BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
The Southwest Classic between Arkansas and Texas A&M is in its last last two years of contracted play at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, but Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher made clear Monday that he’s going to miss the neutral site setting.
Fisher understands moving the game to a home-and-home series starting in 2025, but he’s enjoyed the current venue in a battle Texas A&M has enjoyed a edge in by winning 10 of the last 11 games between a pair that will be meeting for the 80th time.
The Aggies (3-1, 1-0) and Razorbacks (2-2, 0-1) will meet at 11 a.m. in a game that will be televised by the SEC Network.
“The momentum swings off the players, when you’re making plays and consistently doing it and being able to minimize the damage,” Fisher said. “And when you don’t, you try to get it back. That’s why I kind of like that rivalry.
“I was a part of the Alabama/Auburn rivalry at Legion Field. Having 50/50, having those kinds of crowds, it’s neat. That doesn’t happen anymore, like it used to. I think it’s kind of our history of the game. I think it’s kind of cool and neat. I kind of like it up there. I really do.
“…I get the home-and-home, I get all that and I appreciate it. Anytime you can play at Kyle Field, I love it. But I do think those venues are nice and neat because they do give you more neutral-site games. Playoff games, bowl games, that type of stuff.
“And I think our kids relate to Jerry World, being in the state of Texas. I mean, that’s where your state championships are played. That’s where they dream their whole life of going to play at.
Most of the games has been close in a contest that is one of three trophy games the Razorbacks play each season.
“It’s like playing your brother, in a weird way,” Fisher said. “You’re going to compete and play hard and it matters. It doesn’t matter if they’re supposed to be ranked high and your not.
“It always seems to come back to those, that what makes rivalry games and history games so great. The more you play somebody the more comfortable you are so you know how to compete against them.”
Texas A&M beat Auburn 20-6 last Saturday while holding the visiting Tigers to just 200 yards total offense while racking up a season-high seven sacks among 14 1/2 tackles for lost yardage.
“The defense was outstanding,” Fisher said. “They played well, pressured the quarterback, affected the quarterback and got to the run game. The defensive line played well, but I thought both linebackers played extremely well.
“…Good SEC win. Not perfect. A lot of room to work and a lot of things to get better at.”
LSU downed visiting Arkansas 34-31 in Baton Rouge when xxxxx Ramos hit a game-winning 20-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.
The Razorbacks own wins over Western Carolina and Kent State, but fell to visiting BYU 38-31 before traveling to LSU.
“We’re getting ready for an Arkansas team who I think is a really excellent team,” Fisher said. “I mean they’re 2-2 and could be 4-0 just as quick as they’re 2-2.”
Fisher was asked if he thought this game was big for current Aggies’ offensive coordinator and former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino.
“You’re coaching in this business this long, when you start getting our age, you’re going to cross over somewhere,” Fisher said. “You’re going to have a lot of places. Bobby’s doing a great job. We’re getting the ball around and getting good balance, getting plays, getting points, and we’re doing a good job. He’s doing a really good job.”
LSU won despite Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson going 21 of 31 passing for 289 yards and three touchdowns and escaping several sacks to make big plays.
“Offensively, it starts with KJ Jefferson,” Fisher said. “The guy reminds me of Cam Newton so much. He’s 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, I know he’s a giant. He’s big and strong and fast. He’s throwing the ball excellent, making great decisions. He’s hard to get on the ground.
…“He’s probably going to break through a time or do, and when he does, hopefully, our spies can do a good job of getting him on the ground.”
Texas A&M defensive lineman Albert Regis (6-1, 300) is excited about the challenge of having Jefferson.
“He’s a great quarterback,” Regis said. “I like him. I like playing against him. I like watching him. I will say that I enjoy watching him play. I like the way he can run. He’s not afraid to lower his shoulder.
“ respect him a lot as a man and as a quarterback, and I always get excited playing against him. I get excited against great competition. You know, as an athlete, that’s what we live for. We thrive for great competition.”
Fisher notes his offense and defense must be complimentary of each other against the Razorbacks, who had a nearly 15-minute edge in possession in the first half on Saturday night and a 10-minute one overall.
“You’ve got to be on on offense to help your defense and your defense has got to get off the field and make plays,” Fisher said. “It’s very challenging in what they’re doing.”
Texas A&M won Saturday’s game despite losing starting quarterback Conner Weigman to an ankle injury late in the second quarter.
Weigman’s X-rays were negative, but did not return for the second half.
“(Conner is) day to day,” Fisher said. “ He’shealing up. It’s a little sprain, a little swelling, and hopefully it’ll come down. It looks like it will.”
Former LSU two-year starter Max Johnson filled in Weigman and passed for 123 yards and two touchdowns, one of them a 22-yard toss to his younger brother Jake Johnson.
The older Johnson played four games last season for the Aggies, completing 43 of 71 passes for 517 yards and three touchdowns.
That included passing for 151 yards and a score in Texas A&M’s 23-21 victory over Arkansas.
He replaced since transferred Haynes King at quarterback in week three last season and led his team to wins over Appalachian State, No. 13 Miami and No. 10 Arkansas before suffering a season-ending injury against Mississippi State week five.
“You have two guys, guys I’ve said from the beginning I’ve felt very confident with,” Fisher said. “He came in and played excellent football and did a great job. He made plays and really led us through the game.”
Jake Johnson said that Fisher and former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino have worked well together in his first season as offensive coordinator for the Aggies.
“Well, obviously Petrino and Jimbo, they have a great relationship together, and there’s a lot of quick game and just quick completions, but I feel like last year it was a great offense,” Johnson said.
“But this year Coach Petrino, he’s done a good job just getting the ball out quick to his playmakers, just easy completions. We’ve seen that there’s been a lot of yards gained this year.”
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Fisher addressed being out on the field during Saturday’s win as an Auburn payer was returning a fumble.
“(I was wondering) ‘How’d he get the ball?’” Fisher said. “I didn’t see the fumble. I was trying to get Max (Johnson)’s attention about something… I shouldn’t have been out there, but I thought the play was dead.
“…Bad execution on my part. I shoulda got out of the way.”
He had earlier addressed during his postgame press conference on Saturday.
“I was yelling at somebody else on the side and then the ball’s coming back my way,” Fisher said. “I said, ‘Dang, that ain’t supposed to happen.'”I’m lucky I didn’t get ran over.”
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Fisher believes wide receiver Noah Thomas should be cleared for Saturday’s game after being out last week and the second half of Texas A&M’s 47-3 win against Louisiana-Monroe a week earlier.
Thomas is also dealing with with the recent death of his older brother.
“He’s dealing with that right now, and we’re all trying to deal with it with him,” Fisher said.