COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Arkansas’ annual game against Texas A&M has served an important purpose for the Razorbacks the past three years.
It’s where seasons off to frustrating starts — most notably because of disappointing losses to SEC West rival Alabama — have gotten back on track.
It began in 2009, when the Razorbacks shook off a 1-2 start with a 47-19 win en route to their first bowl game under Bobby Petrino. A year later, Arkansas found its run game in a 24-17 win and used the victory to launch a 7-1 run over the rest of the regular season. Last year’s win meant even more, considering Arkansas rallied from a 35-17 halftime deficit to beat the Aggies and kick off a seven-game win streak.
"It was like we flipped the switch right there," said Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who threw for a school-record 510 yards against Texas A&M. "We came out that second half and rallied and fought and found a way to win it. It turned the whole season around. So that could be a very, very important selling point now."
Arkansas, which is off to its worst start since 2005, hopes Texas A&M will serve as the elixir for its mounting troubles once again when the teams meet at Kyle Field today. Kickoff is set for 11:21 a.m. and will be televised by the SEC Network.
The teams will meet as conference opponents for the first time since 1991, when they were members of the Southwest Conference. It’s also the last time they played at Kyle Field. The teams are playing in College Station, Texas, today and in Fayetteville next September before returning to Cowboys Stadium in 2014.
But Arkansas doesn’t care where the game is being played right now.
The Hogs’ only concern is finding a way to keep their streak of wins against Texas A&M intact to end its frustrating free-fall to open the 2012 season. Arkansas, as Wilson said earlier this week, is just trying to salvage its season against the Aggies.
"Even though it doesn’t mean anything, they can look back and say, ‘We have played well against these guys. We have been able to come back against these guys. We have been able to beat these guys,’" coach John L. Smith said. "So let’s approach it as such. I think it is a benefit for us and it’s something we try to point to as well as coaches, saying we’ve been fortunate in the past to go down there and play well."
It won’t come easy against an Aggies program hunting history: Its first win as an SEC member. Texas A&M fell painfully short in its opener against Florida on Sept. 8, struggling in the second half of a 20-17 loss at Kyle Field.
Texas A&M has impressed since, rolling to easy wins against nonconference foes Southern Methodist (48-3) and South Carolina State (70-14). It served as an important stretch for a program settling in under new coach Kevin Sumlin.
Texas A&M has plenty of motivation to repay the Razorbacks for the losses in each of the past three seasons. But Sumlin said it won’t be his team’s rallying cry. The Aggies want an SEC win and are preparing to get Arkansas’ best shot.
"There is a lot of talent on this football team," Sumlin said of the Razorbacks. "It is a prideful football team and we catch them with everybody coming back. As I told our football team on Monday, a wounded animal is the most dangerous animal and particular one with its back against the corner a little bit.
"I expect them to come in here ready to play."
Arkansas has not lost four straight games since 2004, when it stumbled to a 5-6 finish under Houston Nutt. The Razorbacks also are trying to avoid their first 1-4 start since 1992, which included the loss to The Citadel under Jack Crowe.
But Arkansas center Travis Swanson — a Texas native — said the Razorbacks carry confidence to the Lone Star State despite the problems. No one on the current roster has lost a game in Texas, going 4-0 with wins against Texas A&M in Cowboys Stadium and another in last January’s Cotton Bowl against Kansas State.
"This team is undefeated in Texas," Swanson said "So I know we’re going to take some pride in that."
Arkansas does enter today’s game as a double-digit undergo, though. And the Razorbacks, who are 1-3 at home this season, are on the road for the first time.
They bring obvious deficiencies with them. The Razorbacks have struggled to run the ball and protect Wilson up front. The defense has offered little resistance to opponents, allowing teams to move up and down the field through the air.
But defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said players and coaches aim to turn the season around once again against Texas A&M.
"The thing about it in football all these players, all the coaches are warriors," Haynes said. "This is what we do. We’re not going to lay down. We’re not going to be divided. We’re going to fight. We’re not going to be divided. And we’re going to win."