Arkansas’ defense key in stopping Texas A&M’s hold

Published: Wednesday, September 22, 2021

FAYETTEVILLE — Finally these Arkansas Razorbacks have become less defensive about their losing streak to Texas A&M, and more confident their defense could cure it.

Oddsmakers still deem it Arkansas uphill. The nationally No. 7 Aggies opened Tuesday a 5 1/2-point favorite to extend to 10 their annual SEC West game mastery over Arkansas in Saturday’s SEC opener for both teams at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.

Matching A&M’s 3-0 start and big game exceeding it thanks to dominating then 15th-ranked Texas, the Razorbacks will head to Arlington, Texas, with nationally ranked credentials of their own.

They are 16th in the AP poll after beating Rice 38-17, Texas 40-21 and Georgia Southern 45-10. They couldn’t have done it without a winning mesh of offense, defense and special teams, but it starts with defense.

Defense kept the Hogs in the game off an offensive and special teams slow start that backed Arkansas into a 17-7 early third quarter corner against Rice. Arkansas’ defense stunned Texas by pitching a 16-0 first half shutout.

The Aggies finished fourth nationally while 9-1 last year. They return running back Isaiah Spiller, tight end Jalen Wydermyer and receiver Ainias Smith. That trio totaled five touchdowns in A&M’s 42-31 victory over Arkansas last year at the Aggies’ Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

But these Razorbacks tout their second-year Barry Odom-coordinated defense. They believe they can dictate Saturday’s game over A&M’s past of dictating the game to them.

“Play our game,” Arkansas superb safety Jalen Catalon said of planning for A&M. “Don’t worry about the streak. Don’t worry about what we’ve done. Just worry about playing our game. I think if we put the right focus on the right thing, that’s just winning the ball game and nothing that happened in the past, then I think we’re going to be fine. I know Coach Odom and the whole defensive staff is going to have a great game plan for us. Just keep doing what we’ve been doing and not lose sight of what we’re trying to do. If we do that, we won’t have a problem at all.”

Tre Williams, the defensive end joining second-year coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks as a transfer after lettering 2017-19 at Missouri while Odom head coached the Tigers, asserts these Razorbacks aren’t the same ones his Mizzou teams beat annually.

“I heard that we (Arkansas) haven’t been 3-0 since 2016,” Williams said. “But this is a different team. This is a different coach. This is a different preparation. This is just a different hunger that we have. So I’m ready for Texas A&M.”

The Hogs know they likely can’t survive nine penalties against A&M that they played through against Georgia Southern.

“We can’t have those,” Catalon said. “Especially when we start playing in the SEC. Because every week you’re facing somebody that’s going to capitalize off those.”

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