Arkansas, Texas coaches downplaying storied rivalry

Wednesday, September 8th 2004, 11:02 am
By: News On 6

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Arkansas coach Houston Nutt says it may not be too hard to downplay the storied Arkansas-Texas rivalry for his Razorback players, as Texas coach Mack Brown is also doing with his seventh-ranked Longhorns.

But at least now, with a 63-13 win over New Mexico State on the record, Nutt can lift the ban on the ``T'' word that he imposed during the preseason weeks, to make sure his team concentrated on the business at hand.

As a longtime consecutive series, the Arkansas-Texas rivalry died after the 1991 season when Arkansas left the Southwest Conference for the Southeastern Conference. Current players would have been in kindergarten or elementary school then.

``We're a different team now with a lot of younger guys and I don't know how much they know about Texas,'' Nutt said. ``Our younger guys probably don't understand that tradition of Arkansas-Texas.''

Fans, however, do. Ads on Arkansas radio stations have, for weeks, urged Razorback fans to beat the rush by hating Texas early. Some fans remained in the stadium chanting ``We want Texas!'' long after last weekend's rout.

Nutt was reminded of those sentiments before the game.

``It scared me to death when we got off the bus (Saturday) and saw 10 students wearing 'Beat Texas' t-shirts,'' Nutt said. ``We needed to beat New Mexico State first.''

Among Arkansas alumni and supporters, this is the biggest game of the year, regardless of a Southeastern Conference schedule that includes No. 3 Georgia and defending co-national champion LSU.

``That's where our fans are. They're thinking about one game and they have a right to do that,'' Nutt said.

In his first news conference after the New Mexico State game, he briefly addressed the Arkansas-Texas tradition. After that, Nutt sounded like any other coach preparing for a game with a ranked opponent, stressing concentration, hard work and mistake-free play on both sides of the ball.

The teams have met twice since 1991, once in the 2000 Cotton Bowl, which Arkansas won 27-6. And last year they played in Austin in the first installment of a two-game series intended as a nod to the past, when Arkansas-Texas was one of the hottest rivalries around.

Last year, Brown issued speeches and warnings in the days leading up to the game in an attempt to infuse his players with the spirit of the old-time feud. He even posted a photo of Nutt flashing an upside-down ``Hook 'em Horns'' sign after the Cotton Bowl victory.

Unranked Arkansas toppled then-fifth-ranked Texas 38-28.

``We did everything like that last year, so we're not going to do anything like that this year,'' Brown said. ``The loss last year should speak for itself.''

The early season loss helped dash any national title hopes the Longhorns harbored. The upset propelled an Arkansas team that fans had only moderate expectations of to a 4-0 start and No. 7 ranking. Though the Hogs later fell out of the poll, they finished the season 9-4 and won the Independence Bowl.

Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles admits that Arkansas has probably retained more of the spirit of the rivalry than most Texas fans since Arkansas has no in-state competition, while Texas has numerous home-state teams to fight, in addition to Big 12 rival Oklahoma.

Today's Texas players seem more interested in recent history than they are in older issues.

``We lost to them last year. They broke our winning streak at home. That's our rivalry,'' said junior defensive tackle Rod Wright. ``We don't need to think about ... back in the day, or whatever. We have our little rivalry going in 2004.''