Texas A&M, after having two weeks to shake off any remaining dust against Ball State and Nevada, gets ready to open up SEC play against the Arkansas Razorbacks. While Arkansas certainly hasn't shown itself to be the defensive power that it was in 2014, the recent spat between Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury and Arkansas' Bret Bielema has added some extra fire to the skillet. Kevin Sumlin and the Texas A&M coaching staff were asked about these exchanges and their expectations for the game this weekend.
Sumlin on the fussin' and a feudin' between Kingsbury and Bielema:
"I talk to Kliff and it shouldn't surprise anybody since we spent five years together and he did a great job for us here and at Houston. It's not uncommon to have a conversation with the opponent's and next opponent's head coach. What's going on between those two guys is going on between those two guys. That's OK. I'll just be at the Texas High School Coaches' thing this year so I can referee. I've known both of those guys a while." - Kevin Sumlin
Preparing for Arkansas
Since the renewal of the Arkansas/Texas A&M rivalry in 2009, both teams have held 3-game winning streaks, putting the current record at 3-3. While last year's game ended with A&M winning 35-28 in overtime, the Razorbacks coming into Dallas this year look nothing like last year's squad. Sporting a 1-2 record, coming off of losses to Texas Tech and Toledo, this year's game against the Razorbacks looks like a blowout on paper. The Texas A&M coaching staff is trying to look away from that stat sheet, however, and focus on what this game is: the start of play in the SEC.
"That was an overtime game last year that took a lot out of our football team, and they took it and moved forward and they were a really good football team at the end of the year. For us, this is the beginning of conference play and that's the reality of it. Nothing's changed from our point of view about how we view Arkansas. The first game in the SEC and playing where we play, it's going to be a big-time atmosphere and a game that both of us need to win." - Kevin Sumlin
One of the biggest contrasts between these two teams in 2015 is their offensive lines and defensive lines. Texas A&M currently leads the SEC in sacks with 15, while Arkansas leads the SEC in sacks allowed at 0. Defensive Coordinator John Chavis was asked about whether or not he's using Arkansas' ability to keep it's QB clean as extra motivation for a defensive-line that's currently one of the top in the nation:
"I think there's a lot of factors. Obviously they do a great job protecting. Their passing scheme allows them to get the ball out of his hands quickly. I'll tell you after the game Saturday if we had the right idea. I'm not going to give them anything to think on." - John Chavis
While Arkansas' defense has looked miserable at times, most of their issues have come in the secondary. The Razorbacks will bring a rushing defense that has allowed only 103 yds/game, going against an Aggie rushing attack averaging 227 yds/game. Offensive Coordinator, Jake Spavital, was asked about whether or not he's seeing improvement in the A&M running game over the past few weeks:
"The run game's been great. I thought we've shown huge improvement from last season, and I think you'll continue to see that evolve a bit. Everyone's concerned about the depth, but Tra Carson is a workhorse in there. With James and Brandon Williams and I still feel confident in Brice and Kwame Etwi coming in to spell, we've got a plan and I feel pretty confident in the run game right now." - Jake Spavital
If Arkansas has a chance to win this game, it's going to have to come on the arm of Senior QB Brandon Allen. That will likely be a tall order for Arkansas, as currently Texas A&M is the #3 defense in Passing S&P, and #1 in Passing Success Rate (meaning the defense yields less yards than are deemed necessary to be a successful use of the down by the offense). Jake Spavital notes that Arkansas' ability to convert yards into points is what has held them back thus far in 2015:
"Brandon Allen has been a good quarterback. Last year, he was one of the few guys who had a low interception-to-touchdown ratio, one of the lowest in the country. He's been efficient as a quarterback. A lot of what they do comes off play-action, they've got a great running game as you know, the biggest offensive lines in the country, one of if not the best tight ends in the country — they get him loose on crossing routes, deep routes. They've got weapons. He's been efficient, that hasn't been an issue.
They've had issues in the red zone, but they've gone up and down between the 20s. He's not turning the ball over. He was a better quarterback last year and he's a better quarterback this year." - Jake Spavital
The game against Arkansas will be John Chavis' first game against an SEC opponent after moving from LSU to Texas A&M, and he was asked today about whether or not the SEC is the most physical conference in college football:
"I've got to say yes. Obviously there are other teams that are very physical, and they play that way and coach that way and that's the way football should be played. But when you get into the SEC, it's the best conference in the country and there's no doubt about that. Look at the NFL, the players are coming from the SEC. ... I'm excited about my first conference game with Texas A&M." - John Chavis
Comparisons to Texas Tech
Kliff Kingsbury, former Texas A&M Offensive Coordinator under Kevin Sumlin, now Texas Tech Head Coach, set the stage for comparisons to be made between A&M and Tech after stating that "[Bielema] got his a** kicked twice in a row, and probably next week by A&M." Jake Spavital was asked about the comparisons between the offensive squads on each team in today's press conference:
"You can definitely take a lot. The personnel between Texas A&M and Texas Tech are a bit different; Kliff has a lot of speed on the field. You can see how he tried to expose Arkansas in a lot of different ways. They're a real base defense. They're going to play sound, a quarters team. They play sound football and they'll be in the right spots at the right time, so you've got to create mismatches with personnel to take advantage of these guys." - Jake Spavital
Jake Spavital on whether or not there are philosophical differences between A&M and Tech:
"Not really. They run the same sets we do. It's just about confidence in your personnel, and Kliff, he got the ball to his playmaker as much as he could. That's what you have to do against these teams." - Jake Spavital
Whether or not A&M's game plan includes getting the ball to it's playmakers is a wait-and-see at this point.
Press Conference Videos
HC Kevin Sumlin
OC Jake Spavital
DC John Chavis
OT Mike Matthews and RB Tra Carson
LB Otaro Alaka and DL Julien Obioha
(Special thanks to Beau Holder at TexAgs.com for posting press conference quotes)