By Kevin McPherson

The then-10th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks faltered spectacularly in a few big moments to cement their coulda-woulda-shoulda 23-21 loss against then-No. 23 Texas A&M on Saturday in the annual Southwest Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as the Football Hogs lost for the first time on the season.

Despite out-gaining their opponent on the ground and through the air while producing more points offensively, the Razorbacks (3-1, 1-1 SEC) had what otherwise would have been a touchdown-scoring drive for a 14-point lead in the second quarter flipped into an improbable, game-changing, fumble-recovery-scoop-then-lateral 98-yard touchdown return by the Aggies. The play was part of A&M’s 23 unanswered points bridging the second and third quarters that sent Arkansas into the fourth quarter trailing by two scores, 23-14.

After opening the final period with a touchdown drive to pull within 23-21, the Hogs did enough defensively to force a 53-yard field goal attempt by A&M that was wide left giving the ball back to Arkansas for a potential game winning drive with 6:30 remaining. After moving 48 yards on 6 plays to the A&M 16-yard line, a poor snap inside the red zone resulted in the Hogs recovering their own fumble for a 9-yard loss to set up a 3rd-and-14 at the Aggies’ 25-yard line with 2:20 to play. Two plays later on 4th-and-13 from the 24, sophomore kicker Cam Little clanged a 42-yard field goal attempt off the top of the right upright that bounced into the end zone with 1:30 remaining. The Aggies ran out the clock on offense to hang on for the win.

Not only did the Razorbacks fail to continue their unblemished course through the first third of their 2022 season, but they also fell short of establishing more lofty milestones relative to the program’s turnaround under third-year head coach Sam Pittman.

So here they are, the stats and trends that matter from Arkansas’ week four loss …

First, the big-picture program trends (key stats from the game to follow)

– The Hogs dropped from first- to fifth-place in the SEC West standings behind the Aggies, Alabama, LSU, and Auburn who each stand 1-0 in the early going in league play. No. 1 Georgia, No. 8 Kentucky, and No. 11 Tennessee are tied for first place in the East at 1-0 each.

– Arkansas failed to start 2-0 in SEC play for the 16th consecutive season. The last time the Hogs won their first two league games was in 2006 when Houston Nutt’s team won its first 7 SEC matchups before losing 31-26 to LSU on Nov. 24 in the regular-season finale in Little Rock.

– Arkansas will host second-ranked Alabama at Don W. Reynolds Razorbacks Stadium next Saturday, Oct. 1, at 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS. The Hogs have lost 15 consecutive games against the Tide, all coming since the first season that Nick Saban took over at ‘Bama in 2007.

– The game against Alabama will be the Hogs’ second in the first five weeks of the season against a team that competed in the 2021-22 College Football Playoffs final four. Their first such matchup was in the season-opener on Sept. 3 against then-No. 23 Cincinnati, a 31-24 win for the Hogs.

– The Football Hogs dropped to 42-34-3 all-time against the Aggies, which now includes A&M having won 10 of the last 11 games in the series going back to when it joined the SEC in 2012. the Hogs’ lone win in that stretch came last season, 20-10. 

– Arkansas failed in its attempt to start 4-0 in each of the last two seasons. The last time the Hogs began 4-0 in each of back-to-back seasons was 1988-89.

– The Razorbacks lost for the first time in their last six games going back to the final two contests of last season (includes the Outback Bowl win over Penn State in January). They’re now 12-5 in their last 17 games dating back to the start of last season.

– Pittman slipped to 15-12 overall through his first 27 games at Arkansas, yet it remains the best start for a Head Hog through his first 27 games since Bobby Petrino also started his stint as Head Hog with a 15-12 mark (2008, 2009, and the first two games of 2010). Pittman remains two wins away from moving into a two-way tie for 12th place in all-time wins at Arkansas with Jack Mitchell (17-12 in three seasons at UA, 1955-57). 

– The Hogs dropped to 1-1 against ranked teams on the season, 3-4 against ranked teams since the start of last season (includes a 1-1 mark against the Aggies), and 4-9 overall against ranked opponents since Pittman’s inaugural campaign in 2020.

– The Football Hogs are now 2-4 as a ranked team competing against ranked teams under Pittman, and they’re 7-5 overall as a ranked team under Pittman.

– The Razorbacks are now 0-1 away from home on the season, 2-4 away from home since the start of the 2021 campaign (includes a 2-1 mark in neutral-site games), and 3-8 away from home overall in three seasons under Pittman. The overall mark includes a 2-7 away-from-home record against ranked teams.

– The Hogs entered Saturday’s tilt against A&M as a Top-10-ranked team for a second consecutive week, a first since the 2012 campaign. Now ranked No. 20, the Razorbacks enter game five against ‘Bama as a ranked team since the start of the season, which had not happened at Arkansas since 2011 (Petrino’s fourth and final season as Head Hog).

– With two non-conference games remaining — at 19th-ranked BYU on Oct. 15 and home against Liberty on Nov. 5 — Arkansas is unbeaten (7-0) in non-conference games under Pittman, which includes a 2-0 record against ranked non-conference opponents as well as the Hogs’ 24-10 win over unranked Penn State in the Outback Bowl last season. Since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, no other Razorbacks head coach started unbeaten through his first seven non-conference games. In fact, the last Arkansas coach to do so was Lou Holtz (1977-1978).

Key stats from 10th-ranked Arkansas’ 23-21 loss to No. 23 Texas A&M

– Biggest stat of the game was turnovers (1-0 in favor of A&M) and points-off-turnovers (6-0 in favor of A&M). After starting the season plus-4 in turnovers (5-1) and plus-18 in points-off-turnovers (21-3) through their first two games, the Hogs were minus-4 in turnovers (4-0) and minus-17 in points-off-turnovers (16-0) in their last two games.

– After coming back from double-digit deficits twice last week in a 38-27 win over FCS-member Missouri State — including digging out of a 10-point hole with 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter — Arkansas was unable to overcome a 9-point deficit in the fourth quarter against A&M. Including the loss against the Aggies and the win against Missouri State, the Hogs have now scored 28 unanswered fourth-quarter points. The Hogs have outscored their four opponents by a combined 58-24 in the fourth quarter.

– The Hogs out-gained A&M in total yards (415 to 343), passing yards (171 to 151), and rushing yards (244 to 192) while holding advantages in first downs (24 to 15), third-down conversions (6-of-15 compared to 4-of-12), penalties (3 for 30 yards compared to 9 for 65 yards), and time-of-possession (30:34 compared to 29:26).

– Arkansas was leading 14-0 and had forced four consecutive 3-and-outs defensively to open the game when A&M running back Devon Achane ripped off a 63-yard run from the Aggies 7-yard line to the Hogs’ 30-yard line early in the second quarter. That one play went for more rushing yards than Arkansas had given up for entire games against both South Carolina and Missouri State the previous two weeks. The Aggies capped the 93-yard drive with a touchdown to pull within 14-7 while serving as the first points in a 23-unanswered-points scoring run that held up until the early stages of the fourth quarter.

– Arkansas’ offense was once again fairly balanced in terms of passing yardage (171) and rushing yardage (244 equaled the season average of 243.7 rushing yards per game), but the Hogs were top-heavy on running plays as they finished with 54 carries versus only 19 pass attempts. And for the first time this season, junior quarterback KJ Jefferson and sophomore running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders did NOT combine for a decisive 1-2 punch (more on that just below).

– Sanders, the SEC’s leading rusher with 440 yards on 66 carries through three games coming into the weekend, was somewhat limited in carries with a season-low of 17 as he finished with a season-low 68 yards on the ground while failing to surpass the 100-yard rushing threshold for the first time this season. He also failed to score for the first time since the season-opener against Cincy. Despite his lapse in production, Sanders is more than halfway to a 1,000-yard rushing season (508 yards] while averaging 6.1 yards per carry with 3 rushing touchdowns. He also has 8 receptions for 117 yards and a receiving touchdown through four games, giving him 625 all-purpose yards and 4 total touchdowns.

– Jefferson was once again a dual-threat producer — 12-of-19 passing for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns to go with 18 carries for a season-high 105 yards and 1 touchdown plus a lost fumble (his third of the season, and it was a back-breaker as it was on an ill-advised dive attempt from the 3-yard-line on first-and-goal that turned into the aforementioned 98-yard scoop-lateral-and-score by A&M’s defense). Jefferson notched his second-career 100-yard rushing game as a Hog. Combined through Arkansas’ first four games, Jefferson is 67-of-97 through the air (69.1%) for 941 passing yards (235.3 per game), 8 touchdowns, and 1 interception to go with 64 carries for 274 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. That adds up to 1,215 total yards and 12 total touchdowns for Jefferson through four games. He’s reached at least 1 passing touchdown and 1 rushing touchdown in a game for the seventh time in his Arkansas career, and he’s had at least one rushing touchdown in each of his last five games going back to last season.

– Aside from Jefferson and Sanders, five other Hogs combined for 80 rushing yards on 18 carries. Sophomore AJ Green had 9 totes for 36 yards, and junior Dominique Johnson made his 2022 season debut coming off an injury sustained last season as he contributed 32 rushing yards on 5 carries (6.4 yards per carry). Freshman Rashod Dubinion ran twice for 17 yards, which included a 14-yard burst that stood as the longest run by any Hog running back.

– Senior wide receiver Warren Thompson had Arkansas’ biggest play through the air, a 56-yard touchdown reception from Jefferson in the first quarter that staked the Hogs to a 14-0 lead. Senior Jadon Haselwood tallied a season-high-matching 5 receptions for 56 yards. Sophomore Ketron Jackson, Jr., had 1 catch for 32 yards that went for a touchdown to put Arkansas ahead 7-0 in the early stages of the first quarter.

– Defensively for the first time this season, Arkansas held an opponent below 400 yards of total offense (343) and below 325 yards in the passing game (151), but the Hogs yielded a season-worst 192 rushing yards on 34 carries for a season-worst 5.5 yards per carry. In the three games before Saturday, Arkansas had given up a combined total of 205 rushing yards on a collective 92 carries (2.2 yards per carry).

– Arkansas came in as the nation’s leader in sacks (17) following an eight-sack performance against Missouri State last weekend, and the Hogs recorded three sacks against the Aggies. Linebacker Drew Sanders came in tied for No. 1 in the nation with sacks (5.5), and he recorded a half-sack on A&M’s first drive of the game as he went on to finish with 4 assisted tackles and 1 pass breakup. Senior linebacker Bumper Pool led the team with 7 tackles (including 5 solo) to go with 1 pass breakup and 1 quarterback hurry. Junior defensive back Myles Slusher returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with injury to record 6 tackles (including 4 solo) with 1 tackle-for-loss to go with 1 pass breakup and 1 quarterback hurry.

– Special teams were far from special this week. After an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that gave Arkansas the lead for good last week, Bryce Stephens was credited with 2 punt returns for minus-1 yard and a muffed punt that the Hogs recovered deep in their own territory. Little was 0-for-1 on field goals (the aforementioned missed potential 42-yard game-winner late), but he did convert on all three PAT’s as he’s a perfect 18-of-18 on extra points for the season. Punter Max Fletcher averaged 36.3 yards on six punts with a long of 47 yards, and though two of his punts resulted in the Aggies starting possessions inside their own 20-yard-line, two more went for only 25 and 29 yards with A&M taking over at their 32- and 39-yard lines, respectively.