For Texas head coach Charlie Strong, Monday’s night bowl game marks a career milestone.
Texas’ matchup with Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl reignites a historical rivalry that dominated the Southwest Conference before the Big 12 existed. The game also signifies the Longhorns’ postseason berth in Strong’s first season, a prospect that wasn’t always certain. But for Strong, Monday’s matchup hits closer to home than just a conference or school connection.
Strong, who grew up in Batesville, Arkansas, will compete against his hometown team.
“I grew up at Arkansas so I had a chance to watch this rivalry from afar,” Strong said. “No one there ever lets you forget about this rivalry.”
Texas (6-6, 5-4 Big 12) enters the bowl game coming off a 48-10 Thanksgiving Day loss to TCU. However, the Longhorns rode a three-game winning streak before the Thanksgiving thrashing, emblematic of an inconsistent season.
Now, the Longhorns will look to gel in a passing offense highlighted by the tandem duo of sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and senior wide receiver John Harris.
Harris enters the game with 1015 receiving yards on the season, good for No. 8 on UT’s single-season receiving yards chart. His mark more than doubles any receiver on Arkansas, a team that relies primarily on its rushing game. Though the bowl game will be Harris’ last competition as a Longhorn, he emphasized the importance of finishing 2014 on a winning note.
“I think it’s a big note…just to get momentum going in the offseason,” Harris said. “You start off with a winning program, it just gets you in a jumpstart to next season. Last year, we finished on a losing note and it wasn’t a good taste in our mouth.”
Arkansas (6-6, 2-4 SEC) finished the 2014 regular season in similar fashion to that of Texas. After shutting out then-No. 17 LSU and then-No. 8 Ole Miss consecutively, the Razorbacks dropped their last game against Mizzou 21-14.
Even so, Arkansas’ staunch defense rivals the best in the country. The Razorbacks let up just 20.3 points per game this season, good for 17th in the nation. They also slot 24th in the FBS in total defense (345.4 yards per game) and 22nd in rushing defense (124 yards per game).
Senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said Arkansas’ defensive strength and the schools’ rivalry has motivated him and his teammates through the postseason.
“It’s easy to fall into a trap as a player to say ‘Why are we doing these many days in a row?’ or worry about your body,” Hicks said. “But when you see guys coming out every single day ready to practice and ready to hit every single day over and over again, it’s because of Arkansas. That’s the type of game they play and everybody understands that.”
Texas will look to implement that practice Monday night at 8 p.m. at NRG Stadium. The sold-out game will air nationally on ESPN.