Jim Harris: New Razorbacks Must Believe They’ll Beat Red Raiders


In the old days, up to the end of their Southwest Conference series in 1991, Arkansas went into it game with Texas Tech expecting to win. It was as simple a mind-set as what Texas possessed when it played Arkansas or Texas A&M, or what Oklahoma feels every time it lines up against Oklahoma State, or Alabama taking on Vanderbilt. Some teams are convinced they will not lose.

Nobody on Arkansas’ roster was alive the last time Arkansas and Tech played, and Coach Bret Bielema was still a college player, an overachieving undersized defensive lineman at Iowa. The Arkansas program of today has no concept of playing Texas Tech every year and expecting to beat the Red Raiders. It’s been Bielema’s charge this week to convince these young Razorbacks with no historical knowledge that, whether they play this game in Lubbock or on the moon, Arkansas is superior to Tech and just needs to take care of business, let Tech fold up with its risky offense, and capture the most significant win over a nonconference team in Bielema’s short tenure. There are reasons along the offensive and defensive lines and in the Razorback backfield to believe that Arkansas should, in fact, control this game from the outset and exert its will, making up for deficiencies on defense.

UA athletic director Jeff Long added Texas Tech to the schedule as a two-year home-and-home when Bobby Petrino was still head coach, ostensibly to further the Razorback program’s recruiting presence in Texas. Arkansas and Tech have gone up against each other for prospects the past several years, mostly out of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex; but considering there probably isn’t a candidate one for the Arkansas roster in west Texas, signing up Tech for a Texas presence seemed odd at the time. TCU, which makes much more sense in bolstering the DFW presence, comes on the schedule in 2016-17.

Nevertheless, if Long wanted to schedule a decent “name” program from the major five conferences that Arkansas should expect to beat, and get the game coverage written up in the major Texas newspapers of Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston and on the TV there, then Texas Tech of the forgotten SWC and now the Big 12 would be it.

As the resident Razorback historian here, let me point out a few moments in the Arkansas-Texas Tech series to bring the younger fans up-to-date while perhaps stirring the minds of Hog fans my age and older of days when Arkansas played for championships and Tech stood in the way.

Frank Broyles didn’t lose to Tech in his first eight years as Arkansas coach. With a handful of exceptions when Texas or Texas A&M was moved to the back end of the Razorback schedule for TV purposes, Texas Tech was the regular season finale. Even in his rare down years — his first, and 1963 when Arkansas had been nationally ranked and picked to win the SWC but was 4-5 going into the game — Broyles could urge his veterans to lead the youngsters and finish the year on a high note (also, note that Tech on a few occasions still had another game left, and didn’t have the rah-rah “let’s end this the right way” urgency from the likes of Coach J.T. King).

You win nine straight, including eight under one coach, in the regular season finale against the SWC’s ugly stepchild — Tech was only allowed to join the traditional seven conference teams in 1957 — and it becomes expected by the players and the fan base.

So, needless to say, on Nov. 19 in 1966 was quite the shock when Tech turned back “quarterbackin’ man” Jon Brittenum and the Hogs 21-16 in Lubbock, denying what would have been a Cotton Bowl berth against Georgia. Arkansas, at 8-2, chose to stay home for the holidays — which would be unthinkable today. Not unlike the 2011 finale at LSU when the program suddenly lost redshirt freshman tight end Garrett Ueckman, Arkansas’ players went to Lubbock with heavy hearts when backup fifth-year senior tackle Claud Smithey succumbed in Houston after spending three weeks in a coma following his collapse in the dressing room at College Station.

That’s also the first time I heard coaches and Arkansas fans blame the “Texas refs” for a Razorback defeat — Brittenum had been denied twice on quarterback sneaks from the lip of the goal when Arkansas was in position to take command of the game, and momentum went the other way.

The game wasn’t on TV anyway, so no replays would have determined conclusively whether he scored. And, a bunch of us kids were not paying attention or listening to Bud Campbell on the radio either — instead, we were at a “football” birthday party in the immense back yard of George Dunklin’s family (the George Dunklin that today serves as national president of Ducks Unlimited).

That was also the same day on national TV that Notre Dame settled for a 10-10 tie with Michigan State and won the national championship. I never understood why the voters didn’t give a co-title to Michigan State, since it too was unbeaten.

Nobody believed it when one of the adults told us, after our birthday fun, that the Hogs had actually lost earlier that afternoon. To Texas Tech. It just couldn’t be. It took a while for that to set in, perhaps a full year, right up to late November 1967 when Tech nearly ran Arkansas out of War Memorial Stadium before holding on for a 31-27 win. Joe Matulich, Tech’s quarterback, is a name I can’t forget (while I’m having trouble remembering current Raiders quarterback Davis Webb).

Broyles and Arkansas re-established the dominance over Tech in 1968, running the Red Raiders ragged while intercepting something like eight passes in the howling Lubbock wind on the way to a Sugar Bowl berth and victory over Georgia to cap a 10-1 season. A succession of pretty good coaches followed the veteran J.T. King into Lubbock, the best probably being Jim Carlen, who built the Red Raiders into a formidable power in the early 1970s, but Arkansas still usually prevailed. It seemed like anytime Arkansas needed to get well and send the fans happy into Christmas season, even in down years, Tech was the antidote. Lou Holtz never lost to Tech in seven games; Ken Hatfield, just once in his six.

Tech has had a handful of notable bowl wins and produced an array of terrific players over the years — running back Donny Anderson was the first, and greatest, that I recall, and was the one Arkansas had to contain during that famed 22-game win streak of the mid-’60s. Anderson was the first pick of the champion Green Bay Packers in the NFL Draft in 1966.

Arkansas may have played the perfect half of football when it faced a Tech team still in contention for the SWC in 1978. Arkansas had been eliminated by back-to-back road losses to Texas and Houston in October. But Lou Holtz’s Razorbacks jelled the way Sports Illustrated had expected them to in picking Arkansas the preseason No. 1, and coasted through November. Ron Calcagni, Ben Cowins and crew scored on six of six possessions in the first half to lead 42-0, a true stream-rolling if ever there was one at Arkansas.

When Arkansas was already leaving for the Southeastern Conference and the series was coming to an end in Lubbock in 1991, Jack Crowe was at the helm and having to use a walk-on quarterback, Wade Hill, in a rowdy setting at Lubbock — an atmosphere probably not unlike what these Hogs will experience Saturday, as surely UCA in Tech’s opener didn’t excite the Raider faithful the way an SEC opponent will. Arkansas wasn’t much competition in that last meeting with Tech, which was so different from the way the series had gone for 35 years.

In fact, the only other time Tech overwhelmed Arkansas, the Raiders led Broyles’ last team 30-0 at one point in War Memorial Stadium in 1976 and were nice in settling it at 30-7 over a guy who had only lost three other times, in 19 games, against the boys from west Texas.

Will the Razorbacks beat the Texas Tech Red Raiders?

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