FAYETTEVILLE — No. 16 Arkansas and No. 7 Texas A&M will both put their 3-0 records on the line Saturday in AT&T Stadium when they open SEC play.
The Hogs haven’t beaten the Aggies since 2011 and this is the year Sam Pittman hopes to see that streak end. It will be Arkansas’ third game against an opponent from Texas this season. The Razorbacks defeated Rice 38-17 and Texas 40-21. They also beat Georgia Southern 45-10.
“Well, we’re really excited to go down to Dallas and play such a great team in Texas A&M, so well coached,” Pittman said. “Their defense is incredible. They run to the ball. Very physical group. There’s a lot of challenges there for us. Coach (imbo) Fisher, in my opinion, is one of the greatest coaches in college football. He’ll have them prepared.
“Offensively, I know who they have up front because I lost to A&M trying to recruit them. So they have a lot of talent up front. Certainly the tight end (Jalen) Wydermyer hurt us last year tremendously. They have unbelievable skill and (Zach) Calzada is really coming on as a quarterback. We have so many challenges in the game but we’re looking forward to going down there and playing A&M.”
Texas A&M’s defensive line has been dominant so far in three wins. Pittman is impressed with them.
“I really love their defense,” Pittman said. “I think going into this year, part of the reason A&M was ranked so high obviously coming off such a great year they had last year, but a lot of it has to do with that defense and particularly the defensive front. They’re big. They’re very athletic. A lot of times, defensive fronts can be dominant against the run and maybe so big they can’t pass rush and things of that nature. That’s not the case here. I was hoping I’d watch the tape and know they can’t do one or the other, but that’s not the case. They can rush the passer. They’re physical. Run line games and line twists that are difficult to pick up. They were difficult for me when I was at Georgia as the offensive line coach when we played A&M. This is an SEC football team that is physical, put together and it starts on both sides of the ball. They’re just young on the offensive line, but they’re very talented over there as well. They’re really, really good on the front.”
Fisher is pleased with how his defensive line has played.
“I think they’ve played very good,” Fisher said. “I think the first game I thought we played a little out of our rush lane and things. After that, the last two games we’ve played much better, much more physical and with much more gap control and more disciplined in how we play. And I think we’ve been more productive doing it that way. I think our guys are big, they’re physical and they’re doing a nice job.”
A big crowd is expected for the game and Pittman knows the Razorback fans will be loud just like those from Texas A&M. He has prepared his team for the loud atmosphere on Saturday.
“I mean, I know A&M fans are going to be loud and I know our are too,” Pittman said. “So you’re looking at half – hopefully over half – for Arkansas. You’re looking at a loud stadium. I’ve been in there before and half of it’s loud. It’s like the Cotton Bowl when it’s OU-Texas. It’s loud, no matter how you shake it. So yes. I think we’ve done a really good job this week with noise. Been really pleased with that. I asked the coaches last week if we needed to get just a little bit of noise at practice, did we think a week was going to get us ready? Did we think a week of practice, we’d be ready? Where we benefited from that was when we played Texas, Barry wanted noise for the defense because he knew our fans would be extremely loud, which they were. And he wanted it for defensive communication. Well, you can’t get defense only, the offense has to go into their clap system and things of that nature, so we’ve had probably, of course all this week and then probably 4-6 practices we’ve had noise. So I feel comfortable about that. But yes, I think it’ll be half the stadium and then in the future you’re going to go to two hostile places, which is why you come to the SEC.”
A&M’s starting quarterback Haynes King was injured against Colorado. Calzada came in that game and struggled some. However he looked much better against New Mexico last week.
“He’s playing with more confidence,” Pittman said. “He’s more accurate with the ball. They’re protecting him better. Seems like the routes are crisper. I think he’s got belief. The wide receivers and tight end have belief in him. You can kind of see it. However, I really like New Mexico on defense. They flew around to the ball and played extremely hard, as well as Colorado. I think it’s just that second game he had a little more confidence. Looked like he was throwing the ball in rhythm better, and I think he’s a fine quarterback. He wouldn’t be at A&M if he wasn’t.”
Last season in College Station, Wydermyer hurt the Hogs from his tight end spot.
“Certainly last week was a different deal with play-action and things of that nature, but Coach Fisher’s been so good with that type of play action and hiding the ball and ‘where is it’ and all those things, then hitting a wide open guy,” Pittman said. “Last week, guys got behind us. That was one of our things that we need to clean up. I understand it was off the option, but it still has the same principles as play action. So we’re going to know where he is. He’s a wonderful player. He hurt us big time last year. Much respect for him. He’s one of the better tight ends in the country.”
The kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. It will be televised on CBS.