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'History' renewed: Coaches set scene for ‘Horns vs. Hogs

by Tom Murphy | September 7, 2021 at 7:08 a.m.
Arkansas defensive back Montaric Brown (21) intercepts a pass intended for Rice wide receiver August Pitre III (88), Saturday, September 4, 2021 during the fourth quarter of a football game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. Check out for today's photo gallery. .(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- A game 15 years in the making will finally kick off this weekend at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

And it's not just any game.

The University of Arkansas will host No. 21 Texas on Saturday at 6 p.m., and old-school Razorback fans know this is a big one.

The game already has been touted as a sellout of the 76,000-seat stadium, the first for the Razorbacks in four years, and it now serves as a prelude to the Longhorns joining the SEC no later than 2025.

Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman did not have to be asked about the historic nature of the rivalry, which has gone traditionally in Texas' favor with a 56-22 advantage, but which features plenty of monumental wins for the Razorbacks, including their last meeting at the Texas Bowl in 2014.

"I know the fans are excited," Pittman said in his opening remarks Monday. "A lot of history there between the two teams, and our kids will be educated on the history. They need to be. So we're really excited to have the crowd in here."

First-year Texas Coach Steve Sarkisian has a grasp on what game night could look like.

"We know it is going to be a hostile environment," Sarkisian said at his Monday news conference. "They have a sold-out game ... so I think one of the keys for us is obviously handling that crowd noise and what we do from a communication standpoint offensively will be big. We have our work cut out for us and we need a really good week of work."

Had the original two-game contract between the programs -- negotiated and signed by then-athletic directors Frank Broyles of Arkansas and DeLoss Dodds of Texas in 2006 -- held up, the Razorbacks would have played this back end of the contract in 2009.

No. 7 Texas won the opener 52-10 in Austin, Texas, in 2008, less than three years removed from a 41-38 win over Southern California for the 2005 BCS national championship at the Rose Bowl.

The 2009 game didn't take place, as Arkansas and Texas A&M set up a long-term series, labeled the Southwest Classic, starting that season. The return game with Texas was moved to an undefined later date.

Due to myriad scheduling issues for both schools, the Longhorns' return game bumped on down the line until it reached the here and now.

The hype for the old Southwest Conference rivalry game is real. The SEC Network will conduct its weekly game-day show "SEC Nation" from campus, as well as its show "Marty and McGee."

The game will be televised on prime time on ESPN, with the potential of attracting a wide viewership.

Both teams are 1-0 after home victories against opponents with differing national profiles.

The Razorbacks struggled early before wearing down lightly regarded Rice 38-17. The Longhorns got on top of No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette late in the first quarter and won going away, 38-18. Texas, a 4.5-point favorite against the Razorbacks, will probably rise in this week's Associated Press poll, which will be released today.

The Razorbacks should have a couple of key players in better shape for the game. Preseason All-SEC receiver Treylon Burks just got back in the mix Wednesday after a long layoff due to a lower leg issue, and he had a team-high five catches for 42 yards in the opener while shaking off the rust. Also, defensive tackle John Ridgeway is expected back after missing the opener to recover from an appendectomy.

Pittman was the Arkansas offensive line coach for the last meeting between the schools, a 31-7 Razorback victory at the 2014 Texas Bowl.

"I remember the atmosphere to be honest with you," Pittman said. "I remember getting off the bus before the game and it felt like you were at the Cotton Bowl. It felt like you were at the Sugar Bowl.

"As a matter of fact, a few years later [at] Georgia, we went to the Sugar Bowl and I didn't feel like the atmosphere was as good that day as it was when we played Texas in the Texas Bowl. It was a dynamic atmosphere. As a matter of fact, I remember getting off the bus and going, 'Wow.' The crowd was electric the entire night."

Sarkisian has prepared for games against Arkansas five times: as quarterbacks coach at USC in 2005-06, as an offensive analyst at Alabama (2016) and then as the Tide's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (2019-20). Those teams went 5-0 against the Razorbacks. He has been on the field or in the booth twice at Razorback Stadium, in the season opener in 2006 and the season finale in 2020.

Sarkisian also noted the historic context to the game.

"Going to Arkansas is a pretty cool game," he said. "I think this will be the 79th time these two schools have met, so it is pretty special for that opportunity. Obviously, old Southwest Conference foes to meet, but we have a great deal of respect for Arkansas.

"I think head Coach [Sam] Pittman has done a fantastic job since getting there and really is changing the culture. This football team plays hard, they play physical, and they're tough. I witnessed that last year first-hand and seeing how they played their opener."

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