The #13 Razorbacks were able to blank #22 Mississippi State twice in overtime, first on a forced fumble at the one-yard line and then a fourth-down sack. In between Arkansas put up the only extra-period points, a seven-yard touchdown throw from Ryan Mallett to Knile Davis, in their second overtime. That allowed the visiting Razorbacks to leave Scott Field 9-2 overall and 4-3 SEC and with sustained hope of a top-tier bowl berth.
The Bulldogs are 7-4, 3-4 SEC after dropping a second November contest against a Western Division rival. The crowd was announced at 56,406, the fourth-largest on record and the seventh sellout of this concluded home schedule.
Whatever colors the fans favored, none felt short-changed by an entertaining regulation show and the bonus overtime dramatics. Trailing 21-17 late in the third period Arkansas fell on a fumble, a rare mistake by Bulldog quarterback Chris Relf, and immediately converted it into a 89-yard touchdown pass for the lead. Another touchdown to open the fourth quarter staked the visitors to a ten point lead with ten minutes left.
But Mississippi State responded, driving for a touchdown at 4:24 and conserving enough time to take advantage of a Razorback fumble and drive within field goal distance on the last play of regulation. Taking first turn of first overtime, the Bulldogs got within arms-length of adding another touchdown when TB Vick Ballard cut around left end and reached the one-yard line. As MSU Coach Dan Mullen noted later, Ballard needed just one downfield block to walk across the goal line.
Instead he stumbled trying to tight-rope inside the five and reaching the ball forward had it rattled loose by Arkansas’ Jerico Nelson. The fumble went into the end zone and then out of bounds, a touchback call upheld by review. For the only time all evening the Razorback offense played it safe in their first overtime, thinking field goal, and Zach Hocker was set up for a 39-yarder. He missed it.
Moving to the other end of the field and with first turn, Arkansas went back to the usual aggressive attack. Mallett got 16 yards on a throw to Jarius Wright, and on second-and-goal Davis was left uncovered on the left side for an easy catch and touchdown. Relf produced one fresh set of downs with a third-down dive to the 15 yard line, but on 3rd-and-7 he led WR Arceto Clark a step too far at the goal line. On fourth down Relf was using a fake cadence to look over the defense; something was lost in the excitement, the ball was snapped and an unprotected Relf swarmed under.
That sort of defensive stand was very much the exception to game tendencies, as Arkansas mustered 488 yards compared to State’s 486. But the Razorbacks needed just 61 snaps to get theirs thanks to a collective of big plays both in the air and on the ground. A 305 yard night by Mallett, on 17-of-26 passing with three touchdowns and an interception, was certainly not a surprise.
A 224 yard showing by Relf, now, that was. The junior had a career outing, completing 20-of-30 throws without an interception, and arguably outplayed his prominent peer for over a half. He did take five sacks including the game-closer but didn’t get picked off. The quarterback also carried, or scrambled, 31 times for 103 net yards and a touchdown.
As expected Ballard led State’s ground game with a season-best 150 yards on 33 carries; and by scoring three touchdowns he tied the program season record with 16 total scores (15 rushing, one shy of that standard) set in 1952 by Jackie Parker and tied in 2007 by Anthony Dixon.
And even then Arkansas had their own surprise as Davis exploded for 187 rushing yards on 30 carries, with a pair of touchdowns. Davis accounted for 117 yards in the first quarter alone, 62 of that on Arkansas’ opening touchdown.
Arkansas produced one first down on their first turn, with a 16-yard throw to Hamilton. A 3rd-and-7 failed as McPhee hurried a heave. State’s Marvin Bure ran into the punter on his first attempt but for just a five-yard foul, so the re-kick was fair-caught at the MSU 14.
It took eight plays to break scoring ice, with Ballard getting the series going with a 12-yard run on third down. Relf hooked up with Chris Smith for an 18-yard gainer into Arkansas territory, then TE Brandon Henderson got open down the left sideline for 29 more yards. Relf hurried his team to the line and kept, dashing right up the middle where OT Addison Lawrence opened the hole. He stiff-armed safety Tramain Thomas aside and bounced off safety Rudell Crim to make the goal line at 9:23.
It took less than a minute for Arkansas to answer. On 2nd-and-3 a delay handoff caught the Dog defense attacking with Davis cutting through left guard, where a block in the back on McPhee could have been called if the official had been of a mind to. He wasn’t and Davis was gone untouched 62 yards for the tying touchdown at 8:41.
Relf was caught for no gain on third down, but it was Arkansas’ turn to run into the punter and this time it produced a free first down. Relf moved the chains another time, and on the next third down had WR Brandon Heavens open at the UA 35. The unpressured throw was too high, and Hutchins’ 50-yard punt one-hopped into the end zone 50 yards away.
Two big Davis runs later, of 13 and 18 yards, the ball was on State’s 49-yard line. With 4th-and-1 inside the Bulldog 30 the Razorbacks ran to the line but not the ball; Mallett found Williams off to the right flank for five yards. During timeout Arkansas called for a screen and the Dogs bit big-time as Williams made the bobbled catch with blocking in front. But he also made a nifty move to cut against-grain and finish the 25-yard touchdown at 1:07.
Dog disaster struck after the kickoff. TB Robert Elliott caught the pass but lost the handle when sandwiched and Arkansas’ Eric Bennett recovered on the 31-yard line. Fortunately for State, Davis was separated from the ball as well on first down with LB Emmanuel Gatling recovering at the 29; a net-gain of three in the turnover exchange.
The quarters changed on 3rd-and-3 and after Ballard was stopped Hutchins pun…no, he didn’t. He rolled around left end and was given a spot just a half-inch far enough for the first down. Relf gained six on 3rd-and-4, eleven more on first down; and on 4th-and-short with everyone figuring he’d go again it was Ballard diving through for first down at the 26.
On second down Relf somehow slid a bullet between two well-placed defenders, and Smith somehow came up with the catch inside the one-yard line. Ballard tied the game at 9:52 following the left side of his blocking.
Starting from their 18, the Razorbacks converted 3rd-and-3 with four yards from Davis. The next third down was lengthened by a false start, so State could sell out and blitz. McPhee made it count by scoring his first sack of the senior season, for ten yards and a punt. A high one fair-caught at State’s 40.
The series seemed doomed by a first-down loss of seven on a reverse attempt. But throws to Smith for eight, then 17 yards changed sides of the field. Ballard muscled for five for another first down and it was Smith again making the catch, this one for 18 yards to the 13. Relf overthrew Bumphis in the end zone, but on 3rd-and-six busted the middle with a shoestring tackle at the two-yard line by Terrell Williams saving the touchdown. Momentarily. Relf dropped the snap, recovered, and pitched to Ballard who outran the one defender nearby to the right pylon at 2:29.
Which was way more time than Arkansas needed to produce points, of course. Mallett instantly hooked up with Williams for 32 yards, and when Davis rushed for another dozen yards S Nickoe Whitley whacked him well out of bounds for 15 more down to the Bulldog 14. Before the third down snap UA’s right tackle jumped, for a 3rd-and-17. A slip-screen to Adams only got back to the original mark, so Zach Hocker knocked the 32-yard field goal through and State took a 21-17 lead into their locker room.
The Bulldogs also got first turn of the second half. Ballard netted 13 on two carries and Relf found Clark for first down at Arkansas’ 48. On 3rd-and-8 Clark collided with Eric Bennett as the pass went overhead, with no flag pulled. Hutchins punted to the 13-yard line. With 3rd-and-10 State played coverage, and Arkansas ran Davis rightward for 12 yards instead. The next third down was an empty backfield. Mallett rolled right into LB Chris White for loss of a yard and a punt that rolled to the Bulldog 29.
Three snaps later, after Clark was separated from a third-down throw by Crim, Hutchins punted it back to the UA 20. CB Corey Broomfield missed his tackle of Hamilton for what became a 33-yard gainer to State’s 44. But on the next snap Mallett tried the right sideline with Williams on a streak; safety Whitley came sailing over for an interception, both knees landing inbounds at 6:38.
Relf took a shot to his left arm on the first-down throw, which got a free first down as Bumphis was interfered with. Two Ballard punches had State on the 50-stripe and Relf converted 3rd-and-3 himself. He tried a shot for Bumphis into the end zone perfectly defended by Elton Ford, but unlike last week not intercepted.
Still State faced 4th-and-3 at the 32 and Arkansas had the pressure…and left FB Pat Hanrahan free floating on the right side for a dump pass and first down at the 32 yard line. But the good momentum ended instantly because after a solid gain Relf was stripped and the fumble recovered by Arkansas. They lost 15 yards on a personal foul and linebacker Anthony Leon was ejected.
Neither mattered as on first down Mallett saw Jarius Wright open down the middle. Wright made the in-stride catch, kept footing and with a little bit of blocking got to the goal line at 2:03; a 82-yard touchdown and 24-21 Razorback lead.
Starting from the 24, the Bulldogs mustered one move of chains with a catch and run by Ballard for 12. But Relf was caught for losses of four and five yards so the fourth quarter began with Razorback possession on their 27. This time the touchdown drive required ten plays but the end result was the same. Mallett made throws of 11, 16, eight, and 21 yards along the way and faced just one third down; a one-yard situation gained by Broderick Green. That last pass put the ball on the Bulldog one and Davis did the honors at 10:06.
Now down ten points State had to have points of any kind. Relf responded with perhaps the best-run drive of his still-developing college career. He converted 3rd-and-11 by finding Bumphis for 21 yards. That was not a huge problem though because Ballard was able to rush six times; and Relf to make up for an offensive hold by sticking the ball to Bumphis in the middle; though the 13-yard play also sidelined the wideout.
Ballard finished the drive at 4:24 with a four-yard blast, dragging the Arkansas safety into the end zone with him. Still there was the matter of getting the ball back with enough time to get something done. It didn’t begin well because Mallett delivered (to Van Stumon) for 12 yards on 3rd-and-4. Only then did the Dogs apply their remaining two timeouts, and still Arkansas could have run most of a minute more off with a third-down handoff.
Except Davis got stripped from behind by CB Johnthan Banks with DT Fletcher Cox recovering at the MSU 46 with 1:52 left. It was enough, barely, though State had to run the ball more than throw. Clark did get a 13-yard grab for long field goal position; Ballard got another 12 at 1:15, with Arkansas calling the time now. Relf read the defense and let Ballard run twice, then pulled it down a heartbeat too late to get out of bounds at 0:28.
Yet the placekick team was able to get lined up, set, and snap with three ticks left and DePasquale was right on target to force the overtime. Overtimes, that is.
Smith had the breakout night for MSU with five catches and 78 yards, while Bumphis caught five balls as well before hurting the right foot. Relf spread the ball around to nine targets, a SEC season-most for State. Williams and Adams had four catches each for Arkansas, but Wright’s two grabs netted 105 yards.
Neither punter got a lot of work but Hutchins averaged 42.8 on his four kicks. UA’s Jerry Franklin led everyone with 15 tackles, while LB K.J. Wright paced State with 14 stops.