Road Killed

Road Killed

ATHENS, Ga. -- Arkansas linebacker Pierre Brown said the Razorbacks didn't wave a wand, pull a rabbit out of a hat or perform any eye-popping magic tricks during their memorable, 38-28 win at No. 5 Texas in 2003.

Sure, something was mesmerizing about former quarterback Matt Jones running circles around the Longhorns. And defensive end Jeb Huckeba's long arm knocking down a pitch to force a turnover. And receiver Cedric Washington's momentum-swinging kickoff return during the first significant action of his career.

But Brown said the Hogs benefited from something much simpler than magic during their last win against a ranked team. It's something that has become much more of a mystery when they've faced ranked opponents on the road since.

"When we beat Texas, we were sound in all facets," Brown said. "No mythical thing has to happen to beat a ranked team on the road. It's just more along the line of being consistent, be fundamentally sound and take care of your responsibilities."

That has been a big problem for Arkansas at home, let alone on the road against a ranked opponent the past two seasons. But the Razorbacks will take another crack at putting together a complete game in a hostile environment when they face fourth-ranked Georgia in Sanford Stadium today at 11:30.

If nothing else, Arkansas has gotten a lot of practice. Today signals the sixth time in the past eight road games that the Hogs will face a ranked team, dating back to the 2003 regular-season finale at then-No. 3 LSU. It's also the fourth road game Arkansas has played against a Top 5 team during the same stretch.

The Razorbacks have lost five straight against ranked teams on the road and have been outscored by an average of 46-21 in those games.

"It hasn't been easy," said defensive tackle Keith Jackson. "It seems like when we go on the road, we're facing good teams, high ranked teams.

"It's hard to catch a break."

Arkansas' two road games this season were at top-ranked Southern California and then-No. 21 Alabama. The Hogs couldn't stop the Trojans' offense in the 70-17 loss. They struggled to score in the 24-13 loss to the Crimson Tide.

Arkansas also struggled during its two road games against ranked opponents last season. The Razorbacks got off to a slow start and couldn't complete a late-game comeback at then-No. 16 Florida (45-30). They also fell in a deep hole and never recovered at then-No. 4 Auburn (38-20) the next week.

"Every time we go on the road it seems like its against a ranked team," coach Houston Nutt said. "And it seems like it gets tougher each time you leave (home)."

Nutt said Georgia won't be an easy task for his team, which is trying to avoid falling to 0-4 in the SEC for the first time since 1996.

The closest Arkansas came during Nutt's tenure was 2001, when the Hogs lost their first three to Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Arkansas bounced back the next week, turning in a 10-7 win against No. 9 South Carolina in Little Rock.

But today's game is at Sanford Stadium, where Georgia has won 22 of its past 23 games. In fact, the Bulldogs are 25-3 in Athens, Ga., during Richt's five seasons.

"It was the hand that we've been dealt," running back Peyton Hillis said. "We have to prepare for everybody. The schedule we have is tough. But I don't think there's a team out there -- besides USC -- that I don't think we haven't stayed with.

"I don't know (what it takes to win against a ranked opponent). I'd just guess that everything has to fit in the right place. The right day. The right train of thought.

"Everything has to fall in the right place for us to win a game like that."

That's exactly what happened at Texas, when Arkansas got off to a good start, grabbed an early lead and answered every Longhorns scoring drive. Nutt said the Hogs were "zeroed in" during practice and "hit on all cylinders" on game day.

They'll need that to happen again if there's any hope of recording an upset against Georgia, which was ranked fourth in the first Bowl Championship Series standings this week and is searching for its third trip in four seasons to the SEC title game.

"Arkansas will be a great challenge for us," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "They played Auburn extremely well and it was a lot closer game than the score would suggest. Alabama also went right down to the wire with them."

But Jackson said the Razorbacks are tired of playing close games against ranked opponents after dropping their ninth straight last Saturday. Arkansas has fallen to 11-19 against ranked teams under Nutt and is 3-10 against top 10 opponents.

"Everything has got to be right against ranked teams," Jackson said. "No mistakes. No missed assignments. No nothing. Everything has got to be just right to beat a ranked team on the road. Even though they have their own mistakes, too, we can't afford to make mistakes. We've got to go for four quarters and make no mistakes."

Arkansas hasn't been helped by a schedule rated as the second-toughest in the nation along with Ohio State, according to NCAA stats. The combined record of the Razorbacks' Division I-A opponents is 18-6 (.750). The only program that has played teams with a higher winning percentage so far is Oklahoma (.806).

Brown said Arkansas' strength of schedule is "remarkable" and stumbled onto an even more incredible fact earlier when the BCS standings were released.

The senior said four of Arkansas' 2005 opponents are ranked in the top 6 of the BCS, which determines who plays in the national title game. USC holds the top spot while Georgia (fourth), Alabama (fifth) and LSU (sixth) each remain in the title hunt.

And, oh yeah, all four are road games on Arkansas' schedule this season.

"This is what you signed up for," Brown said. "If you didn't want to play top teams, you should've gone to a small school or a school not as prominent as the SEC.

"You want to play against the best teams. You want that challenge. You should welcome that challenge. I know I do. There's times you can get yourself remembered for doing something great. Especially on the road. You have to attack it like that."

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