Stage is set for a Razorback uprising against the Longhorns

Legendary former Arkansas coach and athletics director Frank Broyles, a disciple of the great Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd, saw the game of football as three distinct and equal phases — offense, defense, and the kicking game.

Broyles’ belief was that if your squad won either two, it usually had an excellent chance of winning a ballgame. Thus his squads were generally impeccable in the kicking game.

It could be argued that the Razorbacks’ mastery of the kicking game under Broyles was the catalyst for the Hogs’ undefeated season in 1964 — one of just two perfect seasons in the school’s history, and the program’s lone football national title. The other undefeated season came way back in 1909.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Texas
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11
Where: Fayetteville, AR

Remaining schedule

Sept. 18 — Georgia Southern
Sept. 25 — Texas A&M at Arlington
Oct. 2 — at Georgia
Oct. 9 — at Ole Miss
Oct. 16 – Auburn
Oct. 23 — UAPB, at Little Rock
Nov. 6 — Mississippi State
Nov. 13 — at LSU
Nov. 20 — at Alabama
Nov. 26 — Missouri

I say argued because that ‘64 Razorback squad also boasted an outstanding defense that shut out its final five regular-season opponents and gave up just 5.8 points over the span of 11 games, which included a 10-7 victory over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl. Good times, right.

So the ‘64 Hogs dominated on defense and were excellent in the kicking game. That excellence on special teams was the key to one of the program’s greatest victories, a 14-13 nail-biter over No. 1 Texas at Austin.

The play everyone remembers, of course, was Ken Hatfield’s 81-yard punt return for a touchdown, which included key blocks by fellow Hogs Jim Lindsey, Harry Jones, and Jerry Lamb for a 7-0 lead.

Less remembered, but just as pivotal was Dick Hatfield, Ken’s brother, alertly snapping the ball early on a punt attempt when he noticed a Longhorn loafing off the field. The result was a drive-extending penalty that set the stage for the Hogs’ lone offensive touchdown of the game, a 34-yard pass from quarterback Freddy Marshall to split end Bobby Crockett, who juked a Texas defender that was caught peeking in the backfield. Crockett also made a key third-down, shoestring catch to keep that drive alive.

The Hogs’ victory that night in Austin stands as one of the landmark moments in Razorback football history. It obviously comes to mind because of the Hogs’ date with No. 15 Texas at 6 p.m. Saturday in Razorback Stadium, but also because Arkansas still had some struggles in the kicking game last Saturday in the Razorbacks’ 38-17 victory over Rice.

The Hogs overcame a fumble on a punt return and a blocked punt to fry Rice, but if such gaffs rear their ugly head against a Texas team that made short work of then No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette, 38-18, it could be a long, ugly Saturday night for Hog fans.

The Razorbacks’ execution needs to be as spotless as possible in all three phases of the game if the Hogs, a 6-point underdog, hope to pull off an upset of the Longhorns, who appeared in mid-season form for head coach Steve Sarkisian’s debut in Austin.

You see, over the long history of the Arkansas-Texas series, which the Longhorns have dominated 56-22, the Razorbacks have usually had to play over their heads to win.

Often the Hogs have outplayed Texas on the field for the bulk of a game, only to see the Longhorns depth and talent nip them in the end. Texas has also steamrolled the Hogs more times than I would like to admit.

On occasions, the Razorbacks have whipped Texas. Like many other longtime Razorback followers, I can recite the years of those victories easily because they just stick in my mind as special moments.

The Razorbacks haven’t played Texas regularly since exiting the the Southwest Conference after the 1991 season to join the Southeastern Conference, but the Hogs are 3-2 against the Longhorns in the five games since.

I don’t know if the Razorbacks will have to play over their heads Saturday to upset Texas, but they will have to play a better brand of football than they did last week against Rice.

If the Hogs wait until the late third quarter to get their act together on offense and special teams like last week, then it is going to be a long ugly night for Razorback fans as they listen to “Texas Fight” blaring all night long.

I don’t think that will happen. I believe Razorback coach Sam Pittman will have his Razorbacks ready to play, and that we will see a competitive game.

The old “pucker factor” that had the Hogs too tight for so many Texas clashes of the past no longer exists for the players, although it’s probably still there for some fans.

Not saying there won’t be some nerves for the Hogs, but no matter how much tutoring they’ve received this week from Pittman about the series, they just haven’t experienced the shell-shock longtime Hog fans have endured. For the most part, this is just another big game to them.

And that’s a very good thing.

The last thing these current Razorbacks need is a bunch of emotional baggage weighing them down when they take the field.

Lost in last week’s gaffs in the kicking game and slow start on offense was a fairly strong showing by Arkansas’ defense. Yeah, giving up 17 points to Rice isn’t anything to shout about, but considering how constipated the offense was in the first half, the blocked punt, and the dreadful field position, I thought the defense equitted itself nicely, other than the two targeting penalties.

Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool’s ejections were proper by the letter of the rules, although neither of their hits were “dirty plays.” With what we now know about head trauma today, the targeting penalty is a part of the game, but perhaps it should become a more nuanced call, as Pittman suggested in a news conference earlier this week?

Maybe there should be a 15-yard penalty for targeting with the option of ejection if the hit to the helmet is deemed excessive rather than incidental. Yes, that would make the officials have to judge intent, which is tricky, but isn’t that why they are paid? Just a thought.

The real challenge for the Hogs, though, is that the Longhorns are a big, talented skilled football team with gamebreakers at all the skilled positions. Quarterback Hudson Card is athletic and strong-armed, but more importantly he did not play like a freshmen in Texas’ opener.

Running back Bijan Robinson is a Heisman candidate if I’ve ever seen one. He’s not only a powerful and quick runner out of the backfield, but he also splits out as a receiver and returns punts and kicks. He’s a dangerous, uncommon talent.

Texas is going to score points, so Arkansas’ offense can’t go AWOL for a half if the Hogs expect to win the game, and the Razorbacks need to find a way to make special teams an asset rather than a liability.

A lot rests on the shoulders of Arkansas quarterback K.J. Jefferson. He has to be a play-maker in the Hogs’ offense, not just a care-taker, but he can’t do it alone. The drops that experienced receivers Treylon Burks and De’vion Warren had last week aren’t going to cut it. Not against Texas or SEC opponents for that matter.

I like the strong support Pittman gave to his sophomore signal-caller earlier this week. Now, the young man needs to go out and prove that Pittman’s faith is warranted and not wasted. I think Jefferson will play better this week even though the stakes are higher.

A win would be huge for the Razorback program on a Saturday that has relatively few marquee matchups. It would restore some of the faith fans have lost during the program’s recent struggles, and perhaps even bolt the Hogs into the Top 25. No doubt, it would be a shot in the arm to Arkansas’ recruiting efforts, and be a sign post that Pittman is indeed turning the program around.

Razorback Stadium is sold out for the first time since 2017. This game should break the school’s all-time attendance record with standing-room-only tickets being sold on the concourse. The stage is set for a Razorback uprising. It will be interesting and possibly exciting to see where the Hogs stand Sunday morning.