Old rivals Arkansas, Texas A&M look to future
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson didn't hold back when talking about the importance of Saturday's game against Texas A&M.
It doesn't matter that it is a nonconference game, at least for now. Coming off a 38-14 loss to Alabama, Wilson made it clear that the No. 18 Razorbacks (3-1) can't afford a two-game losing streak when they face the No. 14 Aggies (2-1) in Cowboys Stadium.
''This is a must win in my mind,'' Wilson said. ''In anybody's mind that's here in this program, I guarantee.''
The game is the third installment of the Southwest Classic, a 10-year series between two former Southwest Conference rivals.
Little did they know then how ahead of their time they were.
With Texas A&M's move the Southeastern Conference set to begin next season, this will be the final nonconference matchup in the series. But there is a lot on the line.
Both teams are coming off their first losses of the season - Arkansas against Alabama and Texas A&M against Oklahoma State. They lost in far-different fashions, with the Razorbacks outclassed by the Crimson Tide and the Aggies suffering through a third-quarter meltdown on their way to a 30-29 loss to the Cowboys.
What happens this week is what matters most to Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, who said Texas A&M's future SEC membership didn't add anything to the game. Petrino is more focused on rebounding from last week's loss and keeping hopes of a second-straight BCS bowl game alive, thoughts echoed by Razorbacks linebacker Alonzo Highsmith.
''It's just another team to me,'' Highsmith said.
Arkansas has defeated the Aggies in each of the last two seasons in this series, anchored by former quarterback Ryan Mallett. It's Wilson's turn now to face a Texas A&M defense that leads the country with an average of 4.7 sacks per game.
That doesn't bode well for Wilson, who spent much of the Alabama game on his back as the Crimson Tide had its way with a rebuilt offensive line that replaced three starters from last season.
Despite the defensive success, several Texas A&M players admitted to fatigue during the second half last week against Oklahoma State. The Aggies led 20-3 at halftime before allowing 27 straight points by the Cowboys' quick-paced offense, which is similar to one Arkansas has used at times this season.
''Clearly it affected us,'' Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said. ''We didn't do a very good job of getting lined up. We didn't effectively communicate to our players the call. ... It's difficult to defend. But we will.''
Aggies quarterback Ryan Tannehill hadn't yet taken over under center when Texas A&M lost to the Razorbacks last season. Tannehill and running back Cyrus Gray from a 1-2 punch that has Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson concerned -- especially after the Razorbacks allowed 28 points to a similar offense in Troy two weeks ago.
''The thing about the pace is, their pace is extremely fast,'' Robinson said. ''Switching gears going from Troy to Alabama, when Alabama was more methodical, now all of a sudden you're going back to what Troy presented, and that's a fast-pace offense.''
No matter how much each team's coaches and players try to focus only on Saturday's game, the matchup will be full of reminiscing about the past and looking ahead to an SEC future. Some of the players can't help themselves.
''The underclassmen are excited about going to the SEC just as much as anyone else is,'' Texas A&M junior linebacker Sean Porter said. ''It's a good deal for us. It's supposed to be the best conference in the country. We're going to play against the best competition. It will be a good thing for our school and our fans also.''