FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ 2014 minor bowl game with Texas casts a major impact on Sam Pittman this Texas Week.
Second-year Arkansas head coach Pittman’s 1-0 Razorbacks host the 1-0 nationally No. 21 Texas Longhorns at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN at an already sold out Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Arkansas and Texas, to become conference rivals again whenever the Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners free themselves from current Big 12 contractual obligations and join the SEC, last rekindled their rivalry that sizzled in the Southwest Conference when they nonconference clashed at the 2014 Texas Bowl in Houston.
Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks and Charlie Strong’s Longhorns each entered 6-6.
Not exactly the College Hall of Fame glory years of Frank Broyles and Darrell Royal. Among their epic clashes, Broyles’ undefeated Razorbacks, and Texas’ Darrell Royal’s undefeated Longhorns played for what became Arkansas’ national championship and Southwest Conference championship in 1964 and their December battle of unbeatens in the 1969 Shootout crowning Texas the SWC champion and eventual national champion.
But even more than Arkansas celebrating Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks trouncing Texas, 31-7, Pittman recalls Arkansas fans’ bigger than Texas buildup into the bowl game.
“I remember getting off the bus before the game and going, ‘Wow!’” Pittman said at his Monday press conference. “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 (coaching Georgia’s offensive line), 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. The crowd was electric the entire night.”
Pittman promises these Hogs will enter Saturday’s game knowing Arkansas versus Texas fervor though few have played against Texas.
“A lot of history there between the two teams, and our kids will be educated on the history,” Pittman said. “They need to be. I know the fans are excited.”
John Ridgeway, the 6-foot-6, 320-pound transfer defensive nose tackle from Illinois State, should play against Texas, Pittman said Monday.
An appendectomy prevented Ridgeway from debuting in last Saturday’s 38-17 season-opening victory over Rice.
Even without Ridgeway, so impactful in preseason drills he was listed, the Hogs’ deep defensive line wore down Rice during Arkansas’ 31-0 finish from down 17-7, Pittman said.
Entering this 2021 season no Razorbacks other than perhaps sophomore safety Jalen Catalon were like senior All-American middle linebacker Grant Morgan and junior Preseason All-American receiver Treylon Burks.
Against Rice, the Hogs had Morgan for less than half a quarter. He was automatically ejected because of a helmet-to-helmet targeting penalty.
Hayden Henry, the third first-teamer in the senior troika for two position linebacking corps, sat out last Saturday’s first half because of a second-half targeting penalty in last season’s finale against Alabama.
So junior Andrew Parker joined senior Bumper Pool in the first half linebacking tandem versus Rice. Parker made four tackles.
“Certainly, he (Parker) is a two right now, but we needed him as a one,” Pittman said Monday. “He came in and did a fine job.”
Henry, playing all of last Saturday’s second half, starts with the reinstated Morgan because Pool was penalized for a second half target versus Rice. Pool must sit Saturday’s first half then can play versus Texas.
The Hogs had Burks for the entire Rice game but not the entire Burks.
Logging just part of last Wednesday’s practice and all of Thursday’s light practice since his Aug. 14 leg injury, the Treylon Burks dropping KJ Jefferson passes and finishing 5 for 42 was not last season’s Treylon Burks totaling 51catches for 820 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Probably anything in life, if you don’t do it on a regular basis, it’s hard to perform at your peak,” Pittman said. “That’s what happened with Burks. We were hoping with a little of Wednesday and all of Thursday, that he would come out and play really well. He didn’t, and he’ll say that. It’s not his fault. He’s practicing all (this) week. He came out of the game very healthy.”
Bonus senior (using the 2020 COVID extra eligibility year) receiver and Helena native Tyson Morris made the first big catch (31 yards) from Jefferson, igniting the offense against Rice. Morris then caught a 9-yard touchdown.
Pittman implied Morris transformed from a happy to have earned a scholarship ex-walk-on into a counted upon starter.
“When T. Mo made the decision to come back, I think he made the decision that ‘I’m going to do everything I can,” Pittman said.
“He’s put on weight. He’s put on strength, and he earned that spot. I was glad to see he made that catch and glad to see he got a touchdown. And he’s been a very willing and good blocker. I’m just really proud of the guy. He’s made himself into a good ball player.”