Hogs stroll through Cowboys Stadium, brace for A&M passing attack
FAYETTEVILLE - At Wisconsin from 2006-2012 and at Arkansas the past two seasons, Bret Bielema doesn't do a Friday walkthrough at away games.
Hog HC BRET BIELEMA
But he makes an exception this week.
The Razorbacks will walk through Friday at the most futuristic football stadium on the planet, the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, that Bielema and others call "Jerry World" in deference to Jerry Jones, the Cowboys owner and Razorback guard on the 1964 national championship team.
The Razorbacks (3-1, 0-1) and the AP sixth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies (4-0, 1-0) will play their SEC West game at 2:30 p.m on CBS national TV.
Bielema has only watched a Cowboys game there, and most of the staff and players joining the team after 2011 haven't been there at all.
Fourth-year junior safety Rohan Gaines traveled to Cowboys Stadium in 2011 as a redshirting freshman when Arkansas overcame the Aggies 42-38 in their last non-conference matchup before A&M joined the SEC in 2012. Gaines said the walk-through is a must to prevent a first-time awe on game day.
"It is a wow factor," Gaines said. "You can be out there in the field and you still are going to be looking up that screen. It's something we just have to look at Friday, and come Saturday, be focused and ready to play."
Their pass defense better not have their eyes on the big screen, Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith and defensive backfield coach Clay Jennings assert.
A&M quarterback Kenny Hill's knack for catching defenders' eyes peeking in the wrong place against the Aggies' Hurry-Up Spread offense has led to his incredible 97-of-139 completions for 1,359 yards and 13 touchdowns with one interception, Smith and Jennings say.
"It all starts with their quarterback," Smith said. "He does a great job seeing the field and he spreads the ball around."
And the Aggies average snapping the ball about every 20 seconds.
"We have got to play a lot of guys on our end to make sure we keep up the tempo and can cover the guys they have in the game," Smith said after Thursday's practice. "We have to keep a lot of fresh bodies in there all day long."
Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchel, who came off the injured list in the third game to play well at nickel against Texas Tech, might line up in a variety of secondary spots Saturday.
"Tevin is certainly a big part of the plan whether we use him in the slot or we can use him out on the edge," Smith said. "He is a little bit longer guy for us and hopefully can give us some matchup things inside and outside. So we're excited to get him going this week in this type of game."
Smith said the Aggies' passing game is augmented by an Aggies rushing attack averaging 207 yards in routs of then nationally No. 9 season-opening SEC foe South Carolina followed by nonconference routs of Lamar, Rice and SMU.
"Their running game really comes from their offensive line," Smith said. "I think their offensive line does a great job protection wise and in the run game, and they do a great job of spreading you out and trying to make you thin in the box."
AGGIES D NO JOKE
A&M's defense, often average to subpar last year, has excelled so far.
"They're solid everywhere," said Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, a former co-assistant with A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin at Purdue. "It's hard to find those glaring holes that you can look for."
A&M's defense improved in part by a couple of true freshmen, defensive end Myles Garrett (5.5 sacks and 5.0 QB hurries) and safety Armani Watts (20 tackles, an interception, three pass breakups and two stops behind the line).
Garrett has been for the Aggies what Arkansas preseason All-SEC senior defensive end Trey Flowers (22 tackles with four behind the line and a forced fumble, pass breakup and quarterback hurry) has been for the Razorbacks.
"I call him a greasy guy," Chaney said, explaining of Garrett. "He's just hard to get a fit on. He's long. He's fast. He's smart. He's instinctive and he creates a lot of problems. Every defense would like to have those game-wreckers. He has the ability to wreck your game plan if you don't know where he is."
On the A&M side, Sumlin has praised Arkansas on both sides of the ball, especially noting that the Arkansas running attack, which leads the SEC, isn't all there is to Arkansas' offense.
"We talk about their running backs (Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams), who are tremendous players," Sumlin said this week in College Station, Texas. "But I think (Arkansas junior quarterback) Brandon Allen has really improved as a passer. You can't score that many points (219 in four games) running the ball all the time."