When football coaches watch film, they are not always just looking at their next opponent.
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman noticed something that then-No. 13 Miami did in its 17-9 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday. And Pittman sounded like he may go to school on that when his No. 10 Razorbacks (3-0) play No. 23 Texas A&M (2-1) at 7 p.m. eastern Saturday on ESPN at Arlington, Texas, in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
The Hurricanes were averaging nearly five yards a carry on the ground, finishing with 175 yards on 36 carries, but abandoned the run game for the pass. Texas A&M is better against the pass – No. 9 in the nation and No. 2 in the SEC with 147.3 yards allowed a game – than it is against the run – No. 83 in the nation and No. 12 in the SEC with 154.3 yards surrendered a game.
Appalachian State, you may remember, rammed it down the Aggies’ throat in a 17-10 loss on Sept. 10 with 181 yards on 52 carries and expertly kept the ball away from Texas A&M with 41 minutes of possession.
Hurricanes Fell In Love With The Pass
“Miami was having success running the football, but have wideouts they wanted to get the ball to,” Pittman said Monday. “Miami tried to throw the ball quite a bit.”
Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke threw it 41 times, completing 21 for 217 yards and no touchdowns. The Hurricanes, 2-1 and now No. 25, outgained A&M, 392 yards to 264, but were held to three field goals and missed a field goal and had one blocked. Meanwhile, Miami rushed 36 times for 175 yards for an average of 4.9 yards a carry. Tailback Henry Parrish Jr. gained 85 yards on 16 carries, and tailback Jaylan Knighton added 77 on 14 rushes.
Miami played to Texas A&M’s strength – its secondary – instead of to its weakness – its run defense.
“They’re really good in the back end,” Pittman said. “They’ve got a lot of strengths. One of them is is their secondary.”
Arkansas Is Likely To Keep Running
Perhaps, first-year Miami coach Mario Cristobal was too tempted to pass. Texas A&M cornerback Brian George and safety Demani Richardson were both ejected for targeting in the first quarter, and Coach Jimbo Fisher had suspended freshman defensive backs Denver Harris and Smoke Bouie the night before the game. Harris and Bouie had been in the first team rotation this season.
Arkansas is No. 2 in the SEC and No. 10 in the nation in rushing with 243.7 yards a game. Pittman, a former offensive line coach, will likely not move away from the run if he finds success at it Saturday. Arkansas tailback Raheim Sanders is fourth in the nation in rushing with 440 yards on 66 carries. He gained 167 on 22 carries in the Razorbacks’ 38-27 come-from-behind win over Missouri State on Saturday.
And Pittman has returning junior dual-threat starting quarterback KJ Jefferson, who has gained 169 yards on 46 carries on the season. Jefferson is also third in the SEC and No. 18 nationally in passing efficiency at 176.3 on 55 completions in 78 attempts for 770 yards and six touchdowns.
“He can hurt you either way,” Pittman said. “Going into last year’s game, our main concern was, ‘How are we gong to run KJ?'”
Jefferson completed 7 of 15 passes for 212 yards in a 20-10 win over Texas A&M last year with touchdowns of 85 and 48 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter with a minor knee injury. He also rushed eight time for 50 yards.
“He’s very confident throwing the football now,” Pittman said.
Jefferson completed 19 of 31 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Missouri State and rushed nine time for 40 yards. But he did most of his damage in the second half as Arkansas trailed 17-14 at halftime and by 27-17 in the fourth quarter to the 25-point underdog Bears. He hit 10 of 16 passes in the second half for 148 yards with a 73-yard touchdown to Sanders to cut the Hogs’ deficit to 27-24. Jefferson rushed five times for 31 yards in the second half with a 1-yard touchdown for the 38-27 final.
“He’s dynamic. He’s strong,” Fisher said. “Jefferson makes it go. He’s one of the best in the business.”
Fisher will have suspended defensive backs Harris and Bouie back Saturday along with wide receivers Chris Marshall and Evan Stewart, who were also suspended for the game Friday.
The Razorbacks fortunately got an 82-yard punt return from Bryce Stephens for its first lead over Missouri State at 31-27 with 9:16 to play before Jefferson’s 1-yard touchdown run put the game away at 38-27.
“We’ve got to get him revved up early,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to get him more involved in the game early, whether that be running or throwing. I don’t think we really called a significant run to him, where it was just his run, until the third quarter. We said, ‘We better get him involved,’ even though we were running the ball decent.”