Hogs to meet Commodores on Saturday for third time in Fayetteville in 27 years

By: Tom Murphy
Published: October 27, 2018 at 2:52 a.m. - Updated: October 27, 2018 at 1:23 p.m.
Vanderbilt kicker Carey Spear (39) and holder Richard Kent (94) pause on the field after Spear missed a 27-yard field goal attempt to tie the game against Arkansas with 8 seconds left in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. Arkansas won 31-28. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Vanderbilt kicker Carey Spear (39) and holder Richard Kent (94) pause on the field after Spear missed a 27-yard field goal attempt to tie the game against Arkansas with 8 seconds left in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. Arkansas won 31-28. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas and Vanderbilt have been in the same conference for the past 27 years.

The teams will meet for just the third time in Fayetteville today at 11 a.m.

There are a smattering of story lines of interest for the game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, but the most compelling deals with both teams trying to get off the schneid.

The Razorbacks (2-6, 0-4) and Commodores (3-5, 0-4) are the only 0-4 teams in SEC play -- Missouri is 0-3 -- so the loser today will be alone in the league basement.

Arkansas won last Saturday against Tulsa, by shutout no less, but the Hogs haven't beaten a Power 5 team since a 38-37 victory at Ole Miss on Oct. 28.

Vanderbilt's only SEC victory since the end of the 2016 season came in a 42-24 victory at Tennessee on Nov. 25.

First-year Arkansas Coach Chad Morris and fifth-year Vanderbilt Coach Derek Mason would like to see their teams seize the opportunity to break those droughts.

"We know we're in for a battle, and I'm sure Coach [Mason] is just like I am," Morris said. "You focus more about your own team than you do the opponent and how you can improve. But we know this opponent coming in has continued to improve all year long, just like we have."

The lack of familiarity between the programs has been evident all week.

"How does it differ from playing Notre Dame? How does it differ from playing Nevada?" Mason asked at his Tuesday news conference, referencing a pair of nonconference opponents for the Commodores this year. "Really the tape is the tape. When it's all said and done, opponents are opponents. To us, they're really nameless and faceless.

"The ones that you get to play all the time, you pretty much have an idea of who those guys are. The other ones are just nameless, faceless."

Morris had much the same message when asked about the lack of a long history between the programs.

"At this stage, I'm just worried about the Razorbacks, worried about us getting better," Morris said. "Just whoever is next on the schedule type of mentality."

The teams have no common opponents this season and won't until the Commodores host Ole Miss on Nov. 17, so they haven't even seen the other guys while scouting other opponents.

Both teams are expected to get key offensive weapons back from concussions. For Arkansas, it's starting quarterback Ty Storey, whose progress in recent losses against Alabama and Ole Miss has been notable. The Commodores will be bolstered by running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, a 495-yard rusher who has 6 touchdowns and averages 6.9 yards per carry.

The comparisons between the teams are hard to ignore.

Both the Commodores and the Razorbacks are not only seeking their first conference victory, but they both also have their backs against the wall as it pertains to bowl eligibility.

"I feel like every game is do or die for us," said Arkansas defensive lineman McTelvin Agim, who is coming off a two-sack game in the 23-0 victory over Tulsa. "For us to make it to a bowl game ... we need to win every one of them, so we can't lose."

Storey took it a step further.

"We've got to go in like it's our Super Bowl," Storey said. "We've got to keep going one week at a time playing the best we can, and preparing the hardest we can."

Mason has been involved in a game in Fayetteville before. He was an assistant coach for New Mexico State during a 63-13 loss to the Razorbacks in 2004.

His players haven't faced Arkansas, but they're eager to see the game-day festivities in Fayetteville.

"I love the culture around the SEC," senior center Bruno Reagan said. "When it comes to game time, that all goes out the window, all the spectacle and stuff. But going into it, I mean, yeah, it's exciting stuff, going to Arkansas, having a chance to win at Arkansas. It's a great opportunity."

Said defensive end Dare Odeyingbo: "As soon as that first whistle blows, I mean the sightseeing is over. If we're not playing yet, yeah you get to kind of look around and see what life is like on the other side I guess. Once that first whistle blows, it's all football for the next 60 in-game minutes."

Arkansas has dominated in the short series history with a 7-2 record, including a 5-1 advantage since joining the SEC, though the Commodores are 1-1 in Fayetteville.

The Commodores overcame a 24-13 fourth-quarter deficit for a 28-24 victory in the first meeting between the teams at Razorback Stadium on Sept. 10, 2005. Vandy quarterback Jay Cutler ran for one touchdown and threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Marlon White of 20 and 6 yards to spark the comeback.

The last game here on Oct. 30, 2010, came with the Razorbacks heading for full flight in Year 3 under Bobby Petrino. Vanderbilt raced to a 14-6 lead after one quarter before Arkansas scored 26 points in the second quarter on the way to a 49-14 rout.

Knile Davis had a pair of 2-yard touchdown runs, Jarius Wright caught a pair of 15-yard touchdown passes, Jerico Nelson returned an interception for a 39-yard touchdown, and Ryan Mallett passed for 409 yards and 3 touchdowns for the Hogs.

Arkansas outgained the Commodores 555-153 in total offense and posted their second consecutive victory in what would become a six-game tear, culminating in a 31-23 victory over LSU that sent the Razorbacks to a BCS berth in the Sugar Bowl.

Both programs experienced temporary highs after that 2010 game before falling into extended ruts.

Arkansas is on its third coach since last playing the Commodores in 2011, a skin-of-their-teeth 31-28 victory for the Razorbacks as Vanderbilt missed a 27-yard field goal with 8 seconds left after driving 80 yards to the Arkansas 10.

Interim coach John L. Smith did not face Vanderbilt in his lone season of 2012, and Bret Bielema never played the Commodores during his five-year stint.

Vanderbilt's 2011 loss to Arkansas included Jerry Franklin's 94-yard scoop-and-score return of a Zac Stacy fumble when the Commodores led 28-20 early in the fourth quarter. That was the Commodores' first season under James Franklin, who led Vanderbilt to a 6-7 record, a four-win improvement from 2010.

Franklin's next two Vanderbilt teams defied the odds and went 9-4, opening the door for him to take the head coaching reins at Penn State in 2014 and paved the way to bring Mason to Nashville.

Mason and Morris are two of five current SEC head coaches with losing career records. Mason's entire 21-36 record has been compiled at Vanderbilt. Morris' 16-28 record has been marked by his inheritance of struggling programs at SMU and Arkansas. Kentucky's Mark Stoops (32-37), Missouri's Barry Odom (15-17) and Tennessee's Jeremy Pruitt (3-4) also have losing records.

Vanderbilt is tied for the second-least played SEC opponent for Arkansas with Missouri, though that will change next year. Arkansas also has played Missouri nine times, with a 10th game coming in the season finale Nov. 23. Arkansas and Missouri began playing every year as crossover opponents in 2014. Arkansas has played only Kentucky fewer times, at seven games, among SEC opponents.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the headline incorrectly stated how many times UA played Vanderbilt.

Sports on 10/27/2018

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