ARLINGTON, Texas — A 30-point first-half offensive explosion left Texas A&M reeling and the Razorback faithful calling the Hogs at the inaugural Southwest Classic at Dallas Cowboys Stadium as Arkansas roared to the 47-19 win.
Arkansas, 2-2, took the first game of the 10-year series, handing the Aggies, 3-1, their first loss of 2009.
The Razorbacks struggled in the first quarter, giving up a 10-0 lead before the combination of stiffling defense and high-octane offense led by sophomore quarterback Ryan Mallett blew the game wide open.
A 30-point scoring spree ended all doubt as Mallett came within one of tying his own school record for touchdown passes.
"That was a good win for us," head coach Bobby Petrino said. "I was very proud of our team, and we didn’t start out very good. We got down 10-0, but I liked the way we responded, mostly the look in their eyes on the sideline and the competitiveness. There wasn’t one person that didn’t think that we couldn’t come back and win."
The Razorbacks racked up a series record 47 points, surpassing the 45 scored on Halloween night back in 1970. The 28-point spread tied the all-time best from 28-0 shutout in 1982.
After a tough start, Mallett finished 17 of 27 for 271 yards and four touchdowns. It was a great turnaround from last week’s game at Alabama, a note not lost on his head coach.
"He (Mallett) had a great attitude all week long in practice," Petrino said. "He’s a tremendous competitor, and it hurts when you lose a game and you feel like you don’t perform well. I was very proud of the way he reacted to that loss in practice all week long. That showed up tonight in the game."
The Razorbacks showed more balance on offense than earlier games with a highly efficient 58 plays for 434 total yards, picking up 163 on the ground. The Aggies had 93 total plays, but managed only 458 yards and two touchdowns.
Joe Adams had a breakout night for the Razorbacks, picking up 110 yards on three catches to lead both teams. Ronnie Wingo, Jr., led Arkansas with 86 yards rushing on only four plays.
The restart of the rivalry between the former Southwest Conference members looked like a blow out from the start.
Aggies used big plays to break out to a 10-0 lead while the Razorbacks struggled to get on balance. A 31-yard run by Cyrus Gray on the opening play for TAMU, followed by a 17-yard completion put the Aggies in the Razorback red zone. The Arkansas defense stiffened, and the Aggies settled for a 32-yard field goal.
A&M stymied the Razorback offense early, and used a 60 yard strike to Brandon Jackson from quarterback Jerrod Johnson to lead 10-0.
"We jumped ahead of them and really had an opportunity to take a significant lead," TAMU head coach Mike Sherman said. "Good football teams take that lead and don’t relinquish it. We allowed them to get back in the ballgame."
That, however, was the end of the Aggies.
Arkansas had no completions and a pair of sacks to show for its first two possessions, but Mallett found his stride in the next drive, hitting Smith for a 67-yard gain deep into Aggie territory. Three plays later, Mallett tossed to Broderick Green out of the backfield for an eight-yard touchdown pass.
The Razorbacks forced a sloppy, five-yard rugby style punt from the Aggies to close the first quarter, and took advantage with a seven-play, 38-yard drive capped by Mallett finding a wide open DeAnthony Curtis in the left corner of the endzone.
The early lead for the Razorbacks seemed in doubt when Dennis Johnson fumbled a punt that was covered by A&M at the Arkansas 12. But two plays later, Tenarius Wright forced a fumble by Johnson, and Jerry Franklin scooped up the loose ball and rambled 85 yards for the touchdown.
The Aggies never recovered. The Razorback defense held TAMU to back-to-back three-and-out possessions. Last week, Arkansas gave up several big plays to Alabama, but that was not the case tonight in Arlington.
"I thought the defense came off the ball real well and did a nice job with their pass rush moves," Petrino said. "He’s [A&M’s Jerrod Johnson] a tough guy to tackle. It’s a good thing that we have good depth, and we rotated a bunch of guys in. I really thought he did an excellent job of scrambling around and not allowing us to tackle him."
Arkansas’ offense hit the gas. A 38-yard Alex Tejada field goal made it 24-10 before Mallett put on a passing show.
A four-play, 73-yard drive all off the arm of Mallett, ended with a 31-yard pass to Jarius Wright. Tejada’s PAT was off line, but it sends the Hogs to halftime up 30-10.
A 47-yard field goal by Bullock snapped the Arkansas scoring spree, but Michael Smith stepped in for his near-solo drive. The senior had five plays for 62 yards of the 70-yard drive, including the final 29 on a touchdown reception from Mallett.
The Aggies managed their only other touchdown of the night on the opening play of the fourth quarter with a three-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Tannehill. The two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the score 37-19.
Arkansas tacked on another Tejada field goal, this one 18 yards, then a 62-yard scamper by Wingo with 5:37 left to play close out the night at 47-19.
"I think it helps us a lot," Petrino added. "We were talking about being a team and taking care of each other and playing together and not hurting ourselves. I think we grew up a little bit tonight."
Petrino was thrilled with the atmosphere of the inaugural Southwest Classic.
"What a beautiful house," Petrino said. "A great house. It’s a great experience for our players. We came over here yesterday [Friday], and everyone’s kind of looking around with their mouth open. It’s an unbelievable place."
Sherman was not quite as excited.
"This game was different," the Aggie head coach said. "It was a different venue. My biggest concern coming up to Dallas was that they would get distracted."
The Razorbacks return to Fayetteville and Southeastern Conference play for an early afternoon game with Auburn on Oct. 10. Final game time will be set tomorrow.