LITTLE ROCK — Cultivated during Arkansas’ days in the Southwest Conference and revived in Arlington, an intangible interferes with reason when picking the Razorbacks vs. Texas A&M in football.
It is the Aggies’ persona, reinforced on Nov. 12, 1977, the only time I was at College Station. No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 11 A&M was worthy of an Associated Press double team. Transportation included a seat on the morning newspaper’s small charter going and a spot on the afternoon paper’s equally tiny plane coming home.
That day, the Razorbacks led by 10, but A&M tied it at 20 before Arkansas wide receiver Robert Farrell, who would be stereotyped today as a possession receiver, convinced the Aggies that his route was only an out. Quarterback Ron Calcagni helped sell the abbreviated pattern and mesmerized the defender. An up completed the straight-from-the-playground move and resulted in a 56-yard TD pass. A&M teased the outcome with a drive to the Arkansas 14 before Patrick Martin intercepted in the end zone.
It was vintage A&M.
No wonder the school merited a 50-page joke book in 1965 and, 10 years later, there was enough material for “Aggie Joke Book (Great Great Great Grandson of 101 Aggie Jokes)”
A year ago, football insiders explained Arkansas’ rally from a 35-17 halftime by citing Bobby Petrino-mandated defensive adjustments that limited the Aggies to three points in the second half. Those changes helped and so did the fact that A&M insisted on leaving the middle of the field open for Jarius Wright and others to catch more than 500 yards of Tyler Wilson passes.
But, that’s too analytical say those who saw the 1977 game and other A&M hard-to-fathom losses and came to believe. “They’re Aggies,” was espoused at halftime last year when somebody noted 35-17 and asked why I had picked Arkansas.
Other than A&M’s penchant for helping the Razorbacks and Wilson’s passing, there is little reason for optimism about Arkansas’ chances on Saturday.
A veteran of two spring practices and three college games, A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel is already earning catchy nicknames. You can question the competition when he completed 15-of-20 vs. South Carolina State, but he was also 23-of-30 for 173 and carried 17 times for 60 yards against a Florida team that is 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
Chances are, he will have a big game against an Arkansas that was short of defensive backs before cornerback Tevin Mitchel was injured in the second game of the season. In the last 10 quarters, the opponents’ starting quarterbacks have completed an astounding 60-of-94 for 831 yards.
A&M’s receivers, said Arkansas coach John L. Smith, are as good as the Razorbacks have seen. Responding to a question, he also said that not only do the Razorbacks need to tackle better in the secondary, they need to be closer to the receiver when he makes the catch — a polite critique of the coverage.
For a change of pace, A&M can run the ball behind what is supposed to be one of the best offensive lines in the country. Arkansas’ group is not on that list, another minus against a defense that has recorded 16 sacks in three games. In fact, Arkansas is the only team in the 14-member SEC averaging less than 100 yards per game rushing.
Quarterback Wilson said this week that he might mention the second-half rally against the Aggies in 2011 when trying to convince his teammates that a W is possible.
He is emotionally involved. For those who are objective, it appears Arkansas will be the first to lose a conference game to one of the two new members of the SEC.
Unless, of course, there is another Aggie joke brewing in College Station.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.