Sun Belt Showdown: New Mexico State Aggies vs Arkansas Razorbacks
If Bret Bielema and the Hogs were thinking they’d catch their breath against Tyler Rogers and the New Mexico State Aggies, they have another think coming.
Hogs (1-2) and Aggies (2-2), Saturday, September 30th, 11AM on SEC Network
The Arkansas Razorbacks have a long and interesting relationship with the Sun Belt, playing a member of the conference 16 times since 2002. This year, the Hogs take a double Sun Belt dip, hosting the Aggies on Saturday and Coastal Carolina on November 4th. Yes, the Hogs will play everyone and anyone in the Sun Belt, save the one in its own state.
The only time the Sunny relationship turned sour on Arkansas was in 2012, when the ULM Warhawks, led by the immortal Kolten Browning, took down the Hogs in OT in Little Rock. That magic evening aside, the Hogs have enjoyed lopsided victories against what has mostly been the Sun Belt’s struggling teams (Why not Appalachian State? Or Troy? Or Ark – GETS CLOBBERED ON THE HEAD WITH A SOCK FULL OF NICKELS).
Saturday is set for a slightly different narrative. The New Mexico State Aggies, in its farewell tour of the Sun Belt, is explosive on offense and surprisingly disruptive on the defensive side. Doug Martin’s gunslingers have already put a scare in Arizona State and Troy. Do they have the firepower to take down an SEC bully?
Jaleel Scott is the best damn wide receiver in the Sun Belt
The preseason Sun Belt All Conference Teams failed to notice Scott, a massive 6-6, 215 senior who already has 369 yards and 4 TDs in 2017. Last year, the JUCO signee averaged 12 yards on 23 receptions. This year, he’s making circus freak catches against Arizona State while certifying QB Tyler Rogers as the most dangerous arm in the Sun Belt.
Despite its struggles, the Arkansas defense isn’t bad against the pass – the Hogs surrender 159 passing yards per game. But has Arkansas faced a tandem quite like Rogers and Scott? Add sophomore WR Izaiah Lottie to the fold (228 yards, 4 TDs), and you have a tandem on par or even better than the All Sun Belt duo Brandon Silvers enjoys at Troy.
That Aggie defense isn’t horrible anymore
Hey, guess which team leads the Sun Belt in sacks? Yeah, it’s New Mexico State, with 12. Guess who leads in picks? Yep, it’s the Aggies, with 7 – four more than the next team! Defensive backs Ron LaForce and Shamad Lomax have 3 picks apiece, with Lomax collecting all three (with a Pick Six) last week against UTEP. The frontline is stout, too. The Aggies piled on 7 sacks against Arizona State in its opener, with two by senior LB Dalton Herrington (6-2 230), who leads the SBC in sacks (3.5).
The Aggies still give up 383 yards per game (68th for Total D), but its +3 turnover margin is among the nation’s best. New Mexico will surrender yards, but it makes it up with menace. Arkansas QB Austin Allen has already absorbed 10 sacks this season, and he threw a game ending pick against Texas A&M in Week 4. If Allen was hoping to sit back in the pocket and enjoy a relaxing day of pitch-and-catch, I have some sad news for him.
Larry Rose III is still good
Arkansas isn’t bad against the pass, but it fares a little worse against the run – allowing a 99th-ranked 186 ground yards per game. Rose 3 (5-11 195) is sneakily averaging 6 yards per carry (in addition to catching 20 passes for 150 yards). If Arkansas puts its energy into stopping the Rogers And Scott Airshow, Rose 3 could make the Hogs pay.
Arkansas is not without skill
The Hogs offense was comatose against TCU, but it displayed moments of burst and creativity against Texas A&M. Austin Allen (6-1 215), who got his beak bloodied during last Saturday’s sack-a-thon, is tough as nails, and he seems to be finding a rapport with junior WR Jonathan Nance (6-0 182). Additionally, the Razorback ground game is still gobbling up nearly 200 yards per contest, led by freshman bowling ball Chase Hayden (5-10 191). The Hogs aren’t contenders for the SEC West, but their tusks remain pointy.
The Final Word
The Arkansas defense looks capable for long stretches, put gives up big, soul-crushing gains. That plays right into the hands of Tyler Rogers (6-3 218), who’s thrown TDs passes for 81, 46 and 38 yards in 2017. This isn’t a Sun Belt-as-usual opponent for Arkansas. Look for New Mexico State to pull of the Warhawk this Saturday.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.