Ryan Mallett shot down both Mississippi State’s official bowl hopes by riddling the Bulldog defense for five touchdown passes in the Razorback win. Mallett more than lived up to his SEC-leading billing by throwing for 313 yards, and if two of his balls were intercepted more than enough others got into the MSU end zone either on direct-flight or on gains-after-grab. The sophomore slinger didn’t have a remarkable completion rate at 18-of-34, but as Mullen—who knows something about college quarterbacks—noted, a five-touchdown in 18-completions ratio is impressive enough.
It was all the more so as Mississippi State’s two quarterbacks between them combined for all of 49 passing yards, the lowest tally since the 2007 Liberty Bowl though of course the Dogs won that game. UA receiver Cobi Hamilton had more gain via-air on a single 64-yard scoring catch. Starter Tyson Lee was 4-of-6 throwing for 22 yards, and if he didn’t have any balls picked he did get one knocked out of his hand when cocked to fire for a turnover. He was also sacked four times for losses of 21 yards. Alternate Chris Relf was 4-of-7 for 27 yards and no sacks or picks…but also nothing close to a point-producing throw either.
Of course the Bulldogs purportedly planned to rely on the ground game as usual, and RB Anthony Dixon had a productive day with 176 yards on 24 carries. That included touchdown dashes of four and 79 yards. Yet even Dixon wasn’t immune to setbacks as he was stripped at the end of the third quarter at midfield when it was a 28-21 contest, with Arkansas cashing in the turnover for the take-charge drive. State also had some curious first-half passing calls that resulted in Lee taking repeated sackings as Arkansas’s underrated defensive front made short work of Bulldog blocking.
A short opening kickoff gave Arkansas first turn at their 37 yards line, and first chances for Mallett to show his arm. It didn’t work well initially as the first-down attempt was batted away behind the line. The second, an attempt for Jarius Wright, was intercepted as CB Corey Broomfield got in front for a pick and MSU field position at Arkansas’ 47-yard line.
Except a malfunctioning play clock led to State drawing its first delay-penalty of the entire season before the ball could be snapped. Mullen and referee Penn Wagers had a long talk but the penalty stood. Not that it mattered much because when the Dogs did get off their first snap, WR Chad Bumphis took an end-around down the right sideline 49 yards to the Razorback three. On third down out of the wishbone set RB Arnil Stallworth crossed right-to-left for the touchdown at 13:07.
UA’s Dennis Johnson took the ensuing kickoff from his ten to his team’s 41. A grab-and-run by Wright produced 21 yards, then on second down from State’s 39 Joe Adams got open over the middle and spun out of an attempted tackle for the tying touchdown at 11:20.
A false-start stuck State in 3rd-and-10 and Lee’s throw over the middle was tipped incomplete, so Heath Hutchins punted 45 yards to the Arkansas 17. Mallett had an open target on third down but threw behind him so the Hogs kicked it back 47 yards with a helpful bounce to State’s 35. On second down a roll-out try lost 11 yards as an unblocked Hog sacked Lee. Hutchins was hit but only for five yards’ worth of penalty so he repunted with fair-catch at the UA 22.
Johnson broke a 19-yard carry up the middle, before DE Pernell McPhee got to Mallett for a nine-yard sack. On 3rd-and-14 McPhee forced Mallet to unload for a tipped catch and short gain so Dylan Breeding punted and Leon Berry caught at State’s 22. The Bulldogs finally got their typical ground game going as Dixon got 15 through the middle and was an ankle-grab away from going the distance. A pitch to RB Robert Elliot netted 22 more to changes sides of the field, and four more Dixon totes around a Razorback off-sides had first down at the 20-yard line.
But having reached the red zone State got too tricky for the situation and another unblocked Hog sacked Lee on a rollout for loss of eight as the quarters changed. Dixon got all the loss back on a delay-handoff but a low snap and no extra blocking against a full blitz dropped Lee back to the 32. After taking time to talk, State passed on a long field goal and Lee had nobody open in the end zone.
This also meant Arkansas could start at their 32. After moving the chains once, on 2nd-and-10 Mallett hit Hamilton in-stride at the 10-yard line, where he could drag CB Maurice Langston across the goal for a 58-yard touchdown strike at 12:35.
After State went three-and-out Hutchins did his job with a punt to the UA 21. But the defense gave away any position advantage with an after-whistle shove by TD Josh Boyd for a bonus 15 yards to the 41. A throw to D.J. Williams got the ball across midfield and Johnson made it first down at State’s 38. On a 3rd-and-8 Mallet found Greg Childs open at the 17. With first down at the five Mallett froze coverage and hit Wright all by his lonesome in back of the end zone for the 21-7 lead.
Alternate QB Chris Relf squirmed for the needed yards on 3rd-and-3, and hit TE Marcus Green for another first down at State’s 46. But he too was blitzed-under on a third-down passing play and with 1:49 left in the half Arkansas used a timeout. Hutchins miss-hit his punt for just 18 net yards giving the Razorbacks possession at their 36.
But Mallett was flushed by LB Jamar Chaney and his low sideline throw was intercepted by CB Corey Broomfield at State’s 45. A 12-yard hookup with WR O’Neal Wilder got State down to the 37 before Arkansas again hit Lee with a blitz too quick for an unload; then on the next snap Jake Bequette knocked the ball out of the passer’s lifted hand for a fumble at the 50.
A 18-yard throw to Childs had the Razorbacks almost in field goal range, though a three-yard loss on a draw—Arkansas also could out-clever themselves—cost three yards. Broomfield came through by breaking up an on-target toss in the end zone, and the 52-yard field goal try was wide.
Blocking fouls on a short Bumphis kickoff return forced State to start the new half at their six-yard line, but Dixon and Elliott dug them out to the 23 and Relf dragged tacklers across the 40. The same trio kept pounding at Arkansas on the interior for first downs at the Arkansas 45, then 25, until Dixon broke a 15-yard gainer down to the five-yard line. On first-and-goal he stiff-armed his was around left end for the touchdown at 9:22. All 94 yards in the drive came on rushing, after State had managed just 96 ground yards in the whole first half.
The Dog defense wasn’t as ready for the new half. A bouncing kickoff was fielded first by Arkansas on their 36, yet this didn’t seem worrisome as the Razorbacks faced 3rd-and-10. But Mallett read the blitz rightly and hit hot-receiver Hamilton in the flat. Worse, Hamilton was turned the right way to take off. CB Marcus Washington swiped at a shoulder pad, and Chaney made a last-chance grab for nothing as Hamilton finished a 64-yard scoring jaunt at 8:14.
Except Dixon did even better, taking the first-down counter-handoff at his 30-yard line and rumbling all the way to the end zone at 7:56 to get the Bulldogs back within a touchdown.
Starting at their 22 this time Arkansas ground out one first down. Next snap, Mallett throw to Adams certainly looked like a catch-and-fumble at midfield. Mullen challenged the incomplete call and lost both the review and a timeout. On 3rd-and-3 Mallett overthrew badly so it was Arkansas punting with Bumphis returning a dozen yards to the 37.
Runs by WR Brandon Heavens and Relf got first down on the 50-stripe, but soon Relf faced his first throwing situation of the half with 3rd-and-7. He found Bumphis for just five and Mullen wasn’t of a mind to gamble; instead Hutchins’ 40-yard punt was downed at the two.
Mallett’s first-down throw out of the end zone was dropped but so were a couple of flags as Chaney somehow was ruled for interfering with a Razorback in-route. This gave more punting room after a third-down overthrow and Bumphis came back 20 yards to State’s 47.
But on second down Dixon was stood-up by nose man Zach Stradther and had the ball rattled loose to be recovered by Elton Ford. Arkansas used the turnover to full advantage with a six-play drive that essentially settled the afternoon. After a series of short dumps Mallett went downfield for Williams and a gain to the State 22-yard line, with 15 more yards added on a personal foul. Ironically a flag was also lying in the offensive backfield where McPhee had been double-held but it was quickly retrieved.
While the Dogs were still stewing, Childs crossed the end zone left-to-right ahead of cornerback Banks for the touchdown catch at 12:35.
With Relf handing off three times State couldn’t move and punted from their 28. Arkansas finally ran afoul of the officials as a clipping call on Wade Grayson negated a screen pass that would have netted 62 yards. Two snaps later what briefly looked like a home-run hit to Childs was waved off as the receiver had gone out of bounds on the Bulldog sideline all on his own steam. But State’s offense was stalled for good as Relf was kept contained running or trying to throw and the ball went over on four downs at the Dog 43.
Eight Arkansas snaps later the last points were tallied, set up when Broomfield was called for interfering with a high-and-wide throw in the end zone. Green got to punch the ball over on first-and-goal at 2:35. State did pad the first-down column on a last possession by three but Arkansas wasn’t giving anything downfield so Relf stuck to short runs and throws that burned up what was left of the clock with no serious attempt to score.
Relf had 68 rushing yards on 12 carries and Eliot 62 more, with State mustering 327 net-gains on the ground. Arkansas was happy to settle for 83 rushing yards with Mallett having his way in the air. Four Hogs had three or more grabs with Hamilton gaining 131 yards on his three receptions. State’s Green was the most productive target at three catches and 17 yards.