FAYETTEVILLE – Admirably the Razorbacks didn’t get so consumed two Saturdays ago trouncing Texas to look past last Saturday’s Georgia Southern Eagles non conference hors d’oeuvres toward this Saturday’s SEC opener against Texas A&M.
But after waxing the Eagles, 45-10 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium they could look ahead to the game they last week dare not mention. At 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium Arkansas meets A&M, 3-0, nationally No. 7 and coming off a 9-1 season.
Coach Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies are a show by themselves.
Now the game becomes an entire showcase because of surprising Arkansas.
Unranked until branding 40-21 on the then No. 15 Longhorns, and now AP advanced from No. 20 to No. 16 and 3-0 for the first time since 2016, the Razorbacks do their part for Saturday’s buildup.
Fisher’s nose didn’t Pinocchio grow touting Arkansas to make A&M’s 34-0 thumping last Saturday of overmatched New Mexico seem “average.”
“That team we’re playing is very physical,” Fisher said. “That team we’re about to play and the rest down the line, in this league, that’s big boy ball. You better grow up.”
Asked about this Saturday vs. the Aggies after his Hogs beat Georgia Southern, second-year Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman surmised, “Texas A&M is a great football team. We’re so excited to go in there and play them to see what happens. I’m sure they are us as well.”
Both have ailing players.
A&M has played backup quarterback Zach Calzada, 19 of 33 for 275 yards and three touchdowns vs. an interception, since starting quarterback Haynes King broke his leg during A&M’s second game, a 10-7 victory over Colorado.
Arkansas against Georgia Southern played guard Ty Clary at right tackle and then center while starting guard Brady Latham played tackle and backups Beaux Limmer and Luke Jones played guard because of injuries to starting center Ricky Stromberg and starting right tackle Dalton Wagner.
“We’re banged up and we’ve got to get healthy,” Pittman said. “And I’m sure they’ve got some injuries too. But it’s on CBS, it’s a big deal. It’s nice to get some exposure for the University of Arkansas.”
Real nice, but maintained only if they stick to their knitting receiver Treylon Burks (3 catches for 127 yards including a 91-yard touchdown) and quarterback KJ Jefferson(13 of 23 for 366 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero turnovers plus a 17-yard run among 5 carries, said.
“As a team, we’re just rolling,” Burks said. “We’re not worried about us being ranked, the 3-0. It’s good, but we still want to play like we’ve always played – a blue-collar team with a chip on our shoulder – and keep playing ball like we know how.”
Jefferson vowed, “ Like I said last week, the main thing with us is back to the basics. We’re doing what got us here.”
Although with several close but no cigars, the Razorbacks, 3-0 against old Southwest Conference rival A&M when the rivalry was renewed nonconference 2009-2011 with A&M in the Big 12, Arkansas has not beaten A&M in their annual SEC West game since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012.
Forget that, says Jalen Catalon, the Hogs star safety from Mansfield, Texas.
“Don’t worry about the streak,” Catalon said. “Don’t worry about what we’ve done. Just worry about playing our game. I think if we put the right focus on the right thing, that’s just winning the ball game, then I think we’re going to be fine.”
Catalon said following what Pittman, defensive coordinator Barry Odom and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles plan undistracted is crucial.
“I know Coach Odom and the whole defensive staff is going to have a great game plan for us,” Catalon said. “And I know on the offensive side they’re going to have a great game plan. Just keep doing what we’ve been doing and not lose sight of what we’re trying to do.
They do know Saturday against A&M they’d better be ready not to commit the 13 penalties committed during the 38-17 season-opening victory over Texas or the nine penalties committed against Georgia Southern.
“We can’t have those,” Catalon said. “Especially when we start playing in the SEC. Because every week you’re facing somebody that’s going to capitalize off those.”