Last week’s season-opening win over Louisiana answered a lot of questions about Texas. Saturday night’s loss to Arkansas has raised a lot of questions about the same Longhorns.
Seven days never seemed like so long ago. Texas, ranked No. 15 for now but not for much longer, was humbled, embarrassed and sent back to Austin in the harshest way, losing 40-21 to an Arkansas team that’s picked to finish dead last in the SEC West — just like the Razorbacks actually have finished the last three years, at the end of 2-10, 2-10 and 3-7 seasons.
This is the worst team in the SEC West? The Big 12 has never felt so cozy.
Of course, we reminded ourselves last week to take the win over Louisiana with a grain of Group of Five salt. Wanted to see how Hudson Card, the redshirt freshman, would fare on the road and in a hostile environment and in front of a sellout crowd in prime time against an SEC team? Wanted to know what Bijan Robinson could do after his big opening act? Wanted to see what Steve Sarkisian would come up with to take advantage of a Hogs defense that was minus its star linebacker (for a half) and starting edge rusher (for the season)?
All legit questions. Now there are even more, like how will Texas respond to this kind of loss. Or how Card bounces back. Or if this means Casey Thompson’s status changes at all.
Texas got pushed around
No other way to say it. The Razorbacks pushed around the Horns tonight kind of how the Horns pushed around the Ragin’ Cajuns last week — but only kind of, because tonight’s mismatch was more apparent. Texas was outgained in the first half by a total yards margin of 228-78. The Hogs finished with three sacks, Card was flushed out of the pocket regularly and hurried into errant throws.
There were false starts at sold-out Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium that turned third-and-9s into third-and-14s. Texas went three-and-out on three of its first four possessions. Missed passes to open receivers. Weird turnovers. Another missed field goal by Cameron Dicker. A blocked punt, too. Missed tackles. Missed tackles that could have prevented big plays. Missed tackles that could have prevented touchdowns.
Attendance was 74,531. That’s a stadium record.
Arkansas was pitching a shutout at halftime, 16-0. And it easily could have been 24-0, too.
“We had a pretty good idea of what they were gonna do,” Hogs coach Sam Pittman told ESPN on his way to the locker room at the break. “… They really took it to ’em.”
So, what happened?
Card seemed to always be on the run.
Robinson wasn’t on the run enough.
Texas’ front line couldn’t contain Arkansas’ three-man rush.
That disrupted Texas’ passing game.
Robinson, who had averaged 206 total yards per game over his previous three, never quite flashed save for one 20-yard burst in the first half. Jordan Whittington, who was so good last week, led the team in catches again, but none of them were memorable. His two most memorable targets, in fact, were incompletions: Card missed him in the end zone when he was open, and Whittington dropped what would have been a 35-yard gain on a deep shot.
It was Arkansas’ KJ Jefferson, not Card, who was making the plays, scooting past Brendan Schooler on a fourth-and-2 run, weaving through the Texas defense for 34 yards on another keeper.
Those are the breaks
… and the breaks — and literal bounces — went Arkansas’ way. All night.
Let’s see. If you believe in signs, look no further than the ominous play that came at the end of Texas’ first drive: on a punt. Dicker booted a beauty into the corner of the field, and the Razorbacks return man muffed it. Kitan Crawford was right there, at the right place in the right time, and scooped up the ball for the recovery inside the 5-yard line. But it was called back when the review showed the tip of this foot was out of bounds right before he touched the ball.
It wasn’t the first big play on a punt. Dicker later flubbed the snap on a punt, and after he picked it up off the grass, his kick was blocked deep in UT territory. Another time, a fumbled Arkansas snap still went for a 9-yard gain down to the 5. A Razorbacks field goal bounced off an upright but still somehow was good. There was a targeting no-call on a critical fourth-and-1 stop of Robinson in the third quarter. And there was another targeting no-call at the goal line in the fourth.
Up next for Texas
The Rice Owls. Fortunately for the Longhorns, anyway. Texas needs to get right — quickly — with Texas Tech and then the rest of the Big 12 only two weeks away. Texas has dominated Rice and will be playing back home in Austin, where it’ll be way more friendly than what the Horns got in Fayetteville. (Enter gratuitous TV shots of fans flashing their Horns Down, chanting “SEC! SEC! SEC!”)
It’s a 7 p.m. kickoff next Saturday at DKR. It’ll be aired on the Longhorn Network.