after needing a furious rally and a few breaks to escape with an overtime win over Arkansas.

Also, despite the Razorbacks’ loss, we’ll stick with them finding a way to get three more wins and bowl eligibility this season. They proved they’re a quality team that’s making progress, although they have a brutal schedule to navigate the rest of the way.

Here is our full SEC list entering the sixth week of the season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Alabama
Orange Bowl: Auburn
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Texas A&M
Capital One Bowl: Georgia
TaxSlayer Bowl: Missouri
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Ole Miss
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Tennessee
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Florida

Best of the visits: SEC

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
12:32
PM ET
There were some great games around the SEC over the weekend. Several prospects attended games while others watched on television and used social media as a platform to share their experiences. Here's a look at some of the top social media posts from the weekend:

ESPN 300 tight end and Texas A&M commit Jordan Davis tweeted out a photo of himself with three other ESPN 300 Aggies commits: James Lockhart, Larry Pryor and Justin Dunning. The four players were in attendance for Texas A&M’s thrilling 35-28 overtime win against Arkansas Saturday afternoon.

 

Four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal looks as if he also enjoyed his time in Arlington, Texas, for the Aggies game. The talented prospect tweeted a photo of himself with former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel's family members. McNeal is also scheduled to visit UCLA, Miami and Oklahoma State later this year.

 

Georgia picked up a huge commitment from ESPN Junior 300 defensive end Chauncey Manac Saturday. Manac also visited Georgia for its big win over Tennessee. He is the third 2016 commit for the Bulldogs, and all three are ranked in the ESPN Junior 300.

 

The seventh-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, Deontay Anderson, took an unofficial to Auburn Saturday for its 45-17 win over Louisiana Tech. This photo was captured on one of his social media accounts by ESPN national recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton.

 

The No. 1-ranked running back in the country, Damien Harris, visited Kentucky this weekend for the Wildcats' 17-7 win over SEC East foe Vanderbilt. A fan captured this photo of Harris hanging out with Kentucky commit Eli Brown. Harris also tweeted about his experience in Lexington.

 

LSU 2017 commitment Dylan Moses posed for a photo at midfield at Tiger Stadium on Saturday while on an unofficial visit to watch LSU pound New Mexico State 63-7. Moses' father, Edward Moses, tweeted the photo.

 

The Aggies are not a playoff-caliber team 

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
8:43
AM ET
 Jonathan WilliamsAP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Aggies had a lot of trouble with Jonathan Williams and the Razorbacks' offense Saturday.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- I learned something Saturday during my first trip to Jerry World: The Arkansas Razorbacks are better than we thought, and the Texas A&M Aggies are overrated. Those were my suspicions entering Saturday’s SEC showdown, and they were confirmed after the Aggies had to rally for a 35-28 overtime win.

The Aggies were prematurely included in most pundits’ four-team playoff field before Saturday, but they’ll be part of very few bracket projections after their comeback win over the Razorbacks.

Listen, that’s no knock on the vastly improved Hogs; there’s no weak link in the SEC West any longer. The run game is consistent, and a few coverage lapses aside, the defense is much quicker to the ball. They’re a handful.

“That’s a good team,” one of the Aggies’ coaches told me afterward. “Better than we thought they would be, and we thought they were pretty good.”

And really, it’s no slight of A&M; it’s talented and evidently stubborn in the face of adversity, a better collective group than I anticipated it would be post-Johnny Manziel, and with a work-in-progress defense.

But one of the four best teams in America? No way. Get real.

The secondary and skill players are too inconsistent, and I’m not nearly as sold on the quarterback as the staff. Three or four more wins? Sure. I don’t see a contender, though. The 5-0 Aggies are content to prove me wrong, and they’ll have chances the next three weeks at Mississippi State, against Ole Miss and at Alabama.

“You haven’t been big on us all year, so let’s keep it that way,” OC Jake Spavital texted me Saturday night, after I floated this central thesis that I called “realistic.”

That’s where Week 5 Takeaways begin. Also included: I took it too easy on Brady Hoke when I wrote last week that he should be fired by December; it’s a subtly big week ahead in the Big 12; and coaches wonder if a "sleeping giant" job in the ACC will soon be available.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

What we learned in the SEC: Week 5

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
11:32
PM ET
With Saturday’s action complete, we’re more than one-quarter of the way through the regular season.

Can you believe that?

Let’s take a look at what we learned from the latest batch of games.

1. Texas two step: Tip your cap to Arkansas. If anything, the Hogs showed they’re worthy of being ranked in the Top 25. But if you’re Texas A&M, what are you thinking? You just got roughed up by a team that hasn’t won a conference game since October 2012. An undeniably one-dimensional offense racked up four touchdowns and 485 yards against you, 286 of which came on the ground. It wasn’t a secret what they were doing, and still, you couldn’t stop it. Your defense, the one you said again and again was better than the past year, showed it still has a long ways to go in the 35-28 overtime win. There were more missed tackles than an early-morning Pee Wee football game. Texas A&M’s offense is still plenty potent with Kenny Hill under center and a better-than-advertised running game, but without a defense to match, we very well could be looking at a team that’s less steak than sizzle.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesHutson Mason might need to be more aggressive to help take the strain off star RB Todd Gurley.
2. Need more from Mason: Georgia's Todd Gurley is a beast worthy of every bit of the Heisman Trophy hype he receives. But he can’t do it alone -- not for an entire season, at least. No matter how strong he might be, nobody can withstand that type of punishment on a consistent basis. At some point, Hutson Mason must step up and provide his star running back some help. Sure, Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Jonathon Rumph have all missed time with injuries, but Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jay Rome are a pretty good group of targets. Still, against Tennessee, Mason barely fit the role of game manager. Georgia won 35-32, but he completed just 16 of 25 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. For Georgia to make a playoff push, Mason needs to take greater control of the offense and push the ball downfield. Playing as passive as he has just won’t cut it.

3. Missouri isn’t dead: It was a fashionable move, writing off Missouri after the past week’s embarrassing loss to Indiana at home. But by going into Columbia, South Carolina, and beating the Gamecocks 21-20 in a hotly contested game, the Tigers proved they’re nothing if not alive and well in the race to win the SEC East. The loss to Indiana means nothing when it comes to that. The fact that Missouri has an offense that can score in a hurry (see its final two drives) and a defense that absolutely harasses the quarterback (see Shane Ray’s two sacks), means there’s nothing to say the Tigers can’t be the class of the division. That secondary is going to get better, and quarterback Maty Mauk should find his stride eventually. If those two things improve, Missouri will be as tough an out as anyone in the conference.

4. No standouts in the East: Five teams in the West are undefeated with hopes of competing for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff: Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. The East, well, the East has a bunch of guys with obvious Achilles heels: Georgia has a great running back and little else, Missouri has an inconsistent passing game and a secondary that gives out yards like candy on Halloween, South Carolina can’t decide from week to week if it wants to nap or play football, and Florida must be kicking itself for letting quarterback Jacoby Brissett go to NC State. There’s no separation in the East because there are no great teams in the division.

5. But there’s real parity overall: Take Vanderbilt out of the equation. The Commodores couldn’t navigate the Big Ten with that offense. But if you put Derek Mason’s rebuild aside, you’re looking at an SEC with no gimmes. No one wants to play Tennessee after the hurting the Vols put on Georgia, and not with Justin Worley and that group of skill players on offense. No one wants to play Kentucky, either, not with A.J. Stamps, Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith flying around on defense. And then there’s Arkansas. Who wants to see those big uglies coming at you? Armed with an enormous offensive line, a pair of bruising fullbacks and three workhorse running backs, the Razorbacks can wear down even the best defenses.
video
ARLINGTON, Texas -- In all honesty, Texas A&M probably shouldn't have won Saturday.

The Aggies' offense spent the better part of three quarters out-of-sync. Texas A&M's drive chart in that span looked foreign to those who know them best: Touchdown, punt, punt, punt, touchdown, missed field goal, punt, turnover on downs, punt.

Defensively, they weren't much better: 395 yards yielded in those first three stanzas and 214 on the ground (though 51 should be counted against the special teams for a fake punt). Those special teams had forgettable moments as well, with a missed field goal on top of everything else.

But as Kevin Sumlin-coached teams are wont to do, the No. 6 Aggies found a way to swipe a victory from Arkansas and remain undefeated by climbing out of a two-touchdown hole at AT&T Stadium for a thrilling 35-28 overtime win.

[+] Enlarge Jonathan Williams
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTexas A&M's defense struggled with Arkansas' running game through three quarters, but held firm in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"Was it perfect? No," Sumlin said afterward. "But it was a heck of a football game, and there's a lot of things we can learn from today."

The win provided both cause for concern and signs of encouragement. For starters, the Aggies didn't play to their lofty ranking and often showed why this young team gave so many pause prior to the season.

The Aggies (5-0, 2-0 SEC) knew their run defense would get their first true test of the year from the SEC's top rushing attack. It did (Arkansas ran for 285 yards), and it often left Texas A&M frustrated and chasing Arkansas running backs Alex Collins (131 yards) and Jonathan Williams (95 yards). When the Aggies weren't failing to fill their gaps, play-action passing from Brandon Allen and Co. gave them several headaches.

But when Arkansas (3-2, 0-2) smelled blood and tried to put the Aggies away, the Aggies' defense found its backbone (and the Razorbacks shot themselves in the foot a few times, too). The Razorbacks' final five drives went as such: punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, punt, turnover on downs. The final stop, which came on fourth-and-1 in Arkansas' overtime possession and secured the win, might prove to be a seminal moment for an A&M defense still trying to shake off its 2013 reputation -- last in the SEC in every statistical category that mattered.

Defensively, are the Aggies more what we saw in the first three quarters or the unit seen in the fourth quarter and overtime? That remains to be seen.

Similarly, Texas A&M sophomore sensation Kenny Hill and the Aggies' offense were off, as Sumlin admitted. Starting only his fifth game, Hill showed some of the ills that come with a young quarterback -- forced throws, inaccuracy, inconsistent play -- and his receivers and offensive line contributed at times with dropped passes or by allowing Hill to get pressured.

Conversely, when the Aggies needed a spark, Hill was on the money. He hit Edward Pope and Joshua Reynolds for two huge, fourth-quarter touchdown passes to pull even with the Hogs. He threw a dart to Malcome Kennedy for the game-winning, 25-yard score. It was fitting, considering Hill threw one behind Kennedy in the first half that -- had it been thrown perfectly -- would have likely resulted in a touchdown.

"I just saw him run wide open and said, ‘I need to put it on him,'" Hill said. "They had the defender getting there late, and I had to fit it in to him, and he took care of the rest."

Let's make one thing clear: The Aggies are a good football team. Exactly how good is the question and one that won't be answered for a few weeks.

This improved Arkansas team gave Texas A&M everything it could handle, and though the Hogs are winless in two SEC games (and in 14 straight conference games dating back to 2012), they came away from home against highly-ranked foes (Auburn being the other), and both were contests in which the Razorbacks competed well. The Razorbacks no longer look like pushovers in Bret Bielema's second year, and they have made significant progress from a year ago.

Meanwhile, A&M's season-opening shocker at South Carolina and the Aggies' subsequent dominance of three cupcake opponents has sparked talk of the Aggies being perhaps the best in the SEC and a serious contender for the College Football Playoff. Those goals remain attainable, but those discussions should perhaps pause as this team navigates a gauntlet of a schedule that starts a week from now with a showdown against rising Mississippi State in Starkville. That will be followed by a home date with Ole Miss and a trip to Tuscaloosa for a clash with Alabama.

If the Aggies emerge from that stretch unscathed, they truly do deserve to be mentioned in the top-four discussion.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a thrilling finish, No. 6 Texas A&M rallied to claim a 35-28 overtime win over Arkansas on Saturday at AT&T Stadium, a win that came after the Aggies were down by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter. Let’s take a look at how it went down:

How the game was won: The Aggies stopped Arkansas running back Alex Collins on a fourth-and-1 in the first overtime, getting a stop when they had to have it. Texas A&M had to scratch and claw after being harassed by Arkansas’ defense all day, but it was able to escape by the skin of its teeth thanks to huge fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Kenny Hill (an 86-yarder to Edward Pope and a 59-yarder to Joshua Reynolds) that turned a 14-point deficit to a tie ballgame and eventually set up overtime. Hill threw a 25-yard strike to Malcome Kennedy to start overtime, and the defense did the rest to secure the win in OT, piggybacking a strong fourth-quarter effort the Aggies gave to keep the Razorbacks from extending the lead.

Gameball goes to: Hill. He had his struggles, from errant throws, including an interception and had to weather the storm as the Aggies looked out of sorts offensively for much of the day. But he made the big throws when the Aggies had to have them late in the game and led the come-from-behind victory. He finished with 386 passing yards and four touchdowns on 21-of-41 passing.

What it means: Texas A&M’s playoff hopes and high ranking are safe for now, but it has a lot of work to do. Arkansas exploited many of the Aggies’ flaws today. The Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2 SEC), meanwhile, are as improved as advertised. Bret Bielema’s bunch has to feel sick after this one, leading by two scores (and having a chance to go up three when a penalty nullified the score). They had control of the game but let it slip away. The SEC West is on alert though, as Arkansas is a pushover no longer.

Playoff implication: The Aggies’ hopes remain alive as they move to 5-0 (2-0 in the SEC).

What's next: Another huge test for Texas A&M at No. 14 Mississippi State in Starkville a week from today. Dak Prescott and Co. are coming off an open date following their landmark win at LSU on Sept. 20.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 5

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
8:00
AM ET
A look ahead at Saturday's games in the Southeastern Conference. All times Eastern:

Noon

Vanderbilt at Kentucky, SEC Network: The nation’s longest active conference losing streak will be on the line, and that 17-game skid could very well come to an end if Kentucky beats Vanderbilt. The Wildcats are coming off an impressive, yet heartbreaking triple-overtime loss to Florida on the road and are heavy favorites at home this weekend. The Commodores, however, have won the last three meetings.

Tennessee at No. 12 Georgia, ESPN: Who can forget the overtime thriller these teams played in Knoxville last year? It was memorable not only for the outcome but also for all of the injuries Georgia suffered in a 34-31 victory. The Bulldogs are much healthier this season and are hungry to prove they’re still the team to beat in the East despite a 38-35 loss to South Carolina on Sept. 13. This will be the first SEC game for a young Tennessee team that is looking to make some noise in Butch Jones’ second season. A victory in Athens would do just that.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Phil Ellsworth / ESPN ImagesCalling Texas A&M-Arkansas a big game seemed a stretch a few weeks ago, but Kenny Hill and the Aggies could have their hands full against the Razorbacks.
3:30 p.m.

Arkansas vs. No. 6 Texas A&M, CBS: After the opening weekend, it didn’t look as if this would be much of a game. Texas A&M looked unstoppable at South Carolina, and the Razorbacks fell apart in the second half against Auburn. Four weeks later, it’s now the marquee matchup. Bret Bielema’s squad has played much better since that opening game, dominating its last three opponents. With Kenny Hill at quarterback for the Aggies and the Hogs' three-headed monster at running back, expect a shootout in Cowboys Stadium.

4 p.m.

Louisiana Tech at No. 5 Auburn, SEC Network: Not to overlook Louisiana Tech, but this might be the calm before the storm in Auburn’s schedule. Seven of the Tigers' final eight opponents are currently ranked in the Top 25, beginning next Saturday with a home game against No. 17 LSU. But first things first: The Tigers need to take care of business against Louisiana Tech. A victory for Auburn would mark the 300th win at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which opened in 1939.

7 p.m.

Missouri at No. 13 South Carolina, ESPN: Not unlike Georgia-Tennessee, this matchup stirs memories to last year’s game and the fourth-quarter comeback by Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks. It was Missouri’s only regular-season loss. The Tigers' first loss this year came much sooner with a home loss to Indiana last weekend, but all could be forgotten with a victory at South Carolina on Saturday night. The winner has a leg up in the SEC East. Oh yeah, did we mention "College Gameday" will be there?

7:30 p.m.

New Mexico State at No. 17 LSU, SEC Network: How does LSU pick up the pieces after last Saturday’s home loss to Mississippi State? The bigger question might be which quarterback will play better, Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris? The best remedy for LSU after a loss might be to get away from the SEC. The Tigers have won a FBS record 48 consecutive regular-season nonconference games, including a 38-0 record under current coach Les Miles.

Memphis at No. 10 Ole Miss, ESPN3: Don’t look now, but Ole Miss has crept into the top 10, and fans are already eager for next Saturday's home showdown against Alabama. You'd better go ahead and get your spot in the Grove now. That’s not the mindset of Hugh Freeze and his team, though. They know they will have their hands full as Memphis (2-1) comes to town, and they’re doing their best not to look ahead to the Crimson Tide.
video
Arkansas’ offensive philosophy is no secret. The Razorbacks want to run the ball -- a lot.

Using that power-football identity, the Hogs are showing themselves to be a much-improved team in Bret Bielema’s second season in Fayetteville. After the Razorbacks’ obliterated Texas Tech in Lubbock earlier this month to the tune of 438 rushing yards and 49 points, Bielema described his team thusly:

“This is Arkansas football, hog-ball, hog-strong, whatever you want to say it, this is what we are,” Bielema told reporters afterward. “I know at times it ain't that pretty, but it's a heck of a lot of fun.”

The Razorbacks are hoping to have more fun at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday when they meet No. 6 Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It will serve as the season’s first true test for the Aggies’ run defense.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsAlex Collins and the high-powered Arkansas ground game will provide A&M's run defense with its stiffest challenge yet this season.
Yes, Texas A&M played a talented South Carolina team -- one that is known for running the ball well in its own right -- in its season opener. But the Aggies raced out of the gate so quickly that the Gamecocks, whose star running back Mike Davis was limited by an injury, were left to play catchup and eventually abandon their running game. South Carolina ran the ball 22 times in the Aug. 28 opener and the Aggies held them to a mere 67 yards.

Arkansas averages 45 rushes per game. Against the Red Raiders, the Razorbacks ran the ball a whopping 68 times. Even in their season-opening loss to Auburn, they averaged 5.3 yards per carry. The Aggies, while having performed admirably in Columbia, South Carolina, still must to prove they can stop what the Razorbacks, who have the No. 1 rushing offense in the SEC (324.5 yards per game), want to do.

“They're going to make you defend the run and try to go over the top and get behind you with the deep balls and keep the chains moving with the intermediate passing game,” Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. “It's no secret what we're going to see Saturday.”

When the teams met last season, the Razorbacks ran the ball quite well. They compiled 201 rushing yards on 30 carries, a healthy 6.7 yards-per-carry average. The Aggies were young and thin on defense then, and while they are still relatively young, the difference in their depth and experience on defense this season is night and day thanks to the baptism many of those players received a year ago and the addition of a top-five nationally ranked 2014 recruiting class that brought in a host of immediate-impact defensive players.

But in 2013, circumstances led to a disastrous season on defense for A&M, especially against the run. The Aggies were last in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per game (222.3) and 110th in the nation. This season, they're better (124.7 yards per game, sixth in the SEC and 42nd nationally).

Snyder knows what lies ahead. That’s why an emphasis was placed on defending this style long ago.

“We've been working on this for quite a while,” Snyder said. “We worked on it during spring, through fall camp, obviously we had a couple weeks getting ready for South Carolina. Obviously, some of that recall is going to have to come back for some of our guys. This won't be the first offense we've faced that likes to run the ball. We thought we'd get a good dose of that in the first game this year. But they're awfully good.”

Bielema, whose offense returns virtually all of its production from a season ago, expects an improved Texas A&M outfit on defense.

“They're better and they're a more disciplined group,” Bielema said Monday. “They're still a multiple front. ... Mark Snyder is a tremendous X's-and-O's guy. Really good football coach. ... Now it's another year with him and that program, doing what he likes to do, and you can definitely see the rewards of it.”

The Razorbacks boast a large offensive line: At an average of 328.4 pounds per player, their starting offensive line is bigger than any starting NFL offensive line was in Week 1 of pro football. That group is paired with a two-headed monster at running back in Alex Collins (490 rushing yards, 7.5 yards per carry, five touchdowns) and Jonathan Williams (391 rushing yards, 8.1 yards per carry, seven scores).

Those two, combined with the play of the Razorbacks’ offensive front, have been the core of the Razorbacks' success. The improvement of quarterback Brandon Allen has helped the Razorbacks take the next step offensively, and the elevated play helps loosen things up for the running game.

“They don't abandon their run game at all,” Texas A&M junior defensive end Julien Obioha said. “If they have two straight losses on the run game and it's third-and-18, they might still run the ball. They don't abandon their run game. They have a big, physical offensive line and I know their head coach used to be at Wisconsin. They would run the ball all the way up there; he has a Big Ten mentality, old-school football, ‘I might put eight offensive linemen on the line of scrimmage this play.’ It's just kind of crazy stuff and they just love their run game."

How Texas A&M handles both of those elements Saturday will determine whether the Aggies truly are an improved defense this season or if there is still much work to be done as the schedule toughens.

“Bret knows what he's doing,” Snyder said. “I spent 10 years in the Big Ten going against Coach [Barry] Alvarez, that's where he got it from. So we have to build a wall and stop the run and have great eyes on the back end.”

The Aggies sound like they’re ready for the test.

“I'm really looking forward to it,” sophomore linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni said. “[Against] South Carolina we were preparing for that kind of a game and they did run it, but we got ahead so we kind of forced them to throw. I don't think we've really seen our fill of running game to this point in the season. I think we're really ready for it.”

SEC morning links

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
8:00
AM ET
1. Leave it to Nick Saban to make a bye week as uncomfortable as possible. In classic Saban style, he flew off the handle at a reporter who had the gall to ask if his relationship with Lane Kiffin has improved over time. "It's never been bad," Saban said. "Whoever said it was bad, so why does it need to get better?" It's enough to make a reporter wonder if there is such a thing as a safe question when Saban is at the podium. In fact, it reminds us of the time he tore the media to shreds for too much positive press. If you're wondering what put a burr in Saban's saddle, it's probably the usual paranoia after his undefeated team kicked some butt. Clearly he's still sore at the way people reacted when he brought in Kiffin, but a closer look would show Saban that most of the serious media praised the hire. "I got beat up like a drum for doing it and now all of a sudden it's great," he said on Tuesday. So sensitive!

2. The SEC absolutely did the right thing in suspending Mississippi State center Dillon Day for stomping on two LSU players last Saturday. Let's break this thing down like the Zapruder film, shall we? In this video you can see both incidents:

video

In his letter to Bulldog fans defending himself, Day said he was "going too fast at 300 pounds to stop." That sounds reasonable. But he goes on to blame the LSU players basically for being on the ground where he was stepping. In the first incident, Day did slow down enough to see MSU quarterback Dak Prescott get tackled (thus ending the play). Then Day chose to blatantly jump onto Davon Godchaux's gut. In the second incident, it's clear that Day could have stepped on the ground between Rashard Robinson's legs but spiked his thigh instead. MSU coach Dan Mullen's reaction might be worse, though. "I didn't see anything wrong with it," he said on Tuesday after the suspension had been handed down. This is the same coach who last year suspended Day for a half against Troy after Day did the same thing to an Auburn player. Hmmm, what could be the difference between Troy and MSU's next opponent, No. 6 Texas A&M? Could be the division title implications, but that's just a wild guess. Later on Tuesday, Prescott tweeted #FreeDDay in support of his center, but this kind of repeated behavior should not be condoned.

3. Staying on our soapbox, let's do a little "Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger" or T-dubs as Stephen Colbert would call it. Cheers to Tennessee head coach Butch Jones for his zero-tolerance policy when it comes to domestic violence. Despite no charges being filed, UT dismissed true freshman running back Treyvon Paulk on Monday after police said he hit a woman in the mouth. Jeers to Auburn and LSU for recruiting ex-Georgia Bulldog Jonathan Taylor, who has the good fortune of being 6-foot-5, 340 pounds and playing the important defensive tackle position. Taylor was dismissed by UGA coach Mark Richt in July (cheers to Richt for that, by the way) after being arrested on an aggravated assault/family violence charge. Police said he choked and struck his 5-11, 170-pound girlfriend. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn on Tuesday said he too has a zero-tolerance policy, but it should be noted that Tigers defensive line coach Rodney Garner also recruited Taylor when he coached at Georgia.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

SEC Heisman watch: Week 4

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
1:00
PM ET
Todd Gurley needed just six carries on Saturday.

Georgia's game with Troy was over before Gurley suited up, but the coaching staff wanted him to at least sweat in his uniform, so he touched the ball six times and ended up with 73 yards, including a pretty 48-yard run, on just two drives.

With that, your Heisman Trophy favorite from the SEC has 402 rushing yards with four touchdowns in three games and is averaging 9.8 yards per carry.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonAmari Cooper put on quite a show against Florida.
We know what Gurley can do, so today we'll focus on someone whom I had on my ESPN.com Heisman ballot after Week 2: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper.

All he's doing is leading the nation with 43 receptions and 655 yards. He's tied for first in the SEC with five receiving touchdowns.

Stats are great to look at, but you know what's even prettier? That grown-man performance in Tuscaloosa against Florida's defense. Now, let's not kid ourselves and think this is the same ol' elite Florida defense the league has grown accustomed to, but this defense has arguably the nation's best cornerback in Vernon Hargreaves. Cooper faced his toughest test yet and might have had his best performance of the season.

What exactly did this magnificent football specimen do in front of the entire country? Well, how about 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns, including a 79-yarder in which Florida's defense somehow lost him. Florida tried different ways to contain Cooper and failed more often than not. Hargreaves did what he could, and it wasn't enough. Just check out that fade to the end zone where Cooper mossed Hargreaves, who couldn't have been in better position, for a touchdown.

At this rate, there's no way Cooper won't be traveling to New York for the Heisman ceremony in December. The kid is too good, too talented and is on pace to get far too many catches (129), yards (1,965) and touchdowns (15) not to party in the city that never sleeps in early December.

Cooper has yet to be held under 130 yards receiving this season and has just started his run of embarrassing defenses.

Godspeed, SEC West secondaries. Godspeed.

Here are four other SEC players to keep an eye on in our Heisman watch:

  • Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M: He finally showed that he's human by throwing his first interception of the season in a blowout win over SMU, but still leads the SEC with 1,359 passing yards and has 13 touchdown passes.
  • Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: What a performance on the road and at night in Tiger Stadium. Prescott was the force to be reckoned with Saturday, not that environment, as he registered 373 total yards and three touchdowns. This was the signature win Prescott needed to vault himself into real Heisman contender talk. He has thrown for 964 yards and is fifth in the SEC with 378 rushing yards. He has 14 total touchdowns on the season.
  • Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: Collins had only 79 rushing yards and was held out of the end zone in the Hogs' route of Northern Illinois, but like Gurley, his team didn't really need much out of him. Collins leads the SEC with 490 rushing yards and has five touchdowns.
  • Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: Who? Oh, how about the bowling ball who rammed his way through LSU's defense for 197 yards and a touchdown. He stands just 5 feet 9 inches, and short folks need love, too. He's second in the SEC with 485 rushing yards and is averaging 7.8 yards per carry.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 10/4