Texas got a taste of what life in the SEC can be like on Saturday night.
The soon-to-be SEC member was steamrolled by Arkansas in Fayetteville in the teams' first matchup since 2014. Arkansas ran for 337 yards in the 40-21 win as No. 15 Texas was helpless to stop the Arkansas offense and couldn’t find anything against Arkansas’ defense until the game was out of reach.
Texas was down 16-0 at halftime and things somehow got worse from there as the game was 33-7 after the third quarter. Starting QB Hudson Card got benched after averaging four yards per pass and the Arkansas defense keyed in on RB Bijan Robinson and didn’t let him do much damage.
Card struggled so much that he was replaced in the second half by Casey Thompson. Thompson scored a TD in the second half but it wasn’t of much use as Texas was still down 19 after his score and Arkansas immediately scored again after the TD.
The game was Texas’ first trip to Fayetteville since 2004 and that will be a regular trip the Longhorns make once they join the SEC in 2025 (or earlier, depending on lawyers). Texas is leaving its lavish Big 12 life where it has its own TV network and a penalty for opponents who mock Texas’ fans "Horns Up" gesture for a league where the Longhorns aren’t exactly going to be preseason favorites on a regular basis.
Not this time. pic.twitter.com/tWRzlZuFh8
— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) September 12, 2021
But hey, the money promises to be good, so Texas is heading to the SEC. And it’s in for more games like this against Arkansas and teams like LSU and Alabama and Auburn over the next few seasons.
Arkansas’ balanced rushing attack
The Razorbacks rushed for over 300 yards despite no player rushing for over 100 yards on his own. Trelon Smith had 12 carries for 75 yards and QB KJ Jefferson had 10 carries for 73 yards. Three other players scored a touchdown as Texas just simply had no answer for Arkansas’ run game.
Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom had an answer for Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, however. Odom’s defense kept Sarkisian’s Alabama offense (relatively) in check in 2020 when no one else could do so. Saturday night, Texas couldn’t get anything going against Arkansas’ defense. The special teams were a disaster too. UT missed a field goal and a dropped punt snap directly led to a blocked kick.
Recalibrating Texas’ expectations
This wasn’t a Longhorns team that was going to challenge for a national title in 2021. While Robinson entered the season as a sleeper Heisman candidate, Texas simply didn’t have the talent up and down the roster to be considered Big 12 favorites, let alone a team that could potentially make the playoff.
Losing Saturday night isn’t a sign of failure. But the way that Texas lost is a big sign of concern. Arkansas dominated Texas up front on both sides of the ball. And the Hogs don’t look like a team that will finish in the top half of the SEC West.
This isn’t a post to say how good the SEC is compared to everyone else. But if Texas wants to be the best of the best, it can’t get dominated by mid-tier teams in the conference it’s looking to join in a few seasons.