Nutt seeks to become only Arkansas coach to run record to 3-0 against Texas

Friday, September 10th 2004, 9:27 am
By: News On 6

LITTLE ROCK (AP) _ Over the years, the best way to land a spot on Arkansas' non-conference football schedule was to be a) unranked and b) have a compass point as part of your name.

So when a highly ranked non-Southeastern Conference team travels to Fayetteville or Little Rock to meet the Razorbacks, it's a pretty big deal. And when that team is Texas, well, it's pretty close to being a state holiday.

And 72,000 people hope to celebrate Saturday night in Fayetteville, and thousands more elsewhere in Arkansas.

``When you play in college football, you want a place that's a great environment to play,'' said Texas coach Mack Brown, whose Longhorns are ranked No. 7. ``You don't want to go to a place that's quiet, empty or where people don't care, because it's hard to get your guys motivated.''

But motivation should come easily to Texas. Arkansas traveled to Austin last year and, behind quarterback Matt Jones, left with a 38-28 victory over the Longhorns, who were ranked fifth at the time.

Behind the quick-thinking and surprisingly quick-running Jones, Arkansas converted 10-of-13 third-down plays last year, including a Jones 18-yard run on third-and-7 that kept a touchdown drive alive. Jones was 8-of-16 passing for 139 yards and added another 103 yards on the ground.

``We have to try to tackle him. We didn't do that at all last year,'' Brown said. ``He threw the ball so much better than we anticipated last year. He throws the ball much better than people give him credit for.''

Jones, however, is the only starter back on Arkansas' offense for 2004, and one of only four returning players for the whole Razorback team. Texas counters with Cedric Benson, the NCAA's current career leader in rushing yards (3,887) and touchdowns rushing (47).

``Cedric Benson is running at a different level,'' Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. ``They're really stressing rushing the football, being able to run it and being able to stop the run. It looks like they've gotten back to some basic fundamentals. It's going to be interesting.''

Nutt has never lost to a non-conference opponent in a regular-season game and, with another such victory, would be the only Arkansas coach to ever have a 3-0 record against the Longhorns, in a series dating to 1894. Prior to last year's victory, an Arkansas team coached by Nutt beat Texas in the 2000 Cotton Bowl.

The legendary Frank Broyles, now Arkansas' athletic director, was 1-5 against Texas before coaching the Razorbacks to three straight wins in the series from 1964-66. Frank Thomsen was 1-3 against the Longhorns before a 4-0 run from 1935-38 _ those against Texas teams that finished with losing records.

``I'm glad we're at home, and glad we have the home field advantage,'' Nutt said. ``We haven't played them that many times (recently), but we've been fortunate enough that the ball did bounce our way and we got some momentum and won.''

Since taking over at Arkansas in 1998, Nutt is 21-0 against non-conference teams in the regular season _ compared to a 26-23 record against SEC foes. Nine of the non-conference victories have come against teams requiring a directional geographic reference to identify them (including the old Northeast and Southwestern Louisiana, which recently changed their names). Except for Texas last year, none have been ranked.

Before Arkansas left the Southwest Conference for the SEC after the 1991 season, Texas was on the schedule every year and the rivalry was often among the hottest in the nation.

``There is a lot of tradition and that's why this game is so big in our state,'' Nutt said. ``Sometimes as the coach you would rather not play them, and you feel you have enough of what you need with your schedule.'' Besides Texas, Arkansas must play Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and LSU this year.

Texas has had grander successes lately. The Longhorns have won 17 of their last 18 road games and been ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 for 62 consecutive polls _ half of that time in the Top 10.

``We know Arkansas plays really well at home,'' Brown said. ``That even makes it more difficult for us this weekend even though our guys are excited about a fun challenge of going in to a hostile place to play where the Arkansas fans will be excited about Texas coming because we haven't been there in a long time. It's good for history and it's good for college football. It will be a fun thing for us.''

Texas last played in the state at Little Rock in 1991, a 14-13 Arkansas victory. It's last trip to Fayetteville was in 1989 when the Longhorns beat the Razorbacks 24-20. Arkansas was ranked No. 7 at the time.