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All goals within reach for 4-0 Hogs

by Bob Wisener | September 27, 2021 at 3:50 a.m.
Bob Wisener

Fifty years since Frank Broyles showed them how, dusting off a phrase from the Otis Douglas era, the Arkansas Razorbacks again beat "all those Texas teams" in football.

Matching feats of the 1964 and '65 teams that went undefeated in the Southwest Conference, Arkansas is 4-0 after a sweep including Rice, Texas and Texas A&M.

The 1964 Hogs, Arkansas' only unbeaten team, finished 11-0 after topping Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl and, thanks to friends in the media, was voted a share of the national championship. The 1965 team raised the winning streak to 22 games and, after beating No. 1 Texas for the second year in a row, was ranked No. 1 for one week. Arkansas could have enjoyed the greatest season in the program's history, as undefeated national champion, if not for a Cotton Bowl loss to LSU that still stings.

Lou Holtz' 1979 team, his best at Arkansas, beat all but Houston (the newest SWC member) in the regular season and, although hopelessly outmatched, fought the good fight in the Sugar Bowl against Bear Bryant's last national-title team at Alabama.

Arkansas hasn't been this close to the big time since 2011 when Bobby Petrino's last UA squad played a Thanksgiving Friday game at LSU for high stakes. Like other of Petrino's teams, that team had offensive glitter but lacked muscle defensively. Petrino went on an ill-fated cycling trip the next spring after which Arkansas, with Bret Bielema sprinkled among some less fortunate hires, went downhill fast.

It's not yet October, but all things remain on the table for Sam Pittman's second squad. Pending the Ole Miss-Alabama outcome Saturday, Texas A&M marked the first of what could be three straight games against top-10 teams. The Hogs jumped ahead of the Rebels, climbing eight spots to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll, with Saturday's 20-10 victory over the Aggies. It's the highest ranking for the Razorbacks since John L. Smith's 2012 squad, also ranked eighth, lost to Louisiana-Monroe in overtime at Little Rock.

An Arkansas fan base learning to take them one game at a time, like the players are taught, turns its attention now to Georgia. Exposing Clemson's offensive problems in a 10-3 showpiece game, the Bulldogs improved to 4-0 after mauling Vanderbilt. The Clemson victory propelled Georgia to No. 2 in the polls as the top-ranked contender to national champion Alabama.

Holding opponents scoreless in 14 of 16 quarters, Georgia has a typically stifling defense. It has been ever thus with the Bulldogs since the inception of the Arkansas series. A Georgia team led by future Super Bowl heroes Bill Stanfill and Jake Scott entered the 1969 Sugar Bowl 8-0-2 and favored against a 9-1 Arkansas team manhandled by Texas.

Two of Arkansas' super sophomores, Bill Montgomery and Chuck Dicus, beat Scott deep on a second-quarter pass that produced the game's only touchdown. The 16-2 Razorback upset brought national attention, influencing ABC to move the next year's Texas game to December and what became a collegiate Super Bowl of sorts.

It is far too early to think of Arkansas' Nov. 20 game with Alabama as another Big Shootout. A fan base that saw any finish above 7-5 through rose-colored glasses now considers 10-2, factoring in road losses to Georgia and Alabama. Georgia is an early 18-point pick Saturday at Athens.

Razorback Nation keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop. Texas surely would expose a team that trailed Rice in the third quarter. Ranked before the game but not afterward, the Longhorns went down 40-21 before a Fayetteville record crowd. (Suddenly, some of the glitter is off the Red River Showdown with Oklahoma, down to sixth in the polls, and whose fans booed Heisman Trophy hopeful Spencer Rattler in a 16-13 scare from West Virginia.)

Georgia Southern, a Week Three breather, set the stage for Texas A&M, the game that many feared would subject Arkansas to harsh light. The Aggies, after all, owned nine straight victories in the Southwest Classic and were coming off an 11-1 season marred only by Alabama. Jimbo Fisher, after all, coached Florida State to a national title, led by Heisman winner Jameis Winston, and came to College Station for a princely sum to build another.

Although it hadn't beaten an opponent to rival Texas, the Aggies entered Saturday's game favored by 4 1/2 points. What unfolded was big plays and defensive dominance by Arkansas in the first half and a test of the team's character in the second half.

KJ Jefferson threw touchdown passes of 85 and 60 yards, Arkansas leading 17-0 after scoring on its first three possessions. Defensively, the Razorbacks surprised with a three-man pass rush that unnerved the Aggies' young quarterback and forced five straight punts.

A&M, on character, kicked a field goal before halftime and pulled within 17-10 on Isaiah Spiller's 67-yard burst, his only such pop of the day. Things looked ominous for Arkansas when Jefferson limped off and Treylon Burks, the big-play receiver with Velcro hands, also came out.

Here, Barry Odom's defense met the challenge. Tre Williams, one of three Arkansas defensive lineman obtained through the transfer portal (Missouri), dropped Zach Calzada for a 10-yard sack one play after the Aggies were caught with an illegal receiver downfield.

Linebacker Bumper Pool, a native Texan, later set up the biggest defensive play on a tipped pass over the middle. Montaric Brown dove for an interception that, after an endless review, held up.

Backup quarterback Malik Hornsby, earlier gaining 16 yards, led the Razorbacks to their only points of the second half, a 24-yard field goal by Cam Little, making it 20-10 with 8:39 left. Williams blew up another Aggie drive, and Jefferson returned for two clinching plays, a nine-yard pass to Warren Thompson (Florida State transfer) and an inside keeper for another first down, 1:30 left, that forced A&M to use its time-outs.

Arkansas gained 443 yards, Jefferson going 7 of 15 for 212 yards and Burks with six catches for 167. Thompson threw a 27-yarder on a 246-yard afternoon for three UA passers.

Defensively, the three-man pass rush gave Calzada, in only his third college start, different looks and disrupted the Aggies' attack. Most of his 20 receptions went to running backs and his big tight end had only one catch for 18 yards.

"They brought in a coach who brought in a new coach (Odom, late of Missouri), and they got tougher," said CBS color man Gary Danielson, noting the transfer portal and 11 sixth-year seniors as key ingredients to UA's new-found success.

It got little notice that, with the 4-0 start, Arkansas has bettered its win total of Pittman's first season. Unlike in some recent games with the Aggies, these Razorbacks held their fourth-quarter edge. Now to learn whether their warranty expires in September and they can beat a second, much tougher team from Georgia.

Print Headline: All goals within reach for 4-0 Hogs

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