Jim Harris: Two-Minute Drill – Mississippi State 24, Arkansas 17 OT


Mississippi State 24, Arkansas 17 OT

Mississippi State 24, Arkansas 17 OT

Arkansas lost two fumbles, one inside the Mississippi State 10-yard line with 5:22 to play, and failed on a fake punt at its 40-yard line late in the first half, and those botches were enough to force overtime in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium, where Mississippi State then made some history inside the Natural State with its first win ever over the Hogs. The Bulldogs’ Devon Bell missed a 42-yard field goal in the final seconds of regulation into a gusting breeze out of the north with the game tied at 17. The Hogs had missed an opportunity to take the lead late when Alex Collins had the ball ripped away from him by free safety Nickoe Whitley at the MSU 9 on a run up the middle. The fake punt failure came late in the first half with the Hogs holding a 10-3 lead and facing a fourth-and-2 from their 44. The play was blown up from the start and punter Sam Irwin-Hill had no chance. Arkansas has enjoyed trying the fake punt several times this year and twice they converted — passing against Rutgers and running against Alabama. But failures on fakes were costly against South Carolina and again Saturday, as the Bulldogs covered 40 yards in just 3 plays to tie the game right before halftime after trailing at one point 10-0.

Arkansas’ two touchdowns came on the end-around play, though senior Javontee Herndon, who scored on an 8-yard run to open the game, explained later that the calls were actually two different types of end-around calls. In the third quarter, senior Julian Horton raced 22 yards around the left side (same as Horton) for a g0-ahead Razorback score. They were the only carries for Herndon and Horton, but with Keon Hatcher also running 6 yards on a reverse, the receiving corps accounting for 36 of the Razorbacks 225 yards on the ground. Arkansas averaged a decent 5.2 yards per rush.

Neither freshman running back Alex Collins or sophomore Jonathan Williams played in the first quarter because of tardiness to a weightlifting session, UA coach Bret Bielema said. But freshman Korliss Marshall and little used sophomore bruiser Kody Walker took advantage of the regular players’ absence with strong first-quarter running. Marshall finished with 35 yards on nine carries and Walker had 22 on four carries. Williams netted 59 for the day on 8 attempts with a long run of 25 yards, and Collins had 52 yards on 10 carries.

True freshman D.J. Dean opened at cornerback in place of the season-long starter Tevin Mitchel, but it wasn’t a change because of Mitchel’s recent tackling problems. Mitchel was not with the team Saturday because of a family emergency involving his mother, Bret Bielema said. Sophomore Will Hines saw his first action in more than six weeks after breaking a hand at Florida, and he was used sparingly. Jared Collins and Carroll Washington split time at the right cornerback spot, but it was Collins who really showed up, making a good break on the ball on an deep out route and intercepting a throw by the Bulldogs’ Tyler Russell, easily one of the best plays by the secondary all season. That set up a 57-yard scoring drive in the third quarter that put the Hogs ahead 17-10.

With Mississippi State possessing one of the better run defenses in the SEC, Arkansas figured to have to pass the ball often to move it, but just the opposite proved true — though the Hogs did open up their running game with some early passes in drives. Brandon Allen completed 10 of 17 passes for 114 yards, with 14 of the attempts coming in regulation. He was intercepted on the final play of the game, trying to hit Julian Horton on a hitch pass on the right sideline. MSU’s Taveze Calhoun jumped the route for the pick, ran to near midfield and finally was brought down. Keon Hatcher had two receptions for 29 yards, and Hunter Henry had two catches for 14 yards. Six other players hauled in a pass, with tight end Jeremy Sprinkle loping all alone down the left sideline before being caught for a 44-yard play that set the Hogs up at the MSU 12 late in the game. One play later, Alex Collins fumbled.

Arkansas’ defense began the game aggressively, but it didn’t take long for MSU’s offensive brain trust to find the soft spots. One in particular was the wide-open space behind the linebackers and in front of the Hogs’ deep cover 2 formation on play-action fakes that helped the Bulldogs piled up 297 yards passing. Tyler Russell hit 18 of 28 throws for 263 yards and two scores, a 30-yard over the middle to running back Ladarius Perkins and a 5-yard pass in the flat to Jameon Lewis. Arkansas eventually adjusted to the pass down the middle but then started giving up extra chunks of yardage after catches with the season-long problematic missed tackling by the secondary. Arkansas’ linebackers, after a good start to the game, were almost nonexistent for the last three quarters and were nowhere in sight when freshman quarterback Damian Williams followed his fullback and zig-zagged through the middle for 25 yards on the first snap of overtime.

* Senior Zach Hocker’s 54-yard field goal in the second quarter, a line drive with the wind, was his longest and was the longest by Arkansas since Kendall Trainor kicked a 58-yarder at Miami in 1988.

*Arkansas had never lost eight games in a row until Saturday.

“Very disappointing. We do so many good things and then just do enough here and there to take away from what we’re trying to get done.” — UA coach Bret Bielema.

“Mississippi State runs ‘punt safe’ [formation] quite a bit. We thought that we had a very, very good look and it was the look we wanted. We gave it the green-light go. Obviously, we missed a critical block, and if I had to do it over again I obviously wouldn’t do it. We thought that the look was there and that we’d get 5 or 10 on that even if they reacted properly. We missed the block on No. 90 [tackle Denico Autry] there. On a kicking formation you can’t cut but if you’re running the ball you can. That’s what Dan [Skipper] tried to do and he missed him.” — Bielema on the fake punt failure late in the first half at Arkansas’ 44.

“I thought a growing point for our team was when Jared Collins made a nice interception. Our offense took it down and scored and you saw how much effect it had on the game.” — Bielema

Listen to audio from Bielema and players after the game at this link.

Arkansas’ season mercifully will come to an end next Friday (on CBS-TV) in Baton Rouge, La., against LSU. The Hogs are 3-8 overall and 0-8 in the SEC, having never gone winless during a conference season in its history.

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