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Previewing No. 15 Texas vs. Arkansas

The former SWC rivals/future SEC rivals meet in Fayetteville for the first time since 2004.

Rice v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

For the 79th time in school history, the Texas Longhorns will face the Arkansas Razorbacks and I still don’t think anyone knows what “Woo Pig Sooie” means. The last time these former Southwest Conference/future SEC rivals met was in the 2014 Texas Bowl. Tyrone Swoopes was the Texas quarterback and the Longhorns only won six games that season. You don’t want to look up the Youtube highlights either.

The Horns lead the all-time series 56-22 and will be playing in Fayetteville for just the second time since 1991. Steve Sarkisian looks to build off last week’s 38-18 victory over then-No. 23 Louisiana and will face a familiar opponent on the sideline in Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman.

Pittman was previously the offensive line coach at Georgia before taking the head-coaching job last year, going 3-7 with the Razorbacks.

They pulled off a late victory over Rice last week — winning 38-17 — but will host a ranked non-conference opponent for the first time since 2017.

Redshirt sophomore K.J. Jefferson will be making just his fourth start of his career against Texas, winning his first game last week against Rice and overall is 1-2 as the starter.

Like Louisiana’s Levi Lewis, Jefferson is a dual-threat quarterback and rushed for 89 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week (9.9 ypc).

Offensive Coordinator Kendal Briles will call a handful of designed run plays for Jefferson, especially if he’s having trouble throwing the ball like he did against Rice.

Texas handled Levi Lewis pretty well, holding him to negative 19 yards last week (including sacks) with his longest rush a 11-yard scamper.

Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski will want to put Jefferson and the Arkansas in passing situations as much as possible, where the QB struggled last week.

When the Razorbacks faced a third down with four or more yards to go, they converted just twice the entire game. One conversion came on 3rd and 6 where Jefferson picked up seven yards with his legs. The other came on a defensive pass interference call against Rice on 3rd and goal.

When passing on third down, Jefferson was 2-for-4 for 19 yards with zero first-down conversions.

Jefferson finished with 128 yards through the air, one touchdown, and this interception (former Austin LBJ’s Sean Fresch with the pick).

Jefferson struggled with accuracy and made some ill-advised throws, but that’s expected from a quarterback that’s only started three games in his career. It’s dangerous to assume he’ll play as poorly against Texas as he did Rice — for Arkansas to beat Texas, however, they’ll need Jefferson to have a career performance.

Positionally, Arkansas is led by second-team All-SEC wideout Treylon Burks. The junior led the team in catches (51), yards (820), and touchdowns (seven) last season and might be the best wide receiver in the country not playing for Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio State.

Burks has the size at 6’3 and the 225 pounds with the speed to beat corners off the line. He was dealing with a lower leg injury that caused him to miss fall camp, but Pittman expects him to be close to 100 percent against Texas.

Jefferson targeted Burks nine times, finishing with 42 receiving yards and two uncharacteristic drops.

They also have former four-star tight end Hudson Henry, a highly-recruited prospect out of Little Rock who didn’t record a catch against Rice. At 6’5, Henry presents a matchup problem against linebackers, but has yet to develop a rapport with Jefferson, with only two catches in the quarterback’s three starts at Arkansas.

The Hogs found their offensive success on the ground against the Owls, rushing for 245 yards and four touchdowns. Junior running back Trelon Smith quietly rushed for 102 yards against the Owls with 22 touches.

They have a solid offensive line, with two preseason All-SEC members in center Ricky Stromberg and left tackle Myron Cunningham. The group did struggle at times when Rice blitzed, giving up the only two sacks.

This sack is on Jefferson — he leaves the pocket and fails to get rid of the ball.

Either way, Texas was able to sack Levi Lewis four times last week and I expect them to be able to get Jefferson this week.

Bottom line: The Arkansas gameplan relied heavily on the run against Rice — expect more of the same against Texas. Unless K.J. Jefferson can find his rhythm and get the ball to Burks to open things up, it’s a tough task for a Razorback offense that only scored seven points in the first half last week and had just 17 points entering the fourth quarter.

This Hogs defense has a few #athletes on their roster, including safety Jalen Catalon, linebacker Bumper Pool (the best name in college football?), and linebacker Grant Morgan.

Texas fans will remember Catalon, a former Longhorns target who has lived up to the hype so far in Fayetteville. Perhaps last week’s MVP, the former Mansfield product finished with 11 tackles (behind only Mr. Pool) and a pair of interceptions. This kid is all over the field and just makes plays.

Pool and Morgan headline a solid linebacking corps, with Pool leading the SEC with his 14 tackles last week. The good news for Texas is that Pool will miss the first half of this week's game after being ejected for targeting against Rice. Morgan also had his day end early after a targeting call, though it came it in the first half.

Arkansas is expected to get back nose guard John Ridgeway Jr. back after he missed the season opener with an injury. That’ll help bolster a Hogs defensive line that held a run-heavy Rice team to just 81 yards (2.1 ypc). But they did losing senior defensive end Dorian Gerald to a season-ending injury in practice this week.

They return 10 starters on defense after a year in which they gave up 30 points or more in six games including allowing outings of 42 points, 50 points, 52 points, and 63 points.

Bottom line: With Pool sitting out the first half, Texas will need to take advantage with running back Bijan Robinson. Catalon can be a difference-maker, but Hudson Card looked poised against a strong Louisiana secondary — as long as Texas can avoid turnovers, they should be able to move the ball offensively.

Week 1 isn’t always a fair indicator of how good/bad a team will be. Look at Iowa State every year. The score to their 38-17 win over Rice doesn’t tell the full story of that game. It was 17-17 entering the fourth quarter and Owls quarterback Wiley Green threw three interceptions in their last four drives to help put the game away for the Razorbacks.

Rice also turned the ball over on downs inside the Arkansas 20-yard line. Special teams is also a little shaky. They allowed Rice to block a punt deep in their own territory and have a true freshman at kicker.

But they eventually wore down Rice, who by the end of the game were dealing with player injuries nearly every other drive. I don't think that’ll happen against Texas.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s wishful thinking to expect a Hogs team that hasn’t improved since then. They also have weapons that Louisiana didn’t have. If Texas can execute the way they did last week, I don’t see anything they can’t handle.