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No. 7 Texas A&M’s defense is No. 1 in the nation in fewest points allowed (5.7 a game), fewest passing yards allowed (77.3 a game) and in efficiency against the pass (62.16 rating).
And No. 16 Arkansas (+4.5 on FanDuel) could be without two starting offensive linemen – senior right tackle Dalton Wagner (back) and junior center Ricky Stromberg (leg) – for the Southeastern Conference West clash at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS.
Neither have returned to practice this week.
“We’re going to go back to that mentality that all we got is all we need,” said Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, a former offensive line coach at Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, among other stops.
Senior Ty Clary was already rotating at right guard behind sophomore Beaux Limmer before replacing Wagner at right tackle. Later, he moved to center as Pittman and offensive line coach Cody Kennedy shuffled in new players.
“We moved around seven or eight guys,” Pittman said. “We have several offensive linemen who can play, but there’s a reason a No. 1 is a No. 1, and we certainly wish we could’ve gotten Wagner and Stromberg back. But we’ll have to wait and see.”
Pittman praised Kennedy for how he handled the situation.
“A good offensive line coach is ready for every situation thrown at him,” he said.
And Kennedy just became Arkansas’ offensive line coach last June when Brad Davis left for LSU at a strange time of year for job switching. But LSU had just fired offensive line coach James Cregg because of possible recruiting violations and hired Davis, a Baton Rouge native.
Kennedy had just been hired as tight ends coach and moved over. Then Pittman hired former Arkansas quarterback and NFL assistant Dowell Loggains to coach tight ends.
“I was so proud of Cody and that group, because he had them ready last week,” Pittman said. “If they (Stromberg and Wagner) can play, we sure as heck want them to, but we’re going to be prepared if they’re not able to.”
A possible starting five on the offensive line for Arkansas Saturday should Stromberg and Wagner not play could be senior Myron Cunningham at left tackle, junior Luke Jones at left guard, Clary at center, Limmer at right guard and sophomore Brady Latham at right tackle. Jones and Clary would be new starters.
The Aggies’ defense, which is also second in the SEC in fewest yards allowed at 239, will provide quite a challenge.
“Their defense is incredible,” Pittman said. “It’s a very physical group. I know who they have up front because I’ve lost to A&M trying to recruit them.”