ARLINGTON, Texas -- No series embodied the Bret Bielema era at the University of Arkansas better than the rivalry with Texas A&M.
The Razorbacks held fourth-quarter leads in three of the five meetings with Bielema at the helm, blew them all, then lost all three in overtime.
Agonizing losses to Aggies
Arkansas has lost its past six games against Texas A&M, tying the Aggies’ best winning streak in the series. The last four editions of the Southwest Classic, all played at AT&T Stadium, have been excruciating for Arkansas, which has lost fourth-quarter leads, been stopped repeatedly at the goal line, and lost in overtime over and over again:
Season;Score;Tot. Off.;Ark lead in 4th
2017;50-43 (OT);A&M 501-457;28-24
2015;28-21 (OT);Ark 457-423, 28-21
2014;35-28 (OT);A&M 523-484;28-14
One of those blown-lead losses led to the admission by Bielema that he had the urge to punch his buddy, then Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, in the face.
It's been that kind of series for the Hogs, who were 0-5 against their former Southwest Conference rivals under Bielema and have lost six in a row overall to the Aggies.
But in "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" style comes this new twist. The Razorbacks (1-3, 0-1 SEC) will send new Coach Chad Morris, a Texas A&M graduate, into the fray against the Aggies (2-2, 0-1) in today's 11 a.m. game at AT&T Stadium.
"We've been so close so many times, and it sucks to be on the losing side," Arkansas defensive tackle T.J. Smith said. "It doesn't matter. Get better. That's been Coach Morris' thing. It doesn't matter. Get better. If we get better, we can beat them Saturday."
Morris has downplayed facing his alma mater, though he referred to it as "the other school" on his radio show Wednesday night. The Southwest Classic trophy -- presented on the field by Jerry Jones or his son Stephen, both Arkansas graduates and executives with the Dallas Cowboys -- has not resided in the Hogs' case since the 2011 team staged a second-half comeback in a 42-38 victory.
Arkansas center Ty Clary has been involved in just one of the games, but as a Fayetteville native he knows how the series has played out the past several years.
"It's bitter," Clary said. "It's really bitter. We don't like those guys. We don't like Texas, and we want that trophy. We want that win in Jerry's World."
Morris is aware of how close the Razorbacks have come to wrapping their hands around the trophy in recent years.
"They've been right there at the end of the game and these players have felt it," Morris said. "These players have been a part of that, and to know that they've been so close."
Said Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey: "We're hungry, I know that. You look around the locker room and ... we're trying to get wins."
Texas A&M, under first-year Coach Jimbo Fisher, has tied its record of six consecutive victories over Arkansas. The Aggies are 21-point favorites to notch their seventh victory in a row over Arkansas today.
Fisher, who signed a 10-year, $75 million deal to coach the Aggies, recognized the improvements Arkansas showed in its SEC opener last week and spoke of his long-term relationship with Morris.
"Chad always does a great job, all the way back to his Clemson days," Fisher said. "And I knew him in high school when I was at LSU.
"He used to come visit us and I saw him at clinics. We're friends. I've known him a long time. He's always done an outstanding job on the offensive side of the football."
Though both teams are looking for their first SEC victory, the Aggies have looked much more competitive than Arkansas. Texas A&M's losses are to current No. 2 Clemson (28-26) and at No. 1 Alabama (45-23) last week.
Morris and the Razorbacks are looking for answers to a three-game losing streak in which they've scored a descending number of points, from 55 in the opener to 27, 17 and then just a field goal in their SEC-opening 34-3 loss at Auburn last week.
Morris said there's no extra emotion going against his alma mater.
"Not really. Just an opportunity for this football team to get better," Morris said. "Get back into an area that's a heavy recruiting base for us in the Dallas area. We have a huge alumni fan base.
"We're expecting a huge crowd, so I'm excited to get this team down there and give our best performance."
Even the most experienced Razorback, sixth-year senior Kevin Richardson, has never beaten the Aggies, though there are a couple of people on the Razorbacks roster who have wins in the series. Defensive coordinator John Chavis was on the winning side each of the past three years as the Aggies' defensive coordinator, and tailback Rakeem Boyd was a redshirt at A&M in 2016 when the Aggies won 45-24 behind a huge fourth quarter.
That's the only game among the last four that did not go into overtime, and the only one that did not end with the Aggies winning by a touchdown in the extra period.
"We want to win every game, and we do know that they've won every game that we've played these last couple of years, I think six, seven years in a row, so, we're just trying to turn that around," Arkansas defensive tackle McTelvin Agim said.
"It's really frustrating that we haven't beaten them yet since I've been here, but we don't really talk about it," junior receiver Deon Stewart said.
Senior Hjalte Froholdt put a positive take on the lopsided ledger against the Aggies.
"I'm just excited to be back out there, down to Jerry's World," Froholdt said. "Every year, however people look at the teams and however much talent people think we have, it's always going to be an extremely good game. Everyone flies around and everyone brings their A game to this game. It's going to be a really good game."
Some of the key moments from the recent harrowing losses are emblazoned in the minds of those who have watched these games.
• Dan Skipper's away-from-the-play tripping call on a long Jonathan Williams run inside the Aggies' 2 with Arkansas ahead 28-14 early in the fourth quarter in 2014.
• A missed 44-yard field goal with Arkansas up 28-21 and 2:29 remaining in the 2014 game when Texas A&M had just one timeout remaining.
• Christian Kirk's 100-yard kickoff return last year just after the Razorbacks had taken a 36-33 lead with 3:25 remaining.
• A suspect pass interference call against Arkansas freshman Kamren Curl on Kirk as Kellen Mond threw incomplete on third and 9 in overtime. Mond fired a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kirk on the next play.
Arkansas held the upper hand in the series for decades when both teams played in the Southwest Conference, and the Hogs continued their domination when the series resumed in 2009, three years before the Aggies jumped from the Big 12 to the SEC.
Arkansas won the first three games under Bobby Petrino after the resumption: a 47-19 wipeout in 2009, followed by a tight 24-17 affair in 2010. The 2011 game featured one of the biggest comebacks in Arkansas history, as Tyler Wilson and Jarius Wright fueled a comeback from an 18-point deficit for a 42-38 victory.
Then Johnny Manziel arrived on the scene to spark the Aggies for the brief home-and-home sequence: a 58-10 blowout in College Station, Texas, in 2012, followed by a 45-33 victory in Fayetteville.
Manziel is the only Texas A&M quarterback to win back-to-back starts against the Hogs during the stretch.
In order, Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen, Trevor Knight and Mond have victimized the Razorbacks, who had the Allen brothers Brandon and Austin under center in every meeting since 2013.
Sports on 09/29/2018
Print Headline: Texas A&M's six-year reign