FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — While Arkansas was overwhelming Texas State here Saturday night, another wall-to-wall victory took place some 300-plus miles to the southwest in Arlington, Texas.
Canelo Alvarez gradually wore down Liam Smith and scored a ninth-round knockout, winning the WBO junior middleweight title inside Jerry Jones’ football palace that — for a night — was converted into a boxing ring.
Next Saturday, AT&T Stadium will again be a football stadium, playing host to Arkansas and Texas A&M for the annual Southwest Classic. And after blowing fourth quarter leads — and losing in overtime — in the last two of these games, the Razorbacks will hope to channel some of Alvarez’s thoroughness.
Following the win Saturday, Arkansas junior offensive lineman Frank Ragnow interrupted a reporter’s question about his team’s eagerness to play the Aggies.
“Yeah,” Ragnow said emphatically. “Oh, we definitely have a chip on our shoulder after the past two years where we didn’t finish the ballgame the way we should.”
After a 3-0 start, Arkansas seems to have solved the frustrating early-season woes that plagued it the last two years. The Hogs beat a ranked TCU team on the road, then against Texas State, scored their most lopsided win over a FBS program in the Bret Bielema era.
So, we know Arkansas has figured out how to win September games, both close and convincing. But we will learn just how different this Razorbacks team is after it faces the Aggies in Arlington.
Texas A&M, like Arkansas, is 3-0 and ranked. The Aggies also enter the Southwest Classic having just beaten Auburn on the road. They boast a dynamic wide receiver corps and a defensive line that includes All-America end Myles Garrett.
But for Arkansas, the Aggies might actually present an even tougher mental challenge than a physical one.
In 2014, Arkansas led Texas A&M 28-14 entering the fourth quarter before the Aggies scored twice, then won 35-28 in overtime.
Last year, the Hogs took an eight-point lead with Rawleigh Williams III’s touchdown run early in the fourth. But Texas A&M scored with just more than 2 minutes to play and added a 2-point conversion. The game went to overtime, where the Aggies won on Christian Kirk’s 20-yard touchdown reception.
In that same stadium on Saturday night, Alvarez knocked Smith to the canvas in the seventh and eighth rounds, then landed the clincher in the ninth.
Arkansas has done a good job of knocking the Aggies down the last two years, but failed miserably when it came to delivering a knockout blow.
“I fear no one,” Alvarez told reporters following his victory.
The Razorbacks would be wise to carry that attitude into AT&T Stadium if they want 2016 to be the year they finally finish off the Aggies.