Halloween is quickly approaching, and what better way to kick off the season than the classic tale of Jekyll and Hyde?
Only this is not a horror movie. The No. 10 Arkansas football team looks to improve to 4-0 for the second time in as many seasons Saturday in Arlington, Texas, when it takes on No. 23 Texas A&M inside AT&T Stadium in a matchup of two very inconsistent clubs.
To this point, each team has had its share of good moments, but both have combined them with some truly bad stretches.
Saturday’s matchup will largely depend on which team is able to put together the most consistent performance.
“We have some areas that we have to fix,” Razorback head coach Sam Pittman said in Monday’s SEC teleconference. “To put it in a nutshell, we have to cover better, we have to tackle better and we have to hold on to the football.”
This week’s return of junior defensive back Myles Slusher — out since the season opener, in which he sustained a concussion — should alleviate some of the problems that have plagued the Arkansas defense so far this season.
Slusher — who played well in place of injured redshirt junior All-American Jalen Catalon last season — returns to a defensive backfield that has shown flashes of brilliance with the ballhawking play of junior defensive back Dwight McGlothern but has all too often found itself out of position, leading to big plays through the air for opposing offenses.
In fact, as a unit, Arkansas’ pass defense ranks 131st out of 131 FBS programs.
The ability of the Razorback defensive front and linebacking corps — responsible for a Southeastern Conference-leading 17 sacks — to put pressure on Aggie quarterback Max Johnson is paramount to Arkansas’ secondary having a chance against a talented set of A&M skill position players.
Where Arkansas’ deficiencies are largely defensive, the Aggies’ woes have come on the offensive side of the football. Inconsistent line play has kept ultra-talented running back Devon Achane largely in check, while quarterback play had largely been subpar with Haynes King under center.
Johnson was named starting quarterback prior to A&M’s game Saturday against then No. 13 Miami, and as a result, the offense executed with much more efficiency. The Aggies won that game 17-9.
“We played very hard all the way through and made more critical plays at critical times in the game in which we had to do it,” Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said
Wednesday during his weekly teleconference. “Our execution was better at those critical times."
So which version of the two teams will show up Saturday night?
Will the Razorbacks, who squeaked out a way-too-hard-fought win over FCS foe Missouri State — in a game in which they found themselves looking at a 17-0 deficit — take the field, or will it be the team that mauled South Carolina on both sides of the ball?
Will the Texas A&M team that lost at home to Appalachian State show up, or will the team that took down No. 13 rumble into the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium?
Those answers will come at 6 p.m. Saturday. The matchup will be nationally televised on ESPN and stream concurrently on the ESPN app.
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