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Arkansas coach Chad Morris views alma mater Texas A&M like any other opponent

September 26, 2018

COLLEGE STATION — Arkansas coach Chad Morris is one awkward Aggie when asked to discuss his alma mater.

“I chose to go there, I grew up, and that’s where I wanted to go to school,” Morris told an inquiring Razorbacks reporter this week in regard to how he ended up at Texas A&M in the late 1980s out of Edgewood High School and Tyler Junior College, both in East Texas. “That was kind of a dream, and that’s kind of how I got there.”

In July, Morris answered a question at SEC Media Days about coaching in the same division as his alma mater with a diversion to his background as a longtime high school coach in Texas. It’s clear Morris, a 1992 A&M graduate, has no desire to get sentimental about the Aggies — he has a game to coach against his former love at 11 a.m. Saturday in AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

“It’s like playing anybody else. It’s an opponent,” Morris said.

In reality Morris, 49, knows it’s not like playing anybody else. In the wild and woolly A&M-Arkansas series, the Aggies have won six straight, mostly with a dramatic flair. That’s the thing, though: It is new to Morris, late of SMU and in his first year at Arkansas, and it’s new to Jimbo Fisher, late of Florida State and in his first year at A&M.

Asked his thoughts on playing in the home of the Dallas Cowboys while leading the Aggies against Arkansas, Fisher responded with a grin, “I don’t know. I’ve never done it.”

One guy who has in all of this budding awkwardness: Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis. He spent the last three seasons at A&M as the alleged antidote to what was considered a soft program run by then-coach Kevin Sumlin, but Chavis also had no answers, and most of the staff was cut loose at the end of last season.

“I haven’t been on this sideline (Arkansas’) until this week, so I’m finding out along with everybody else,” Chavis said when asked what it’s like to be on the sideline for A&M-Arkansas in Arlington.

Chavis is 3-0 in the series, with two of those games won by the Aggies in overtime. A&M prevailed 50-43 last year in the extra period, so neither side put on a defensive clinic. Chavis arrived at A&M in 2015 with a reputation as a defensive mastermind, a reputation that took a pummeling over his three seasons with the Aggies.

But Fisher, 52, remembers the Chavis of Tennessee lore, back when Fisher was calling the shots on offense for LSU (2000-06) and Chavis was directing the Volunteers defense. Tennessee won a national title in 1998 with Chavis as defensive coordinator, and LSU won a national title with Fisher as offensive coordinator in 2003.

“We played in some big games. We won, and they won,” Fisher said of the Tennessee-LSU showdowns. “His defenses are very physical, very tough, very demanding. They play the run extremely well, pressure the quarterback. They come at you and challenge every throw. He’s one of the best coordinators in the league and has been for a long time.”

Chavis, 61, said those old days of butting heads with Fisher don’t really come in handy in 2018.

“I don’t have firsthand knowledge of what they want to do. It’s been a long time since I coached against coach Fisher when I was at Tennessee,” Chavis said. He added with a chuckle, “I can hardly remember. But you’ve got film.”

The Aggies (2-2, 0-1 SEC), coming off a 45-23 loss at top-ranked Alabama, are nearly three-touchdown favorites over the Razorbacks. Arkansas (1-3, 0-1) will try to rebound from a 34-3 loss at No. 10 Auburn.

Things had gotten so bad early in Morris’s tenure following a 44-17 home loss to North Texas on Sept. 15 that he fielded questions on whether last week’s 31-point loss at Auburn constituted some sort of moral victory (Chavis’ defense held the Tigers to 225 yards, 65 fewer than the Razorbacks gained.)

“Make no mistake,” Morris said in dismissing any “moral” notions, “losing is not accepted in this program.”

Nor are, apparently, any reminisces about his one-time love for Texas A&M.

brent.zwerneman@chron.com

twitter.com/brentzwerneman

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