COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- If anyone expects that Texas A&M takes Arkansas less seriously than it would if the Razorbacks came in with an undefeated record and a top-10 ranking (rather than a 1-3 record that includes three consecutive losses), they are mistaken.
For the Aggies, the record doesn't matter. The opponent does.
After falling to the Razorbacks three consecutive years, many of the Aggies upperclassmen mentioned the personal nature and significant meaning tied to the game.
"This game's huge, just because, ever since we've been here, we've lost to Arkansas every single year," senior linebacker Jonathan Stewart said. "It's huge as a senior class. We really want to go out and get a win and also get our first SEC win and our first SEC win at Kyle Field."
Senior receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu said the seniors relayed that message to the younger players in practice on Monday.
"Yesterday in practice, we told the younger guys what it would mean to us and how much we want to get this win," Nwachukwu said. "It would mean a lot for this program and it would be great for the team as a whole to go on and do the things that we want to accomplish this season."
The most recent game between the teams was the most difficult one to swallow for the Aggies, who led Arkansas by 18 points at halftime of the team's meeting last year, only to fall 42-38 to the Razorbacks.
When asked what he felt like after that game ended, defensive end Damontre Moore said on Tuesday, simply, "Crap."
No encore for Michael? A season ago, Texas A&M running back Christine Michael put together an impressive performance against the Razorbacks, tallying 32 carries for 230 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said that Michael's performance against Arkansas last year doesn't necessarily mean anything heading into Saturday's rematch.
"That has no bearing on this game this year," Sumlin said. "We've approached every game that way this year. This game is no different."
Michael, a senior, is averaging just three yards per carry so far (20 carries, 59 yards) and missed the Aggies' second game of the season against SMU while serving a suspension for a violation of team rules. He returned to action on Saturday against South Carolina State, but didn't play until the second half. Sumlin said Michael was the team's third running back for that game, which is why he didn't enter the game in the first half.
Sumlin said there are currently no more lingering off-the-field issues affecting Michael's status. Junior Ben Malena, who started the last two games, is listed as the starter on the depth chart and will start on Saturday against Arkansas.
"We've got three good backs," Sumlin said. "I've said from day one of two-a-days that all three of them were going to play. In my estimation, for two reasons, no. 1, Christine hasn't made it through a full season in the last three years. So he needs the other two backs to play. We need it from a team standpoint because of his injury issues in the past and the development of the other backs. It's not like the other guys can't play. They're excellent players, too."
Malena leads the running backs with 145 yards on 22 carries this season, an average of 6.6 yards per carry. True freshman Trey Williams will also continue to get work in the rotation. He has 76 yards on 20 carries this season.
Manziel's running: The team's leading rusher to this point -- when it comes to both carries and yardage -- is quarterback Johnny Manziel. He has carried the ball 38 times for 262 yards and has five touchdowns. He's averaging 87.3 yards per game on the ground and nearly 13 carries per game.
Sumlin estimated that of Manziel's carries, about half of them are called plays, designed for Manziel to run. The rest are Manziel's decision to tuck and run. Both Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury understand that with Manziel, his on-the-fly decision-making when it comes to running is part of the package.
Of course, that means the starting quarterback is taking more hits, but Sumlin didn't feel like the number of runs has been too much.
"Thirteen plays is kind of significant," Sumlin said. "If you're getting 80 plays, it doesn't sound like so much. It's just his nature of doing things. I think every quarterback and you look statistically over the past years it's been someone (carrying the ball) to 5-10 times a game. It's just the nature of the game so I don't think it's outrageous."
Secondary shift: Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said that the team will move sophomore Deshazor Everett back to cornerback for the game against Arkansas. Everett, who started at cornerback in the season opener against Florida, started the last two games at safety. To match up better against the Razorbacks, Everett is shifting back to corner while junior Toney Hurd is likely to get the starting nod at Everett's safety spot.
"We're going against some really big wide receivers, some physical guys," Snyder said. "We just feel like Deshazor brings that nature to that position for this specific week."
Patch: Kevin Sumlin will be one of several coaches across the country wearing a patch on his shirt this weekend for Coach to Cure MD, a charity effort directed toward helping young men with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Coach to Cure MD is a partnership between the American Football Coaches Association and Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.