Arkansas’ opportunistic defense didn’t get a lot of chances Saturday night, Kellen Mond played maybe his best game in four seasons and A&M got a 42-31 win.
It really wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. The Razorbacks, who have lived off cashing in other teams’ mistakes through a 2-2 start, didn’t get a single turnover.
“We needed a few of those,” Sam Pittman said later.
Every time Barry Odom dialed up something with a blitz to try and disrupt Mond, the Aggies’ experienced offensive line at least slowed it down to where it was not effective.
And Mond didn’t panic.
“We’ve really been living on those,” Pittman said of the opponents’ turnovers. “We’ve been living on some goal-line stands, we’ve been living on some fourth-and-1’s, We just didn’t get them tonight … that’s all.”
That’s the fine edge this Hogs’ team is living on this year.
While they don’t quit for four full quarters and the want-to is there, they still need some help from teams with talent like A&M has piled up over the last few years. It was a stacked roster.
But the biggest difference was Mond. As he got his fourth win over the Hogs as a starter, he didn’t make the bad throws or reads he did in previous years that led to some really close games.
It wasn’t that hard to figure out what the problem for the Hogs defense was … they couldn’t get off the field on third down.
“We knew they had a very powerful offensive line and a good quarterback,” Pittman said later. “We couldn’t get to him. Obviously, we didn’t sack him.”
And Mond was making the correct decisions on third down this year. Before this game, the Hogs could usually count on him to try and force a pass, screw up a handoff … or something.
Not this year.
“They converted almost every third down until the last two or three drives of the game, so, it was just hard to get them off the field,” Pittman said. “I don’t know if they punted maybe a couple of times the entire game on offense.”
The Aggies punted on the opening possession of the game, then had six straight touchdown drives into the third quarter.
By then it was 42-17. Jimbo Fisher went into closing out the game mode while the Hogs didn’t give up and tacked on a couple of late touchdowns to make the score closer than the game really was.
Arkansas’ offense moved the ball. Feleipe Franks ran for 91 yards and Rakeem Boyd put up 100 on the Aggies, where he started his college career.
But when they got close it was self-inflicted penalties and mistakes that got the Hogs behind the Aggies’ offense. A couple of missed field goals by A.J. Reed killed any answers to A&M touchdowns and it got out of hand.
“We just left points out there,” Pittman said. “We drove the ball in between the red zones pretty good, then we’d get down there and we’d either stop ourselves or they’d make a good play or whatever it might be, a penalty or whatever it may be.”
That’s what teams that still have hopes for the College Football Playoff do (and right now the Aggies are completely a possibility for that if they keep winning).
The Hogs are still trying to figure out how to win games. They are getting better, but getting touchdowns in the red zone instead of field goal attempts could have made it 28-all at halftime, then you have a completely different discussion in both locker rooms.
Even 28-20 would have been different. Special teams have improved this year and Jack Lindsey going back to holding on placements has helped, but something was off on Reed’s first two attempts.
Warren’s Treylon Burks has become Franks’ go-to target while De’Vion Warren is good for a big play each game while Trey Knox pops his head out of witness protection occasionally to let folks know he’s still around.
“Seven catches for 117 yards and a couple of touchdowns,” Pittman said about Burks. “He’s finally healthy, I think he’s as healthy as he’s been all year, so we’re certainly glad for that. He had a nice ballgame.”
They also tried him running the ball, but that didn’t work out. Burks even attempted a pass that hit an Aggie defender in the back. He did make plays catching the ball, though, and fair-caught punts saving a ton of yardage.
Plus Franks showed some running skills. At times he looks like a flamingo running from a crowd and stumbling over a sidewalk, but Saturday night he was effective for 91 yards, including some scrambles that got the Hogs out of bad plays.
Franks ended up with a line of 23-of-31 passing for 239 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Hogs will win some games with that kind of production.
But not against the Aggies.
Especially when they play a near-perfect game.