Sometimes all you can do is say “good game” and move on.
The Hogs shot themselves in the foot several times on Saturday, but the real reason for the 42-31 loss to rival Texas A&M was simply the Aggies being better. The Hogs aren’t built to beat what Texas A&M does on offense, and it showed at Kyle Field.
This isn’t really a bad loss or even a setback, and I echo Jacob’s comments from last night: don’t jump off the bandwagon. Texas A&M really came into this game in a unique situation. They overpaid Jimbo Fisher in an attempt to climb above Auburn and LSU to challenge Alabama in the SEC West, but the big wins weren’t pouring in. After getting drilled by the Tide for the third straight, the narrative was that the Aggies’ return on investment for Fisher was not good. However, a 41-38 win over Florida caused pundits to take a second look at the Aggies’ schedule and realize they could actually finish 9-1 and even make the playoff if some top-5 teams stumble. So now A&M is trying to justify that hype. I thought they stated their case just fine Saturday.
From the Hogs’ perspective, it’s fair to say that the Aggies are significantly better than Tennessee, Missouri, and LSU, so there may still be some wins left on Arkansas’ schedule. Before we get there, there are some positives to take away from Saturday.
Grading the Hogs
- Offense: B+. Best game of the season for the offense. The run game worked, thanks to some new open date twists added by Kendal Briles. The pass game could have been better but it wasn’t awful. The Aggies have a strong pass rush, but the line needs to protect better.
- Defense: C-. The Aggies are simply built to take advantage of what Arkansas is doing on defense. Kellen Mond is good enough to beat you when he’s not under pressure, and he wasn’t under pressure at all on Saturday. The Hogs still had some chances to end drives prematurely, but it just didn’t happen. All six Aggie drives to get inside the Arkansas 40 ended in touchdowns.
- Special Teams: D. A big punt return. Two missed field goals. Special teams continues to be a weakness. For the record, I was not a fan of Sam Pittman’s game management that led to those two second-quarter field goal attempts. That said, an SEC kicker should make 50% of attempts in the 48-50 range.
Advanced Stats Recap
(NOTE: Confused by any of these stats? Check out the advanced stats glossary.)
- Arkansas had its best rushing game of the season... by a huge margin... against a good run defense. The bad run game performance against Ole Miss continues to look more and more like an outlier.
- As we discussed in the Open Date Stats Study, Feleipe Franks was very good against Ole Miss on standard downs passing. That continued Saturday, and the run game coming along helped the Hogs post their best leverage rate of the season: 73% of snaps came on standard downs, so the offense stayed on schedule...
- Unfortunately, when the offense fell behind, things got ugly. Only 27% of snaps were in passing downs, but those didn’t go well. The biggest issue in this game was not Franks, but the pass rush.
- The defense did better than I expected at containing the run. Texas A&M boasts an extremely efficient rushing attack, but the Aggies didn’t deviate from their pass-first strategy. Their run game was decent but not amazing.
- It didn’t matter, because the pass game lit Arkansas’ secondary up. The loss of Jalen Catalon to targeting early in the game really hurt. Hudson Clark had a rough first start at field cornerback, and the defensive ends also had a rough go against an elite offensive line.
As expected, the Aggies shortened the game, so the 73-point final score was reflective of big offensive performances, not a large number of possessions. Both teams ran well, but Texas A&M also threw well and got some value from special teams.
Both offenses were ultra-efficient. The Aggies were moderately explosive, while the Hogs didn’t get as many explosive pass plays as we said they needed in the Stats Study.
After opening the season with two bad standard downs performances (Georgia and Mississippi State), the Hogs have improved for three straight weeks. Against Auburn, the Hogs threw well but didn’t run well on standard downs. Same story against Ole Miss. In this game, the Hogs both ran and threw well on standard downs, posting an eye-popping 70% standard downs success rate. Unfortunately, the standard downs deep shots that are a feature of the Briles offense haven’t been there. That’s fine (the purpose of the deep shots is to back the defense out of the box, so they’re working), but it leaves the offense with less margin for error.
While the standard downs offense is improving, the passing downs offense is declining. After opening the season with three solid passing down performances, Franks has now struggled on passing downs in two straight games. A quarter of his passing down dropbacks ended in sacks, so that’s a problem.
On the other side of the ball, the Aggies were good on both standard and passing downs. The Hogs did an okay job of getting to third down, but a +26% marginal third down conversion rate (expected given distance: 37.6%, actual: 63.6%) sealed the deal. That’s what happens when you have a veteran quarterback and a line to protect him.
The Hogs weren’t super explosive on the ground, but they were very efficient. Fully half of all rushing attempts gained 6+ yards. The Hogs were dead last in the FBS in that stat entering the game. Keep running the ball like that and there will be more wins to come.
Texas A&M ran well as we expected but I thought the Aggies would do more damage on the ground. Overall, the Hogs contained the run well, holding Isaiah Spiller to a rather pedestrian game (21 carries, 82 yards).
Mond has proven to be error-prone over his career, but the Hogs just couldn’t force the errors. Texas A&M knows how to protect their QB, not just with the line, but also with play calling. The Aggies resisted the urge to go run-heavy against Arkansas’ inviting defense, instead giving Mond constant rhythm throws to keep him fresh and focused. Grant Morgan dropped an easy interception in the second quarter, but otherwise Mond avoided mistakes.
Franks avoided mistakes too and was pretty efficient through the air, posting his second-best passing success rate of the year, but the big pass plays just weren’t there. I wrote that the Hogs probably needed 300 passing yards to be in it at the end, and the Hogs ended up with 239. If those two second quarter drives that ended in missed field goals had ended in passing touchdowns, the Hogs would have had 300 passing yards and a win (or at least a close finish).
The difference between 2-8 and 4-6/5-5 comes down to the Tennessee game. The Vols have lost three straight and are reeling after once being viewed as an SEC East challenger. Without a solid run game, the Vols are a better matchup for the Razorback defense.