Southwest skid: Hogs have dropped 10 of last 11 against Aggies

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (center) loses the ball, resulting in a touchdown by Texas A&M during last year’s matchup, which the Aggies won 23-21. The Razorbacks have lost 10 of the past 11 games in the series. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Coach Sam Pittman and the Arkansas Razorbacks got a huge breakthrough win in the Southwest Classic in 2021 with a 20-10 upset over No. 7 Texas A&M.

The University of Arkansas appeared ready to back that up with another win over Texas A&M last year before weirdness ensued.

The Aggies returned a pop-up fumble 97 yards for a touchdown and the Razorbacks botched what was setting up to be a chip-shot, go-ahead field goal in the closing moments of a 23-21 loss at AT&T Stadium.

The excruciating loss was nothing new to Arkansas in this series, which it formerly dominated when both schools were in the Southwest Conference.

Arkansas (2-2, 0-1 SEC) has lost 10 of the last 11 games against Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0), a handful of them just as painful as last year, heading into today's 11 a.m. kickoff at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

For Razorbacks fans, the results in this annual battle, dubbed the Southwest Classic upon its resumption in 2009, have been confounding, even bordering on the bizarre.

"I would think the rivalry would mean more to us because we're one of the last 11," Pittman said. "Certainly, I've been in on some of those overtime losses and things where the game looked like it was ours, just like last year, and not able to win it."

The Aggies are favored again by more than a touchdown coming off a 27-10 home rout of Auburn.

Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher, who is 4-1 in the rivalry, has beaten Arkansas by 7, 4 and 2 points at AT&T Stadium, and by a 42-31 count at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, during the covid year of 2020.

Fisher didn't buy into the theory during Wednesday's SEC teleconference the Aggies should have built-in confidence because of how they have controlled the series.

"Every year is different and every team is different," Fisher said. "Hopefully we can have confidence because of how we're playing this year.

"Like I said, last year's team doesn't effect this year's team. So I think that's part of it. It's a whole different year, so we're going to have to make sure we go play well this week so we can have more success."

Given Arkansas' two-game skid and ensuing road games at Ole Miss and Alabama before returning home, the Razorbacks understand the importance of today's game.

"This game is important because I like winning," sophomore tailback Rashod Dubinion said. "I take every game the same way. I love winning.

"I come from a winning background. This one we have to win. I don't think we should lose any more."

Junior defensive captain Landon Jackson called the matchup with the Aggies a big-time rivalry.

"I think they've taken 10 of the past 11, so I mean we're trying to get this one and come out on top," Jackson said. "It's a big-time game, and I'm really trying to get a win.

"I don't like losing. I come from a winning history. I want to get this win for sure."

The injury front could play a role, as Arkansas might have tailback Raheim "Rocket" Sanders back from a knee issue for the first time since the season opener. Texas A&M will start Max Johnson at quarterback after Conner Weigman was ruled out with a lower leg injury suffered last week.

All the big winning in the series comes from the Aggies' sideline. Current Texas A&M offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino is the last Arkansas head coach who didn't struggle to beat the Aggies.

Petrino's Hogs were 3-0 in the first three years of the series' renewal before the Aggies joined the SEC.

Arkansas won those games 47-19, 24-17 and 42-38, the last in a game Petrino famously made a halftime defensive adjustment by widening the Hogs' ends, spurring a comeback from a 35-17 deficit.

Tyler Wilson passed for a school-record 510 yards that day, with 281 of them going to Jarius Wright for another school record, which was surpassed the next season by Cobi Hamilton.

Razorbacks fans, riding high with the three-game winning streak that took the Hogs' series lead to 41-24-3, would have no idea they would beat the Aggies just one time in the next 11 tries.

But the Hogs have made a habit of playing it close and crumpling at the end. The Aggies have won three games in overtime and three others by a touchdown or less.

The anguish of the narrow losses caused former Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema to keep it real to the point he once confessed he wanted to punch his buddy Kevin Sumlin during the postgame handshake process.

Arkansas coaches John L. Smith, Bielema and Chad Morris lost eight games in a row to the Aggies between 2012 and 2019 and Pittman added one more to that tally before the Hogs' big breakthrough behind quarterback KJ Jefferson and wideout Treylon Burks in 2021.

Arkansas captured all three of its rivalry games that season and added another trophy by beating Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

Since then, the Razorbacks have dropped four consecutive rivalry games by three points or less, including a 34-31 setback at LSU last weekend.

Pittman suggested the Razorbacks' recent record in the series could have caused the term "rivalry" to cool off.

"The rivalry for us has to be more than for them, simply because I don't know how much you can truly respect an opponent that you've beaten 10 out of 11 times," Pittman said.

"It's definitely a rivalry for us. You don't see many series lopsided at 1-10 like that, but we did go through some rough, rough years as well in there. But I think if we can get a lead we've got to figure out how to extend the lead and not just try to hold on to it.

"And I think we certainly tried that last year and I thought there at the end of the game we were going to score, but I didn't know what the time on the clock was going to be."

Instead of powering down for a touchdown or a chip-shot field goal, the Razorbacks reached second-and-5 at the Texas A&M 16-yard line before center Ricky Stromberg snapped a ball off his backside and Sanders recovered the loose ball for a 9-yard loss.

Pittman used the last of his timeouts after that play and the next before Cam Little boinked a 42-yard field goal off the right upright.

The Aggies then performed kneel downs to run out the clock in their two-point win.

"I was worried about scoring too fast but at that point, we were running the clock and I just wanted to score," Pittman said this week. "And then we had an errant snap that killed a lot of that stuff. So, hopefully decision-making and all that stuff will be as good as it possibly can be and we'll come out on top."

Fisher said the familiarity between the teams has led to tight contests.

"I mean, you've got two teams who are used to playing each other for many, many years," he said. "There's great history, there's great tradition back in the Southwest Conference days and all the games and how much they meant. And then when you play an opponent consistently over and over and over yearly, it's like playing your brother in a weird way.

"You're out in the yard. You're going to compete and play hard, and it matters. And it doesn't matter if they're supposed to be ranked high and you're not or whatever. It always seems to always come back to those. That's what makes rivalry games and history games so great. And the more you play somebody, the more comfortable you are. So you know how to compete against them. And I think that's what all this is part of."