There was something peculiar about the pregame tenor for this humble little Texas Bowl.
If you walked the polished floors of Houston’s Galleria or popped into any of the city’s countless upscale eateries, you saw red, and it wasn’t outrage from the credit card slip. Conversely, burnt orange wasn’t all that prevalent, and when you did see that familiar and lamentable hue, the fine people so adorned seemed almost reluctant about it.
Arkansas Razorback fans descended on the biggest Southern city with a force and fury that presaged the defensive effort that their beloved team thrust upon an oddly hapless Texas Longhorns team Monday night. Before a crowd of 71,000-plus that assuredly was the most zealous bunch to ever watch two college teams fight to clear .500, the Hogs simply overwhelmed the Horns 31-7 in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl and created immense buzz for a 2015 season that now, shockingly, can’t get here fast enough.
Hog signal-caller Brandon Allen was game MVP, perhaps more a credit for his season-long stoicism and headiness in the face of withering criticism than his actual game performance. Don’t be mistaken: The rising senior will be a genuine asset next fall and his 160-yard, two-touchdown and error-free passing effort Monday was precisely what was required, but this was a game where defensive coordinator Robb Smith’s unprecedented magic act had its true encore. Texas mustered only 59 total yards and seven first downs, and wouldn’t have even pierced the end zone at all but for a woeful kickoff hiccup by the Hogs late in the first half.
Charlie Strong’s noble charge to craft the Longhorns anew is on a far slower track than the one Bret Bielema is overseeing. That much was plainly evident. Arkansas was invigorated by Allen’s gorgeous, arcing touchdown pass to Demetrius Wilson in the first quarter — the senior’s first TD reception of a frustrating final year — and then completely seized control when a botched handoff by the Longhorns ended with Taiwan Johnson emerging from a scrum in the end zone with the ball for another touchdown moments later. It was 17-0 on the scoreboard but with the way Smith’s unit was attacking, it might as well have been triple that, especially with Texas being one of the least productive squads in the offensive-minded Big 12.
Bielema spent the first half of his second year in Fayetteville steadfastly reminding the media that a bevy of agonizing losses were not, in fact, reason to implode the philosophy but rather hard proof that his methodology was working. He was proven correct in November with the Hogs blanking LSU and Ole Miss on consecutive, chilly Saturday’s in November, and the season-ending loss at Missouri, though undeniably painful, seemed to galvanize the team for its first bowl in three years. Seniors Trey Flowers and Martrell Spaight smelled the lure of professional contracts and wreaked havoc on Texas ball-carriers; Darius Philon, meanwhile, auditioned for preseason All-SEC consideration with a splendid performance in the middle.
The Hogs also played clean, as Bielema likes to put it, with no penalties of any kind until the outcome was decided in the fourth quarter and no giveaways. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins masterfully did the tandem grind work again, amassing 181 combined yards on the ground without really breaking loose for too many highlight-worthy runs. They protected the ball, moved the proverbial pile for extra feet, and let Allen do the rest of the work. It added up to a smothering possession disparity, with Arkansas controlling the ball for more than two-thirds of game time, and that allowed the defense to be fresh even as the final seconds rolled off. The Hogs even eschewed a final scoring opportunity in the interest of civility, kneeling out the clock after pounding it inside the Texas five-yard line.
The celebration was as beautiful as the circumstances merited. A good 25,000 in red belted out the fight song and alma mater with the other side of the stadium having long since emptied, and Bielema beamed proudly, embraced seemingly anyone who would move within his reach. It was a fine night to be a Razorback, and perhaps the prologue for a sweet epoch ahead.