FAYETTEVILLE - It seems nearly impossible for the Arkansas Razorbacks to dip as deeply into the adrenaline well for these Sun Belt Conference New Mexico State Aggies as they dipped for last Saturday’s SEC game with the Texas A&M Aggies.
In fact, the well seems all but drained for all the adrenaline poured into their 50-43 overtime loss to Texas A&M. The game marked the third overtime heartbreaker Arkansas has suffered in six consecutive SEC losses in six years to A&M.
Yet Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema insists his 1-2 Razorbacks will be emotionally sharp-edged for their 11 a.m. Saturday game with Coach Doug Martin’s, 2-2, 17-point underdog New Mexico State Aggies. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
The Razorbacks were embarrassed during their last Fayetteville foray, laying a 28-7 losing egg to TCU before a packed house 73,000-plus at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
And Bielema said they have practiced angry upon losing yet another close one to Texas A&M.
“Tuesday was actually one of our more spirited, live practices since we started fall camp,” Bielema said Wednesday. “They obviously are very, very upset and angered that we are a 1-2 team and realize we could have done some different things to get to a different spot, but you live the life you are in right now.”
That life is lived losing to Texas A&M again but at least knowing they gave it all.
“No one can usually say anything (negative) about the efforts of our kids or their demeanor of their attitude,” Bielema said, “So I think the group that you saw that responded on Saturday is going to be the same group that responds during the course of the week.”
They may need to respond more than oddsmakers think, especially if going strictly by the 53-10, 45-13 and 42-11 whippings Arkansas administered when New Mexico State visited the Razorbacks in 1977, 1985 and 1986 at Little Rock and the 48-20 and 63-23 Fayetteville floggings Arkansas posted in 2003 and 2004.
But that’s ancient history.
Fifth-year coach Martin’s Aggies are impressing. They’ve beaten i-state archival New Mexico, and last Saturday they trashed UTEP (Texas-El Paso) 41-14.
Their losses are 27-24 to Troy and 37-31 to Arizona State.
“They are a good football team,” Bielema said. “Offensively, their quarterback (senior Tyler Rogers) makes it go. He’s a guy that last year split time but this year 17 has been their guy.”
Rogers threw three touchdowns against Arizona State and completed 65 percent of his passes, netting 1,413 yards and 12 touchdowns against four picks.
“He has got great composure and a good cast of characters all around him,” Bielema said.
“The receiver (Jaleel) Scott, he’s a really, really good player (26 catches for 369 yards and 4 touchdowns). Long, athletic, catches the ball well.”
Bielema said Rogers helps his offensive line by “getting the ball out” to beat pressure.
Defensively, Bielema says New Mexico State blitzes from anywhere and everywhere and are “opportunistic.”
Aggies cornerback Shamad Lomax was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week picking off three passes, one he returned for a touchdown, against UTEP.
Martin said it was “huge” beating rivals New Mexico and UTEP but cautions that playing Arizona State close in Tempe doesn’t necessarily translate into upsetting or just playing close to Arkansas in Fayetteville.
“Arkansas would beat Arizona State pretty good, I think, just the size and the strength,” Martin said. “It's like comparing apples and oranges. But I think our guys are excited about playing this game. We played Texas A&M and Kentucky last year, so we've been in this arena before. We played Kentucky pretty good. We weren't close to Texas A&M. So it's going to be a challenge.”
To Arkansas fans, this week’s Aggies obviously don’t appear as challenging as last week’s Aggies. But the Razorbacks know these Aggies pose a challenge paramount for Arkansas to overcome.