Old foes week continues as the Arkansas football squad (1-0) is set to take on the No. 15 Texas Longhorns (1-0) this weekend in Fayetteville. The Horns are coming off a solid performance defeating the more than respectable University of Louisiana 38-18 in Austin.
Arkansas used a super-charged second half to surpass the pesky Rice Owls by a similar score of 38-17. SEC Nation will be in town with a sold out crowd and a prime time ESPN audience tuning in to see if the Horns are truly back and can Arkansas show they are worthy of significantly more national respect.
The midweek Vegas points spread favors the Longhorns by 6.5. That’s a bit surprising.
My guess is nobody really knows how redshirt freshman QB Hudson Card will handle his first start on the road in a hostile environment. On the other hand, there is some reverence in college football circles for Hog defensive coordinator Barry Odom and what he can do on the defensive side of the ball.
Especially now that the Razorbacks showed some legitimate depth on defense which was crucial in the sweltering heat last weekend. Throw in some weapons on offense (if the line can protect) and a home field advantage and we have what looks to be a competitive game on paper.
Despite the Hogs’ win and a back door cover on the Vegas point spread, the doom and gloom that Arkansas football fans came out of the woodwork after what was an undoubtedly ugly first half. There is no reason to rehash the early struggles here as I am nearly certain Coach Sam Pittman, his staff and the players are now eyes forward on Texas.
Film sessions and early week practices ironed out all the issues and they’ve shifted towards the game plan to beat the Longhorns.
Arkansas vs Texas: It’s Time
And for good reason as new coach Steve Sarkisian is bringing a talented, athletic ballclub to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The heavily one-sided Arkansas vs Texas “rivalry” from the old Southwest Conference days means more to Hog fans north of 40 years old than it does to any of the current players or students or younger fans of either team.
But it’s still Texas and the buzz is noticeable.
Arkansas football fans get all kinds of jacked up for anything against the Horns. Texas football fans (and I have a handful of good friends that went to school there) just don’t see it the same.
By tradition, Razorbacks are supposed to despise the Longhorns with all their might. Longhorns are required to look down their noses at the Razorbacks and downplay what is considered ‘just another game” by Texas’s lofty standards.
But Texas can’t quite seem to get back on track. (although Razorback fans would/should be satisfied with their recent “struggles”).
Charlie Strong. Nope. Tom Herman. Nope. Steve Sarkisian…time will tell.
Make no mistake about this weekend — this would be THE signature win that elevates the Sam Pittman era to another stratosphere. More than any win over an SEC team, save Georgia or Alabama, could do. And don’t think for a second Pittman doesn’t covet this. A win over big, bad Texas on ESPN hurdles a ton of favorable coverage Arkansas football’s way.
Think how that plays with recruits in the Lone Star State? Simply huge. And significantly more meaningful than a win over either Mississippi school or Missouri or the like in league play. Those games are important and goodness gracious I hope the Hogs can win two of those three but, like it or not, the program is still rebuilding.
That means it sinks and swims with getting all the in-state talent capable of playing in the SEC and pulling some ball players out of Texas. That formula has worked for decades.
Arkansas Football’s Keys to Beating Texas
So how do the 2021 Razorbacks pull off the upset that sends all the talking heads into a frenzy about the job Sam Pittman is doing? Here are a handful of reasons how the Hogs can go about getting the “W” beyond the fact the offense has to elevate the passing attack.
Notice I didn’t point all fingers on that at KJ Jefferson as the line has to give him time, the receivers have to fight to get open and they need to catch the ball when it hits them in the hands.
Survive No Bumper
Due to a second half targeting call on Razorback linebacker Bumper Pool, he will be on the sidelines the first half and that obviously challenges the depth at linebacker. That will be huge on a 93-degree day where our still smallish defensive line will have to hold the line of scrimmage against a veteran Longhorn offensive line.
Texas really likes their running back Bijan Robinson and he will get plenty of chances to take the pressure off Card with the run and screen game. Hayden Henry and Andrew Parker have to be awesome while Pool is penalized. Having Grant Morgan on the field will definitely help.
Use the Screen Game
There is no better way to allow a quarterback to find his rhythm and throttle a hard charging defense than flaring running backs and tight ends into the flats. Effective, short throws that set up for big plays down the road.
The screen game is in the Kendal Briles’ playbook. Trelon Smith sure looks like a tailback that would be capable on swing passes. Maybe we finally get to see Hudson Henry do his thing at tight end.
Dig deep into that Briles playbook and find a way to get Jefferson heated up before the second half this week.
Special Teams: Be Special
Unfortunately, I’m not really talking about a kick or punt return for a touchdown or a crucial kick block. More like being sound on special teams. Just do the basics right so the regular units aren’t stuck behind the eight ball more than necessary.
Last week mirrored so much of what fans saw too much of in 2020. The Longhorns don’t need the favor of a fumbled return, a blocked kick or rash of penalties to win this game. One would really have to like Arkansas’s chances if they come out on the positive side of special teams play in this game.
Somebody Step Up
The Hogs have had some remarkable performances against Texas and someone will have to do the same to make this one go in Arkansas football’s favor.
Two performances during my lifetime come to mind. Quarterback Matt Jones running wild in Austin in 2003 in the Hogs 38-28 win over the #6 Horns. Prior to that, quarterback Tom Jones, running back Gary Anderson and defensive end Billy Ray Smith led the charge in the shocking 1981 win over #1 Texas in Fayetteville.
Sidenote: Arkansas was a six point underdog in that one and cruised 42-11. Arkansas has a bevy of capable players on both sides of the ball that are due to show out. Maybe there is an unsung, little known player that will come out of nowhere to steal the show?
I have a sneaking suspicion the star won’t be a household name. Not yet anyway. Big performances in Texas games tend to etch players in Razorback lore for eternity.
Not the End of the World
If Arkansas vs Texas goes chalk and Texas leaves Fayetteville with the win, the season is far from over.
The negative nancies and all their football and college athletics expertise will be filling the airwaves with all the things they would have done differently. That’s part of being a fan and definitely within their right to critique.
But the Razorback football program is not on the same level as Texas during this rebuild from the highly disappointing Chad Morris era. Tom Herman left Austin with a roster in much better shape than what Pittman inherited.
There is lots of football left after this weekend. Like a whole lot. A lot of fans are putting all their eggs in the Texas basket for a big win and that makes a lot of sense for recruiting, national respect and so on. But a win on Saturday doesn’t book the Hogs a trip to the national playoffs and a loss doesn’t send them into the dumps previously known as “left lane, hammer down”.
Both teams will look better than they did in in the first week. Both teams will showcase different offensive plays, blitzes and so on. This is a big game for Sarkisian too. The pressure to get Texas back on top of the football world is immense and he knows that.
There isn’t a lot of pressure on Pittman except to play better with each passing week.
If the Hogs can find a way to keep it competitive in the fourth quarter, you have to like the Hogs’ chances in front of the frenzied Arkansas football faithful.
Sealing the deal will make for an epic Saturday night in the Natural State.
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