Texas Players Have Big Reputations

FAYETTEVILLE -- If not for the burnt orange, we could feel for Mack Brown. Here's a coach whose team is only one of two in the country that has won nine or more games in each of the past six years, yet some Texas fans are disgruntled.

Recruiting rah-rah is to blame and Brown bashers will have another round of ammunition if Houston Nutt gets to 3-0 against Texas tonight.

The Texas roster is full of players who received national attention in high school and Texas fans believe that should mean being a BCS participant year after year. Under Brown, Texas is a sparkling 60-18, but never better than 11-2 and a regular in either the Cotton Bowl or the Holiday Bowl.

In the moments after the 50-point victory over New Mexico State, Nutt told his players that the Longhorns have always been able to choose from the best athletes in Texas. A few days later, he said that when the opponent is Texas, he stresses the proliferation of high school All-Americans on the team and the fact that the Razorbacks will be an underdog anytime they go against the Longhorns.

The message, he said, is that "you have to roll up your sleeves and play your best game."

But, when a Texas writer tried to bait him into gloating about 2-0 against the Longhorns, he sidestepped by saying something about respect for Texas and looking forward to the challenge. Both Nutt and Brown said this one -- the final time the rivals from the old Southwest Conference will play in the foreseeable future -- is for the fans, the alums and former players and that it is about former coaches Frank Broyles and Darrell Royal.

At first glance, there is reason to think the winner will be the team that is most effective running the ball. Beginning in the middle of 2003, Texas made a quarterback change and a commitment to the running game and Arkansas has led the Southeastern Conference in rushing each of the past two years. But, Nutt might not be as stubborn about running the ball as he has been in the past. In fact, many times I have been willing to wager that Arkansas would open with a running play and that's not the case tonight.

Arkansas threw 18 times last year in the 38-28 victory at Austin. If the Razorbacks throw 28 times this time around, it could be that Nutt believes that the best chance for a big play rests with the receivers and Matt Jones on the run or that the brand-new offensive line would have trouble blocking the Longhorns consistently.

Center Kyle Roper was on for seven plays against Texas last year and so was tackle Zac Tubbs. The other three interior linemen did not play in Austin and Roper told them to get ready for the Longhorns because "they're going to come with it."

A tight end in Powder Springs, Ga., who chose Arkansas over Middle Tennessee State, Roper was introduced to the Texas rivalry last year when Jim Lindsey told the team that the game is a "fight to the death."

Brown said he tried to sell the history of the series to his players last year and that approach didn't work. "Their sports lives have been in the Big 12," he said.

In Austin, Cedric Cobbs ran for 115 and Jones kicked in with 102. In the aftermath, Brown decided it was unfair to ask his defense to tackle a big back early in the season while holding back on the hitting in the preseason so the Longhorns have scrimmaged more than in years.

Brown also hired Greg Robinson to replace Carl Reese as defensive coordinator and linebacker Derrick Johnson said Robinson emphasized a "violent defense." In recent years, soft was the word that came up any time Texas lost, Brown said.

Although Razorback Stadium will be packed, it is difficult to imagine the crowd bothering Texas. Despised on every road trip, the Longhorns have seen the Hook 'em Horns sign every which way and with a variety of extended fingers.

Both Jones and Texas qb Vince Young can turn a game, but if their production is comparable, Texas running back Cedric Benson and the Longhorns up front should be two touchdowns better.

This from the same corner that picked the Longhorns last year with the warning, "This could get out of hand."

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media Group's Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.

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