LITTLE ROCK — Those of us who thought all along that Alabama would beat Arkansas circled Oct. 1 as the first swing game of the Razorbacks’ season.
That is truer now than before the season because the talent gap between Arkansas and its first four opponents was wider than anticipated. A season turns on the results when the opponents are of comparable ability as appears to be the case with Arkansas and Texas A&M.
The Southeastern Conference thread is minor. What happens today in Arlington has nothing to do with the Aggies’ place in the SEC pecking order in the years to come. These are two teams in the same predicament, trying to rebound from a disappointing 0-1 start in conference play. 
The telling number will be passes attempted and the fewer the better.
If Tyler Wilson or Ryan Tannehill is throwing the ball all over the lot, their team’s running game is a bust. Unless the opponent is clearly inferior — SMU and Idaho for the Aggies; Missouri State, New Mexico, and Troy for the Razorbacks — both teams need something positive from their running backs to win.
Tannehill threw 26 and 39 times in the Aggies’ two easy victories and 47 times in last week’s 30-29 loss to Oklahoma State.
The Aggies averaged 7.7 yards per rush while building a 20-3 halftime lead, but the running backs only averaged 1.9 yards per try on eight carries in the second half. Despite 26 passes and eight runs in the second half, A&M coach Mike Sherman proclaimed, “We did try to run the ball.”
Cyrus Gray, who topped 100 yards rushing each of the first two games, netted 35 on 13 tries vs. the Cowboys.
Eerily similar, 35 yards was the net on Ronnie Wingo Jr.’s 11 carries vs. Alabama. Wilson attempted 34 passes in the first 45 minutes of the 38-14 loss. During those first three quarters, 12 running plays produced seven yards.
“People say Arkansas is a great passing team and they are,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, “but the No. 1 goal of our defense was to stop the run and make them one dimensional.”
Early this week, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said he still didn’t think his offense had anything to hang its hat on. Maybe it will require two tight ends, or a fullback leading the way, or even some option, but the game plan will be designed to establish a sturdy peg.
It was against A&M last year that Knile Davis emerged as a reliable running back, gaining 82 yards on 10 carries. The rest of the season, he made 82 yards or more every time out.
Sidelined for the season with a fractured ankle, Davis was more aggressive hitting the hole than Wingo has been and benefited from a veteran offensive line. 
Last year, the Razorbacks were eight pass, eight run in the first quarter against the Aggies. By halftime, 15 running plays had netted 88 yards and 17 completions were good for 229.
At the end of the 24-17 victory, the breakdown was 36 run, 38 pass.
In the first three quarters in Tuscaloosa, Arkansas was 12-3 pass, 9-4 pass, and 13-5 pass.
More than once, Petrino has admitted he lacks patience when it comes to running the ball, but the suspicion is that he will pursue the ground game with vigor today. This has the feel of 31-28, either way.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is