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Razorbacks fondly remember win over No. 1 Texas

by Bob Holt | September 11, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE — Billy Ray Smith Jr. didn’t show a lot of emotion on the football field when he starred for the University of Arkansas as a defensive end.

“Billy Ray was not demonstrative at all,” said Jay Bequette, a center who was Smith’s teammate from 1979-82. “He acted like he expected to sack the quarterback every time. He just kind of dusted himself off and got up when he tackled the quarterback.

“But I do remember that celebration he had against Texas. The offense was running on the field as the defense was running off, and he was really pumped up.”

On Texas’ first offensive snap of the game in Razorback Stadium on Oct. 17, 1981, quarterback Rick McIvor fumbled and Smith pounced on the loose ball.

Smith came off the field yelling and holding the ball high for everyone to see.

“I never have been a guy that dances and jumps around and screams like a little girl after a big play,” said Smith, an All-American in 1981-82 who played 10 seasons in the NFL for the San Diego Chargers. “But when I got that ball, I went a little crazy. I was fired up.

“I felt what the effect that play was going to have on the game, and my feeling turned out to be right.”

Smith’s fumble recovery got the unranked Razorbacks rolling to a 42-11 victory over the No. 1 Longhorns, who a week earlier had beaten Oklahoma 34-14 to move into the top spot in the national polls.

“It was just one of those special days you never will forget,” said David Bazzel, a freshman linebacker for Arkansas in 1981.

Arkansas and Texas were both Southwest Conference powers, but the Longhorns had beaten the Razorbacks 12 times the previous 14 years.

“The way we beat Texas in ‘81 was probably one of the biggest upsets in the history of college football considering they were ranked No. 1 and had just beaten Oklahoma,” said Ken Turner, an Arkansas assistant coach from 1972-87 who lives in Little Rock. “I don’t think you ever could envision a game like that happening to the Longhorns.

“I mean, back in those days didn’t anybody beat Texas like that. They were so good and had so much talent every year.

“It was an unbelievable feeling for us after that game.”

Forty seasons later, another unranked Arkansas team will look to upset Texas when the No. 15 Longhorns play in Reynolds Razorback Stadium at 6 tonight.

Smith plans to watch the game on ESPN from his home in Del Mar, Calif., a suburb of San Diego.

“I still follow the Arkansas program,” Smith said. “I’m a Razorback all the way through.

“I think it’s great we’re playing Texas on the 40th anniversary of the ‘81 game. Let’s line up and get after them again. Quite frankly, you just can’t ever tell what’s going to happen in a football game, but I’ll put my money on the Hogs.”

Fred Akers, a Blytheville native who played at Arkansas, was Texas’ coach from 1977-86.

“We were ready and we were eager,” Akers said after the 1981 game. “I just can’t explain it.”

Seven turnovers by Texas had a lot to do with the outcome.

Arkansas cornerback Danny Walters had two interceptions, linebacker Jeff Goff recovered a fumble and had an interception, cornerback Kim Dameron had an interception and linebacker Bert Zinamon recovered a fumble.

“I remember we kept thanking the defense for all those turnovers,” said Gary Anderson, who played running back and flanker for Arkansas from 1979-82. “The defense played out of their mind. They were in the right place at the right time to keep getting the ball back for the offense.”

Arkansas’ five touchdown drives covered 19, 5, 36, 44 and 40 yards.

“The defense made it a lot easier for us,” Anderson said. “We still had to go score, but the field position was a big key. We didn’t have far to go to score.”

Smith’s fumble recovery was at the Texas 19 and the Razorbacks scored in four plays on quarterback Tom Jones’ 1-yard dive for a 6-0 lead.

The extra point attempt failed, but the Longhorns helped Arkansas negate that on their next series when punter John Goodson — waiting in the end zone to field the snap — saw the ball sail far over his head for a safety.

A play after Arkansas recovered a second Texas fumble at the Longhorns’ 5, Anderson ran for a touchdown for a 15-0 lead. Bruce Lahay’s 47-yard field goal early in the second quarter put Arkansas ahead 18-0.

A crowd of 44,031 — Razorback Stadium’s capacity at the time — seemed to be in a state of shocked euphoria.

“You’re coming off the field after another of those turnovers we got, and you’re looking up in the stands and seeing the fans going wild, and you’re thinking, ‘Is this really happening? What’s going on here?’ ” Smith said. “You don’t expect to win any game 42-11, even if you’re the favorite by a couple of touchdowns. The lead just never gets that big.

“But we turned them over so many times and gave our offense so many more chances than an offense normally has, and they kept cashing in for touchdowns. It was just a great team effort.”

Twenty seconds before halftime Jones hit a wide-open Anderson with a 19-yard touchdown pass to give the Razorbacks a 25-3 lead. Jones absorbed a blow to the ribs by Texas All-American defensive lineman Kenneth Sims as he got the pass away.

“If you look at the tape, Tom stood in there and took a lick for it, but he delivered a perfect pass to me right on time,” Anderson said. “That was one of the plays we put in for the Texas game.

“You get the linebacker going to the sideline, then you turn up and you’re wide open. They had to respect me going out, because I’d been doing a lot of out routes, and so we kind of set them up.”

Bequette, a Little Rock attorney, said Arkansas Coach Lou Holtz put in several plays for Texas, in particular to get the speedy Anderson isolated on linebackers who couldn’t cover him.

“Texas played pressure defense, press man coverage, and Lou had these ‘just for Texas plays’ that we never ran in any other game of the year,” Bequette said. “The stuff we put in that week was just golden.”

Anderson, who like Smith was a first-round draft pick by San Diego in 1982 but played for the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits before joining the Chargers, had 2 catches for 33 yards in the 1981 Texas game along with 6 carries for 23 yards while scoring 2 touchdowns.

Jones, hobbled by a turf toe injury that bothered him all season, accounted for 2 touchdowns and rushed 13 times for 73 yards and completed 7 of 18 passes for 83 yards.

In the third quarter when Texas was still trying to fight its way back and had Arkansas facing 3rd and 17 from its 11, Jones scrambled for 41 yards to the Longhorns’ 48.

“Tom played like an All-American that day the way he commanded the game,” Anderson said.

Jones’ scramble didn’t result in an Arkansas score, but it kept field position in the Razorbacks’ favor.

Texas began 13 of its 17 drives at its 20 or worse, including its 6, 5, 2, 15, 15, 3, 7, 11, 8 and 8.

The only drive the Longhorns started in Arkansas territory was at the 48 when they recovered an onside kickoff after scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion with 58 seconds left to cut the Razorbacks’ lead to 42-11.

The Razorbacks were ahead 42-3 after touchdown runs by Jones and Darryl Bowles and Lahay’s 37-yard field goal.

“I was on all the special teams,” Bazzel said. “Since we scored 42 points, we kicked off a ton. By the fourth quarter, I was cramping up from sprinting on all the kickoffs.”

It was the third game in five seasons under Holtz in which the Razorbacks beat a team ranked in the top two. They beat No. 2 Oklahoma 31-6 in the 1978 Orange Bowl to cap the 1977 season and beat No. 2 Texas 17-14 in 1979 in Little Rock.

“I remember Lou telling us before we ran out onto the field, ‘When the national media comes into the locker room after the game is over, you tell them this was not an upset,’ ” said Bazzel, who lives in Little Rock and created the Broyles Award and founded the Little Rock Touchdown Club among many ventures. “Lou was always great at preparing for big games, and he had us ready.”

With about 20 seconds left in the 1981 Arkansas-Texas game, students began spilling into the south end zone. Holtz sprinted into the crowd and the students dutifully got off the field before returning when the game officially ended to tear down the goal post.

“A 165-pounder goes down, and he runs off 1,500 people,” Keith Jackson, who called the game for ABC’s telecast, said in admiration.

“It was like Coach Holtz was angry at the world,” Anderson said. “He was so intense, not until the last second ticked off the clock did he think the game was over.

“So even though we were up a lot, he never wanted to celebrate too early.”

Texas had 29 players from its 1981 team taken in the 1982 and 1983 NFL drafts. Sims was the No. 1 overall pick by New England in 1982.

“I’m glad we’re not playing Texas again tomorrow,” Holtz said after the game. “They are a much better team than they showed today. They gave us some early advantages, and it gave us confidence.”

Arkansas was a 6-point underdog, but Anderson recalled hearing some doubt around campus in the week leading up to the Texas game.

“I think a lot of people had counted us out,” said Anderson, who lives in Little Rock. “You heard things like, ‘Let’s make it a good game. It’s the No. 1 team, so just do your best.’

“Coach Holtz talked all week about how Texas is No. 1 and they’re projected to beat us real bad, and we weren’t getting any respect. He talked about how we didn’t want to hear the Texas band play their fight song every time they scored.

“Coach Holtz knew how to get us fired up, and it was good for us to show Texas you’ve still got to play the game regardless of who you are and where you’re ranked.”

There was a tornado warning issued before the game, and the sky became dark.

“Texas had to fly into Fort Smith the day before the game, and then drive up that mountain in a bus on Saturday to Fayetteville,” Bazzel said. “Then they get here, and it’s a creepy, nasty day.

“It’s raining and Texas hears all those Hog calls. They had to be thinking, ‘Man, what have we gotten ourselves into? We’re up in the hills with all the crazies and a tornado could hit.’ But it was a great setting for us.”

Arkansas’ 31-point victory over Texas was the second-largest margin for an unranked team against a No. 1 team, surpassed only by Holy Cross beating No. 1 Boston College 55-12 in 1942 at Fenway Park.

“Sometimes it’s just your day, and that was our day for sure,” Anderson said. “Everything went our way and nothing really went Texas’ way.

“The Lord above was smiling on us and saying, ‘This is y’all’s day.’ “

Arkansas handed Texas its only loss that season. The Longhorns finished 10-1-1 with a 14-12 victory over Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, with Robert Brewer taking over at quarterback for the turnover-prone McIvor.

The Razorbacks finished 8-4 with a 31-27 loss to North Carolina in the foggy Gator Bowl.

While Arkansas wasn’t able to win the SWC title, beating Texas so decisively 40 seasons ago remains a sweet memory for the Razorbacks and their fans.

“It was the highlight of my four years at Arkansas, beating Texas like we did in ‘81,” said Smith, who was born in Fayetteville, but played high school football in Plano, Texas. “Growing up, the Longhorns were always the big boys on the block.

“But man, we showed up and we were ready to play when they came into Arkansas ranked No. 1. It was a lot of fun to kick their (expletive).”

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