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Hogs, Mallett ready to make a stand

There won’t be a U.S president in attendance, and nobody’s dubbing it the “Game of the Century.”

Not yet, anyway.

But it’s been a while since a game at Razorback Stadium was this anticipated or meant as much nationally as the one Saturday when No. 1 Alabama pays a visit to No. 10 Arkansas. It’s the first top-10 matchup in Fayetteville in more than 30 years.

In 1979, No. 4 Arkansas lost 13-10 to No. 6 Houston in a memorable Southwest Conference showdown.

The measuring stick in the Ozarks, though, remains the 1969 classic between No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas. The Longhorns rallied from a 14-0 deficit to win 15-14 in one of the more legendary games in college football history. President Richard Nixon was in the stands that day, and the buildup to the game was almost surreal, even for that time period.

Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett grew up a Hogs fan. He doesn’t need a history lesson to know how big this game is.

Likewise, he doesn’t need a bunch of hype to get him ready.

“For a lot of teams, it might be a big distraction, but I think this team is mature enough to handle it and just get down to business, because what it comes down to is playing a football game,” Mallett said. “All the other stuff that comes with it really doesn’t matter to us. Winning that football game is what we’re going to work to do this week.”

The Hogs (3-0, 1-0) have already crossed one great divide this season. They won last week on the road over Georgia when Mallett hit Greg Childs with a 40-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds.

The victory was important on a couple of different fronts for Bobby Petrino’s club.

For one, Arkansas finally broke through on the road after losing seven straight in other teams’ stadiums going back to the middle of the 2008 season.

Secondly -- and something that could certainly come into play this weekend -- the Hogs didn’t wilt in the fourth quarter after Georgia made up a two-touchdown deficit to tie the game.

Mallett wasn’t surprised by either. He said there’s no doubt that this is a more resilient team than a year ago.

Still, it’s good to answer a few questions that had been hanging over the Hogs' heads prior to their biggest game of the season.

“This team has definitely grown by leaps and bounds, especially from last year,” Mallett said. “The first road test was big for us because we didn’t get a win on the road last year. But you could just tell in the week of preparation leading up to the game how we worked to be a great team, and you could see that in the team. I’m not expecting anything less this week.”

Since joining the SEC in 1992, the Hogs haven’t wandered down this road very often, particularly at home.

They’ve played in a couple of SEC championship games, played in a couple of memorable multi-overtime games and lost a heartbreaking game on the road in 1998 to Tennessee when both teams went into the game unbeaten.

The next season, the Hogs exacted revenge by upsetting the No. 3 Vols, setting off a wild celebration that ended with the goalposts being paraded up and down Dickson Street.

As fate would have it, Alabama is the highest-ranked team to come to Razorback Stadium since that No. 3 Tennessee team 11 years ago.

Mallett can only imagine what the atmosphere will be like in the stadium come Saturday, although nothing changes for him and his teammates.

“We want to come out and play our style of football,” Mallett said. “We don’t want to come out and try to play over our heads and do stuff that we don’t normally do. What we’ve got to do is stick with what we’ve been taught and just go out there and execute and not shoot ourselves in the foot.”

Arkansas hung around with Alabama for a half last season in Tuscaloosa, and then the bottom fell out those final 30 minutes. The Crimson Tide hounded Mallett into a 12-of-35 passing day for only 160 yards. The Hogs were limited to 254 yards of total offense, and the Tide cruised to a 35-7 win.

“That game really helped us grow,” Mallett said. “I don’t think we went into that game really believing we could win.”

Something says that won’t be a problem Saturday.