Arkansas pounding Texas State in a 42-3 nonconference win might not seem significant, but for a team that has so often gotten in its own way, Saturday’s blowout had to be equal parts refreshing and relieving for Hogs fans.
This year, there is no Toledo. No Rutgers. No Texas Tech. No inferior team to slow the Razorbacks’ roll before it even gets going. Whatever September virus has been infecting Arkansas the past couple years was vaccinated by a simple message from coach Bret Bielema to his players:
Don’t talk about TCU. Talk about Texas State.
“I knew that our guys were going to hear about how well they played last week,” Bielema said, via SEC Country’s Jason Kersey. “I really put the screws to them about turning the page. I’m sure you guys got frustrated in our Tuesday and Wednesday press. I wouldn’t let them answer questions about last Saturday. They were supposed to move on. I think they did a pretty good job about that. In this league, if you worry too much about what happened yesterday, tomorrow hits you in the face.”
Finally, the 17th-ranked Razorbacks enter SEC play with a clean record and a much better sense of team identity. The Louisiana Tech nail-biter seems distant. Now, they’ve got a dramatic, marquee road win over TCU and a beatdown, and they’re feeling good.
But for Bielema’s bunch, there’s one more “tomorrow” to vanquish before the Hogs hype train can really leave the station — one more Lone Star State foe up ahead on the tracks.
No. 10 Texas A&M, 4-0 against Arkansas since Kevin Sumlin came to town, will be waiting in Jerry World just as eager to prove its SEC West legitimacy. Fresh off convincingly beating an underrated Auburn team, the Aggies once again have the offensive depth to spread the Razorbacks thin and challenge their weakest links. This might be Sumlin’s most complete Texas A&M team, one that finally features both steady defense and a reliable rushing attack. And if Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall aren’t excited after seeing how much rotation occurred on the Arkansas O-line Saturday, well, they should be.
Yet the Hogs already have beaten a more talented team on the road in TCU. They also did it last season at Tennessee, at Ole Miss, at LSU and in the quadruple-overtime slugfest against Auburn. They’ve passed tests that most groups could not.
That won’t make this Saturday’s challenge any easier. But this team has the pieces to knock off the Aggies, as they have nearly done the past two seasons.
Rawleigh Williams, the SEC’s No. 3 rusher, looks like one of the conference’s next great running backs. Austin Allen has shown poise and growth through three starts. Cornerback Ryan Pulley has been a fantastic find for Arkansas this season, and the defense is among just 23 FBS teams to already have recorded double-digit sacks.
Most importantly, even with the issues on the offensive line, the Hogs are still doing what they do best: maintain possession and control the clock. Through three games, they are holding the ball for more than 34 minutes per contest, which is 13th-best in the nation. That’s a battle Texas A&M hasn’t won against Arkansas since 2013, its last non-overtime win. Whether an improved Aggies run game changes that might be the single biggest question in this game, but Bielema’s teams traditionally play the run quite well.
- 2013: Texas A&M 31:43, Arkansas 28:17
- 2014: Texas A&M 23:00, Arkansas 37:00
- 2015: Texas A&M: 20:32, Arkansas 39:28
Above all, the Bielema moxie seems evident across this year’s squad. He knows his Hogs have never been — as he put it — “sexy” like a Texas A&M or Ole Miss. While they embrace that gritty win-in-the-dirt mentality, the 2016 squad really seems to embody it. And that’s probably what makes Arkansas so endearing.
Now in Year 4, Bielema is keen on changing his program’s narrative: no longer being the pesky November up-and-comer, but a beefy “come and stop us” juggernaut like LSU. A win on Saturday certainly would signify a big step in such a shift.