Like most of the preceding nine Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Texas A&M SEC West football games, the Razorbacks seized momentum Saturday then lost it.
This time they seized it back. For as key injuries mounted sidelining starting quarterback KJ Jefferson and star receiver Treylon Burks (6 catches for 167 yards including an 85-yard touchdown) and a 17-0 Arkansas lead slipped to 17-10, the nationally No. 16 resurgent Razorbacks rescued a 20-10 SEC upset over the No. 7 by AP and No. 5 by the Coaches poll Aggies at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
It marked both teams’ SEC opener.
Second-year Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks head 4-0 overall/ 1-0 in the SEC heading into next Saturday’s 11 a.m. ESPN televised SEC game with nationally No. 2 Georgia, 4-0, 2-0 in the SEC East.
“So many people had something to do with this win,” Pittman said on postgame radio. “I honestly thought we could do what we did but our kids had to believe it and that’s what they did.
Arkansas snapped a 9-game losing streak to the Aggies. They brought home to the UA campus in Fayetteville the annual game’s Southwest Classic Trophy for the first time since beating A&M from 2009-2011 when the old Southwest Conference rivals renewed their rivalry nonconference with A&M in the Big 12 before joining the SEC in 2012.
“Arkansas has needed this for a long time,” Pittman said of beating the Aggies and starting 4-0. “The bubble might burst one of these days but while it’s not it’s a lot of fun.”
Coach Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies arriving Saturday off an 11-game winning streak dating back to their 9-1 2020 season and defensively shutting out opponents their previous seven quarters into Saturday’s game, fall to 3-1, 2-1. They host SEC West rival Mississippi State next Saturday.
From sixth-year senior linebacker Grant Morgan of Greenwood (nine tackles, three quarterback hurries and a PBU Saturday and whose Arkansas tenure spans three head coaches and an interim coach, since redshirting in 2016, to Razorbacks recently arrived via University of Missouri defensive end Tre Williams of Columbia Mo. two sacks among his four tackles Saturday and three quarterback hurries Saturday’s success seemed equally significant.
“It was like a dream come true,” Morgan, one of 11 Razorbacks bonus seniors returning for 2021 granted eligibility since covid so disrupted all 2020 seniors’ season. “Like a perfect ending for this storm for Texas A&M. Wins like this (and over then No. 15 old Southwest Conference rival Texas on Sept. 11) are why you come back. It’s a good day to be a Razorback.”
Williams, an amazingly powerful force pressuring A&M quarterback Zach Calzada given the Razorbacks mostly just pass rushed three and were outnumbered by the A&M O-line, said Pittman (Arkansas’ offensive line coach from 2013-2015) drove home this game’s importance to the University and State of Arkansas.
“I had a great understanding of this game learning the history,” Williams said on postgame radio. “Knowing we could break that streak, knowing we could take the trophy back home, it means a lot. We prepared for this game like it was everything. To be here celebrating with my guys, it’s just electric.”
Good as Williams and Morgan were, cornerback Montaric Brown of Ashdown made THE defensive play of the game for that permanent momentum seize the Hogs couldn’t grasp in all those close but no cigars against A&M including three gone to overtime.
Arkansas was up 17-0 Saturday when Razorbacks running back Trelon Smith (17 carries for 82 yards) was stopped no gain on fourth and one at the A&M 22 with 2:29 left in the half.
The stop infused life into the lifeless Aggies. Helped by one of 10 Arkansas penalties, Calzada (20 of 36 for 151 yards) drove the Aggies to the Arkansas 32 setting up Seth Small’s 49-yard field goal with 21 seconds left before intermission.
Isaiah Spiller, A&M’s superb powerful with track speed running back so instrumental in A&M’s 42-31 victory over Arkansas last year but with just 28 yards for his other 11 carries Saturday, broke a 67-yard touchdown up the middle cutting it to 17-10 at 7:51 of the third quarter.
It got shakier the next series. Jefferson (7 of 15 passing for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns of 85 yards to Burks and 48 to running back AJ Green) was injured on the next series.
Arkansas’ offense was rendered one dimensional with speedy redshirt freshman Malik Hornsby, a 16-yard run his first carry, not showing a passing threat upon replacing Jefferson.
A&M responded accordingly.
“Defense kept us in the game,” Pittman said of the punts exchanges after A&M’s touchdown and Jefferson’s injury.
But Calzada, the backup starting since A&M starter Haynes King broke his leg two games ago, had just completed as 23-yard pass to Ainias Smith to the A&M 33. Calzada’s next pass first bounced off A&M center Bradedon Kobza’s helmet, was tipped by Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool and snagged at the A&M 48 by a sprawling Brown confirmed by review to have caught it without the ball hitting the turf.
Following Dominique Johnson’s 16-yard run, Hornsby hit a key 7-yard pass to Burks. Burks would add 14 yards rushing on a counter from which he left injured though reported postgame by Pittman to be OK against Georgia. Hornsby quarterbacked Arkansas to the six. After an offsides cost Arkansas third and one, the Hogs settled for Cam Little’s 24-yard field but the 20-10 lead sufficed.
Arkansas’ defense forced a three and out.
Jefferson returned to play keep away the rest of the way.
“When Mo (Brown) picked that pass and we went up 10 the clock was on our side,” Pittman said. “I was really proud how we ended the game offensively.”
He had to be proud how the Hogs began it, too.
After forcing an A&M punt following a game-opening seven plays, Arkansas netted 43 yards from three Trelon Smith runs followed by Jefferson’ 23-yard pass to Burks.
A false start bogged the drive down but Little salvaged a 3-0 lead with a 46-yard field goal.
Burks, a 91-yard TD off a screen pass in last week’s 45-10 victory over Georgia Southern, beat A&M defensive back Myles Jones for his 85-yard TD bomb from Jefferson on Arkansas’ next series.
“I just saw it was man-to-man,” Jefferson said. “Safety was kind of in the middle of the field. So I know if I held just a little second I would be able to get the ball to Treylon as quick as possible. He just made a great play on the ball.”
Burks saw the setup as did offensive coordinator Kendal Briles.
“When they went man I kind of looked at Coach and he called the play,” Burks said. “I knew it was going to be open.”
Jefferson and freshman running back Green, who got an accidentally friendly push from one Aggie would be tackler to out of reach from the Aggie closest to apprehending him, got their 48-yard TD for the 17-0 lead at 13:55 of the second quarter.
“We knew we were going to take advantage of AJ’s speed on a linebacker,” Jefferson said.
The Green touchdown drive started with a trick play 27-yard catch by Burks off a pass by fellow receiver Warren Thompson.
Burks and Helena native Tyson Morris each caught 21 yard passes on the late second quarter drive stopped on the fourth and one.
“Before anybody asks me, I would have went for that fourth and one again,” Pittman said. “I thought we could get ahead, 24-0 at half. I thought we could deflate them. So I was wrong, but I’d do it again.”
With the Razorbacks 4-0 and beating both Texas and Texas A&M, seems like most Arkansas fans would Hog call for him regardless.