Regardless of where you stand relative to the line in the sand, Arkansas’s football rivalry with Texas provokes commentary.
Texas fans understandably discount the “rivalry” element due to historical one-sidedness. The Longhorns own a .709 winning percentage against the Hogs, and twice reeled off double-digit win streaks.
We Razorback fans are quick to offer some obvious retorts, leading with the fact that Texas owes much of its 56-23 record to a dominating 27-5 start prior to 1950. In an amorphous “modern era” analysis, the teams compare favorably.
Texas drove stakes into the hearts of Razorback fans for years, the most gangrenous occurring in 1969 with Tricky Dick in the stands and a national title opportunity in the offing. Arkansas, however, has taken relative command of the intermittent matchups between the schools since the Southwest Conference dissolved.
The stakes for the long-scheduled renewal in 2021-22 initially didn’t appear all that high. Arkansas fans, undeniably more so than their counterparts, yearned for the rivalry’s rebirth, but even a quick home-and-home sounded good enough.
Mere weeks ago, though, Texas and Oklahoma made public their abrupt departure of the Big 12 and acceptance of invitations from the SEC. Suddenly, the Sept. 11, 2021 date took on new gravity.
And the Hogs, on that night, finally authenticated the new, real rivalry. In a 40-21 rout that wasn’t nearly that close, Arkansas changed its historical narrative.
The Inescapable Meaning of Beating Texas
In 1987, I watched helplessly as Bret Stafford fired a strike to Tony Jones at War Memorial Stadium with time expired. Texas knocked off a blossoming Ken Hatfield-coached Razorback squad, 16-14.
I was 10, and I was crushed. From that moment, I knew why cardinal and burnt orange didn’t mix.
The next fall, Arkansas had to trek to Austin for revenge, and another barnburner ensued. Quinn Grovey showed off his arm and legs in a big way, and Steve Atwater’s interception ended a late Horn rally in a 27-24 win.
I’d watch Texas beat the Hogs twice more before Arkansas got a hint of satisfaction by winning the 1991 matchup, 14-13, in the schools’ final Southwest Conference battle. Even in that game between two wholly unexceptional teams, the vitality of the Arkansas-Texas game remained obvious.
For Hog fans in their 40s and beyond, those nip-and-tuck battles defined the rivalry and its spirit. Those lopsided leather-helmet games of the 1900s didn’t matter.
Frankly, these recent games didn’t matter much, either. The Hogs vanquished Texas three of the five times they played since leaving each other’s permanent company, but only Bret Bielema really thought that beating a subpar Texas squad was “borderline erotic.”
Though Texas is a Big 12 program still, the Horns’ indoctrination to SEC football was destined to be in Fayetteville. Some of their program’s highwater moments occurred there, too, even if they’re loath to admit it.
KJ Jefferson guided the offense capably, backed by the legs of four backs who each ran for 45-plus yards and a touchdown. The Arkansas defense incapacitated Texas’ attack mere days after the Horns ran wild on a well-coached Louisiana team.
The postgame outpouring onto the Reynolds Razorback Stadium’s grass, as you can see in all its frenetic, exultant glory below, showed a magnitude beyond the box score.
Texas Win Validates Reinvestment in Arkansas Football
Arkansas’s tumultuous football history in the SEC warrants no further mention. But when Hunter Yurachek boldly made a longtime assistant the immediate successor to Chad Morris, he took an indisputable leap of faith.
Sam Pittman worked as Bielema’s offensive line coach when the Hogs blasted the Longhorns 31-7 in that 2014 Texas Bowl. It was a matchup of rebuilding .500 teams, yet 71,000-plus still turned out on a Monday night in Houston.
Pittman undoubtedly saw that passion then, gaining new appreciation for the intrinsic value of the Arkansas-Texas affair. He showed genuine elation after Kendal Briles’ excellent game plan paired well with Barry Odom’s inspired defense.
Saturday’s blowout unfolded on ESPN in primetime. It also happened before 75,000 strong in a stadium that had been reduced to a crypt when Morris coached his last game just 22 months ago.
The scene evoked memories of what transpired 40 years ago. Then-No. 1 Texas brought big-game swagger, only to get walloped 42-11 by an unranked Razorback squad, in October 1981.
That Lou Holtz team notched eight wins despite modest expectations. Pittman’s second Razorback team didn’t look like it would have that kind of potential, especially after a fairly pedestrian opener against Rice.
One great night can have a way of changing a program’s trajectory, though. Arkansas fans now harbor a level of hope unseen in a while here, and we have Texas to thank again.
Sam Pittman went on the Jim Rome for the first time on Monday. Here are some excerpts from his interview:
“Jim, I’m so proud to be the head coach at Arkansas. And I really, really am. I grew up 75 miles from here, I wanted the Hogs to recruit me. They didn’t, and Coach Holtz, he was right. I wouldn’t recruit me either, but I wanted to come here, and I know the passion, because I have it.”
“And our coaching staff has it. And we wanted our fans to wake up on a Sunday morning and have something to talk about besides, ‘Oh man, the Hogs didn’t play well.’ This, that, and the other.”
“And our kids gave that to them, we gave back to them for helping us win. Because I really believe that they helped us win with 76,000 people there.”
Sam Pittman on transitioning from Chad Morris era:
“If you get a group of collected people together, and you’re rolling towards one vision, you can get better. Now, I didn’t know we could win a national championship or anything like that, but I know we can get better with the players that we have.”
“The first thing I told them is I know that they didn’t choose me as their head coach, but I sure as hell chose them. And so I think that resonated with them a little bit, and then we never try to run one person off, nor did we try to keep anybody.”
“If they wanted to get out, I said, ‘Hey, good luck to you.’ But we didn’t try to run anybody off. We never talked about the previous head coach. We never talked about his team and my team.”
“Because the day that I got the head coaching job, it was our team. And we wanted every one of them.”
Listen to the whole interview here:
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