FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ descriptions of its offensive game plans have become monotonous. Establish the run, grind it out, win time of possession, let the offensive line and running backs impose their will against the opponent.
That plan, which failed miserably in a Week 2 loss to TCU, should be thrown out the window this week. The Razorbacks should instead look to air it out when the annual Southwest Classic against Texas A&M kicks off at 11 a.m. in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday.
Sure, Arkansas’ wide receivers have been mostly ineffective through two games this season. The group has totaled just 15 catches for 184 yards with six receivers recording a reception so far. Considering the opponents were Florida A&M (an FCS school) and TCU (gave up 12 catches for 231 yards against SMU receivers last week), the numbers from Arkansas’ receivers are causing distress in Fayetteville.
But turning to the passing game for success Saturday has far more to do with Texas A&M than Arkansas.
The Aggies have allowed six opposing receivers to break the 100-yard mark in three games this season. Only one of those games has been against a Power 5 opponent (UCLA in Week 1). They’re also giving up an average of 324 passing yards per contest. For perspective, that average would’ve ranked No. 126 out of 128 FBS teams last season.
On the flip side, the Aggies have been outstanding against the run. They’ve allowed just 77 yards per game in that department. Continually trying to establish the run against such an opponent would be foolish. The Hogs should use the pass to open up the run for once. Not the other way around.
What’s wrong with Texas A&M’s pass defense?
At least some of the Aggies’ coverage issues can be attributed to injuries.
Charles Oliver, a starting cornerback, did not suit up last Saturday against Louisiana. His status against Arkansas is uncertain. Senior cornerback Nick Harvey is likely out for the season after offseason knee surgery. Donovan Wilson, a senior and returning starter at nickelback, is also likely lost for the season after having foot surgery earlier this month.
These injuries resulted in Texas A&M starting two freshmen — Myles Jones and Debione Renfro — in the defensive backfield last week.
Time is now for Arkansas’ wide receivers to step up
This is the perfect opportunity for senior Jared Cornelius to assert himself as the top target everyone thought he would be this season. So far, he hasn’t been getting it done with as many catches (2) as drops.
Coach Bret Bielema said Monday the staff is narrowing down the rotation among receivers this week. The idea is to help build more continuity with quarterback Austin Allen and get the passing game out of its funk. Along with Cornelius, Jordan Jones, Jonathan Nance and Deon Stewart are getting the majority of reps.
Nance had his breakout moment against TCU with a 49-yard touchdown catch and leads the team in receptions (6) and yards (100). If the Hogs play this one smart, he’ll receive plenty of targets Saturday.
As for Jones and Stewart, this is their opportunity to prove they deserve the playing time they’ve been given. That’s something they haven’t yet done. Both ran an incorrect route at least once against TCU to draw the ire of Allen. Stewart also fumbled on a kickoff return and dropped a pass in the defeat.
If Arkansas’ receivers can’t get going against Texas A&M, a fourth consecutive loss in games against FBS opponents and sixth consecutive in the Southwest Classic is likely imminent. But at the very least, they should be given the opportunity within the game plan to have a huge day.