ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Arkansas Razorbacks lost momentum with their 23-21 setback against Texas A&M and the unrelenting schedule gets no easier this week.
In what is likely the hardest three-game block on its slate, the University of Arkansas will host No. 2 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) on Saturday, followed by a road trip to Mississippi State (3-1, 0-1).
The Razorbacks had a chance to reach 4-0 for the second consecutive season and set up a top 10 showdown with the Crimson Tide at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. A 4-0 start would have been the second in a row under third-year Coach Sam Pittman and would have been the first time the program achieved that feat since the 1988-89 teams coached by Ken Hatfield. The second of those teams represent the last Razorbacks' conference championship team.
Alabama was installed as a 16 1/2-point favorite in the early lines issued on Sunday.
Arkansas fell 10 spots to No. 20 in The Associated Press Top 25 rankings, the poll of record for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The Aggies moved up six spots to No. 17.
Arkansas dropped nine spots to 19th in the USA Today Coaches poll, two spots below Texas A&M.
The Hogs dropped completely out of the Football Writers Association Super 16 poll from its slot at 10th last week.
The Razorbacks kept up their heavy blitzing against the Aggies and hit home with three sacks.
However, quarterback Max Johnson also made the Hogs pay with some wobbly under-pressure throws that burned the coverage. One of them was Evan Stewart's 10-yard touchdown, which was caught on his knees as Malik Chavis chased but could not get his head around to play the ball. There were others.
"They were getting a release but they were fluttering, you know," Coach Sam Pittman said. "I thought man, we'll pick one of those off. And they seemed to catch every one of them.
"But I thought he was very competitive. We put a lot of pressure on him."
Johnson went 11 of 21 for 151 yards and a touchdown with an efficiency rating of 128.5 and 39 rushing yards with sacks included.
By comparison, Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson had a 173.5 efficiency rating, 105 rushing yards and 12-of-19 passing for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool, who had seven tackles and moved into second on UA's all-time tackles chart with 385, credited Johnson for his work.
"I thought he did enough to win the game," Pool said. "He's a good player. He never panicked. Third down or something, he made a big throw. And they just kind of kept those plays going. ... But credit to him, he did a really good job."
The Razorbacks were on the move on their first series of the season with Dominique Johnson at tailback on a drive that began with 59 seconds left in the first quarter.
Johnson had runs of 1, 12, 8 and 7 yards in the span of six plays as Arkansas worked from its 15 to the Texas A&M 38.
At that point, reserve quarterback Malik Hornsby came in the game as a receiver and the Aggies looked ready, snuffing three consecutive plays. Demani Richardson jumped to break up KJ Jefferson's edge pass for Hornsby on first down. On the next play, Jefferson hit Hornsby with an inside slant on which the sophomore caught the ball, dropped it, then scooped in stride but was tackled for a 1-yard loss by Edgerrin Cooper.
On third down, Hornsby took a reverse but was stopped for no gain by Walter Nolan.
Pittman was asked about that sequence and an attempted double pass thrown first to Jadon Haselwood, which was stopped for a 5-yard loss.
After saying he didn't like stretch plays that got blown up or other plays that didn't work, Pittman gave a statement of support to offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, "We got an offensive coordinator, a damn good one, and whatever we decide that we're going to do, we do it as a staff. I wish they would have worked, but they worked in practice and I'm not questioning his calls."
Arkansas rushed for 244 yards against the Aggies but it dropped their season average to 243.75 per game, ninth in the country and just ahead of Saturday's opponent, Alabama in 10th (235.0)
The Razorbacks went into the game leading the SEC in rushing but they fell behind Ole Miss (280.75), which gashed Tulsa for 308 rushing yards in its 35-27 win on Saturday.
The Razorbacks sported white jerseys and pants capped by white helmets against the Aggies.
That marked the first time Arkansas has worn that jersey/helmet combination since another two-point loss away from home, a 50-48 setback at Missouri in 2020.
The Razorbacks were not victimized to the extent Missouri State broke tackles and racked up yards after catch, but they still had some glaring missed tackles against the Aggies.
Safety Simeon Blair took a bad pursuit angle on Devon Achane's 63-yard run, which got the Aggies' offense off the skids, and several other Texas A&M gains came after contact.
"We still have to continue to improve our tackling, because our open-field tackling, they made us look bad at times," Coach Sam Pittman said.
Razorback players and Coach Sam Pittman spoke up for kicker Cam Little, whose potential game-winning 42-yard field goal hit the top of the right goal post and deflected backward with 1:30 remaining.
Pittman said Little had already won games for Arkansas and would again, and teammates spoke about giving him support.
"I lifted his head up," receiver Jadon Haselwood said. "It was a lot of stuff that led up to that. The game wasn't on him. ... The game should've never been in his hands anyways."
The Razorbacks stacked up three more sacks to boost their FBS-leading total to 20. Arkansas leads the country with 5 sacks per game, ahead of Middle Tennessee (4.0) by 4 sacks and by Temple (3.75) and Washington by 5 sacks.
Arkansas got solo sacks for 10 yards by Landon Jackson and 3 yards by Eric Gregory and a 4-yard combo by Zach Williams and Drew Sanders.
Sanders is now tied for the NCAA lead with 5.5 sacks (1.38 per game) with Michigan State's Jacoby Windom. Arkansas' Jordan Domineck is tied for fifth (1.13) with five other players, including Alabama's Will Anderson Jr.
Sanders, Domineck, Williams (3) and Jackson (2.5) all have 2-plus sacks.
The Razorbacks accumulated 415 total yards, their seventh-consecutive game to hit the 400-yard mark. Under Coach Sam Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, Arkansas has notched 400 or more total yards in 19 of 27 games.
KJ Jefferson extended his streak of games with a rushing touchdown to five, dating back to last year's Outback Bowl win over Penn State.
Jefferson's 6-yard touchdown run with 10:05 left in the game drew the Razorbacks within 23-21. Jefferson's 70 rushing yards in the first half marked a personal best.
Players of the week
QB KJ Jefferson
The junior from Sardis, Miss., rushed for a season-high 105 yards, his second 100-yard game, and posted his 10th career game with two-plus touchdown passes while going 12 of 19 for 171 yards and 2 scores.
DB Myles Slusher
The junior from Broken Arrow, Okla., returned to the lineup with 6 tackles, 4 solo. Slusher also had a tackle for loss and a pass breakup on consecutive possessions help the Hogs defense get off to a hot start.