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Texas A&M Football

Avoiding turnovers, running successfully key for Aggies against Arkansas

October 30, 2020

Texas A&M hopes to capitalize on its opportunities like Arkansas has.

The No. 8 Aggies (3-1) have a realistic opportunity at a 9-1 finish, a New Year’s Six bowl game and maybe even a spot in the College Football Playoff.

The next step toward that quest is defeating Arkansas (2-2), which is nothing if not opportunistic.

The Aggies and Razorbacks clash on Saturday night at 6:30 at Kyle Field.

“I think they compete extremely hard,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said of the Razorbacks. “I think they play well together as a team. Offense, defense; They complement each other. Special teams. They're creating a lot of turnovers on defense. They've created 13.”

“It's always been a big-time game. I can’t tell you why exactly they’re always close games. I feel like that’s just the type of competition that’s always in the SEC.”​​​​​​
- A&M quarterback Kellen Mond

The Razorbacks had endured 20 consecutive Southeastern Conference losses until forcing four turnovers — including a pick-six — in a 21-14 victory over Mississippi State.

Two weeks later, they snatched six interceptions and returned two for touchdowns in a 33-21 victory over Ole Miss.

“They play very well together within the scheme they do,” A&M quarterback Kellen Mond said. “They execute really well. It’s definitely going to take a full game for us to go in and play a big-time game in the SEC.”

Arkansas’ success isn’t completely dependent on forcing turnovers. The Razorbacks are playing much smarter, sound football under first-year coach Sam Pittman.

Quarterback Feleipe Franks, a transfer from Florida, has passed for 974 and eight touchdowns. Receivers Treylon Burks, De’Vion Warren and Mike Woods have big-play ability. Running back Rakeem Boyd has been slowed by a sore ankle but rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

But Arkansas’ run defense has been vulnerable. The Razorbacks allowed 259 rushing yards to Auburn and 242 to Ole Miss.

A&M is averaging 172.3 rushing yards behind sophomore running back Isaiah Spiller, who has exceeded 100 yards rushing in three games this season. The Aggies won all three.

A&M’s strategy should be clear: Run successfully and avoid turnovers. The first goal figures to be easy to attain. The second might not be.

Mond has had a problem with turnovers against Arkansas. He’s thrown four interceptions against the Razorbacks during his career. Last season, a fumbled handoff exchange from Mond to Spiller resulted in an Arkansas touchdown.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Kellen Mond is looking to improve to 4-0 against the Razorbacks in his career.

Those miscues have been a major factor in potential comfortable A&M victories coming down to the final minutes.

Last season, A&M’s 31-27 victory wasn’t assured until a pass from the Aggies’ 19-yard line fell incomplete in the final minute.

Donovan Wilson’s interception in the final minute secured a 24-7 A&M victory in 2018.

The Aggies prevailed in overtime in 2017, 2015 and 2014.

“It's always been a big-time game,” Mond said.  “I can’t tell you why exactly they’re always close games. I feel like that’s just the type of competition that’s always in the SEC.

“I think their defense looks better to me, and the chemistry they have and the way they’re playing. I look for another big-time game from both sides.”

Still, A&M figures to prevail again if turnovers against Arkansas’ opportunistic defense is avoided. Then, the Aggies can get a step closer to capitalizing on some opportunities of their own.

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Avoiding turnovers, running successfully key for Aggies against Arkansas

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