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September 30, 2013

Aggie O-line proves it's not subtle

When Texas A&M came out for the second half of Saturday night's game against Arkansas with a four-point lead, it seemed like the Aggies might be in a bit of trouble. The Razorbacks had moved the ball efficiently, a crowd of more than 72,000 was feeling a potential upset and, most importantly, a continuous heavy rain began to fall.

Arkansas fans -- and perhaps their coaches -- felt like the downpour might help them punch their ticket to an upset win over the No. 9 Aggies (4-1, 1-1 SEC).

Instead, the Aggie offensive line spent the better part of their final 16 minutes and 30 seconds of work punching the Razorback defense in the mouth in A&M's 45-33 win.

After spending much of the first half moving the ball courtesy of the arm and legs of quarterback Johnny Manziel, A&M decided to switch gears at halftime and put the game in the hands of their talented stable of running backs and what could be the nation's best offensive line.

"Jake (Spavital) and Clarence (McKinney) get together as an offensive staff and talk about where we are, what we can do and what's good," head coach Kevin Sumlin said after the game.

The Razorbacks had hoped for a physical game where their talented defensive ends and big defensive tackles would dominate; instead, they found themselves on the receiving end of a lot of punishment.

"Our offensive line is pretty confident right now," Sumlin said. "They've played well this year."

While Arkansas was running the ball effectively with Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, the Aggies responded by using all four of their talented stable of backs. With the Aggies clinging to a 31-27 lead midway through the third quarter, A&M turned to sophomores Trey Williams and Tra Carson to carry the load on a nine play, 68 yard drive -- all on the ground -- capped by Williams' 17-yard touchdown run. The pair would contribute heavily on the next Aggie scoring drive, while Ben Malena and Brandon Williams helped run out the clock in the fourth quarter.

"He's a guy that brings another dimension," Sumlin said of Trey Williams. "All of our backs have their own value ... I think you can see what Tra Carson brings for us in what we haven't had in a 230 pound running back; Brandon Williams is really a fast guy. They all have their own plusses and utilizing them all, we keep them fresh that way."

Trey Williams (nine carries, 83 yards) led the team in rushing for the first time in 2013, while Carson (nine carries, 66 yards) ran over several Arkansas tacklers following the blocks of left tackle Jake Matthews and left guard Jarvis Harrison. Malena (10 carries, 40 yards, 2 TDs) scored behind a block from Cedric Ogbuehi in the fourth quarter, while Brandon Williams (4 carries, 18 yards) cut through the Arkansas defense for a 20-yard gain following right guard Germain Ifedi.

Sumlin was understandably pleased with the Aggie offensive line's ability to adjust to the altered game plan and dominate the line of scrimmage, as well as Matthews' and Ogbuehi's work to neutralize the pass rush of ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers.

"Making adjustments is not just coaching. It's communicating that and the players executing," he said. "It's a lot easier with veterans, a veteran offensive line and quarterback and wide receivers than maybe it is with the defense and a lot of young guys."

While the Aggies' ability to carve up a solid Arkansas front seven to the tune of 150 yards on 29 carries (5.2 yards per carry) may have surprised some people, Sumlin said the ability of the offensive line to play physical football did not come as a surprise to the coaching staff.

"We just haven't really asked them to do those things like that," he said. "I think the elements had something to do with (the shift to the running game), with it raining like it was."

Thanks to their work protecting Manziel as he's worked over opposing defenses in his quest for a second Heisman Trophy, the Aggie offensive line was already recognized as being one of the nation's top pass blocking teams. After controlling the line of scrimmage in a game of smashmouth in miserable conditions, it's clear that they're one of the best -- period.

"I thought that, to be able to adjust at halftime and play a style that was different for us will do a lot for our confidence," Sumlin said. "For us to come into the second half and with the elements the way they were, I thought the offensive line played very, very well."

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