STARKVILLE, Miss. - If Saturday night's game at Mississippi State had not ended the way it did, Arkansas sophomore tailback Knile Davis would no doubt have had a tough Sunday.
But Davis could smile after rushing 30 times for a career-high 187 yards taking a 7-yard flat pass to the end zone in the second overtime – all enough to offset his first two fumbles of the season that both came at crucial times.
That catch on a night when Davis topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season proved to be the game-winner as the No. 13 Razorbacks pulled out a 38-31 win before a raucous 54,506 fans – the fourth-largest crowd in Davis Wade Stadium history.
"What a tremendous win for our football team," Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. "We certainly didn't do everything right, but we stayed together and pulled it out. Knile had a great game, was a real workhorse."
Arkansas (9-2, 5-2) rallied from a 21-14 deficit late in the first half to take a 31-21 lead over Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4) early in the fourth quarter.
But Vick Ballard's 3-yard scoring run and Derek DePasquale's 22-yard field goal as time expired tied the game 31-31 after Davis' second fumble of the game was gobbled up by Fletcher Cox with 1:52 remaining.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was both elated and relieved.
"Wow," he said. "To get a win on the road is tough. I'm proud of our players and our assistant coaches. This was hard.
"We were trying to run the clock down and punt it and not leave them much and we fumbled. In the first overtime, after we got the ball back, we were going to run the ball three times -- maybe hit a run through there -- then kick the field goal.
"Knile had a great game. He lost a couple of fumbles, but he has played a lot of great football for us. He's carried it a bunch of times without losing it for us.
"We were going to run it in the first overtime because we have that much confidence in our kicker. But we went back to our game plan in the second overtime and were more aggressive."
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett passed for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns - an 89-yard hook-up with Jarius Wright, a 25-yard one with D.J. Williams and the 7-yard scoring drop off to Davis after both teams had gone scoreless in the first overtime.
After the pass to Davis, the Razorback preserved the win for the Razorbacks by sacking Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf for the fifth time – this time on fourth and 7.
It was reminiscent of the Razorbacks' 58-56 seven-overtime win over Ole Miss in 2001.
Ballard had 33 carries for 150 yards and Relf ran the ball 31 times for 103 yards and completed 20-of-30 passes for 224 yards.
The Razorbacks had 61 plays for 488 yards of total offense while the Bulldogs ran 100 plays for 486 yards and converted four of their five fourth down attempts in the game.
"Your talking about two Top 20 teams going at it for four quarters and more," Mullen said. "It was going back and forth and was a great game." After Davis fumbled with just under two minutes left, Mississippi State put itself in position to win the game, but then almost let time run out before DePasquale got his game-tying boot. The snap came with five seconds left and the board read 0:00 when it went through.
In the first overtime, Ballard looked headed for his fourth touchdown of the game, but fumbled into the end zone and that gave Arkansas a chance to win the game. Jerico Nelson made the hit just inside the 5-yard line to produce the fumble.
"We had two turnovers in the red zone and that's on me, that's coaching," Mullen said. "I didn't have them prepared."
After Davis ran the ball three times to set up what would have been a game-winning field goal, reliable freshman kicker Zach Hocker missed a 39-yarder. It was only his second miss of the season and first since the Texas A&M game.
Mississippi State looked to be in control and on the verge of taking a 28-17 lead in the third quarter, but then the game turned on a fumble, a punch and a bomb.
Relf fumbled after a hit by Elton Ford at the Arkansas 22 and the loose ball was recovered by Darius Winston.
After the play, Arkansas linebacker Anthony Leon was ejected for throwing a punch and the resulting personal foul backed his team up to its own 11-yard line.
With Mississippi State players and fans lamenting the turn of events, Mallett went up top for Wright, who took it the last 50 or so yards for an 87-yard touchdown play. Joe Adams gave him the clinching block about the 15-yard line.
"They were blitzing and we hit some of them and some others we didn't get the quarterback protected," Petrino said. "That one, we left the tight end in to block and Jarius knew when he caught it that it was going to be a long one. I was glad he kept his balance and Joe Adams made a great block.
"We had the middle of the field open on some others just like that and didn't quite get it. It was there with the way they were blitzing. That was a well-executed play."
Hocker's PAT was good and suddenly the Razorbacks had taken a 24-21 lead with 2:03 left in the third quarter.
Arkansas then pushed it to 31-21 with 10:06 left in regulation on Davis' 1-yard TD run, a scoring plunge set up by Mallett's 23-yard pass to Joe Adams.
Mississippi State answered with a 14-play, 75-yard drive, culminating in Ballard's third touchdown of the night. His 4-yard run and DePasquale's PAT cut it to 31-28 with 4:24 remaining in the game.
Davis had 139 yards rushing at halftime, 62 of that coming on a scoring dash that tied the game 7-7 with 8:41 left in the first quarter.
Mallett hit Williams on a short pass that he turned into a 25-yard touchdown reception with some great open field moves to put the Razorbacks up 14-7 with 1:07 remaining in opening quarter. He took advantage of blocks by Wright and Davis with his cutback.
The Bulldogs fumbled the ball on their end of the field, leaving the Razorbacks just 26 yards for a two-touchdown advantage. But Davis suffered his first fumble of the season and gave the ball right back on the ensuing play.
Mississippi State used 15 plays to cover 71 yards with Relf doing most of the damage, but Ballard getting the score with a 1-yard run. Most of it was on inside running on option reads by Relf.One of those was a fake punt converted by inches after a measurement in front of the UA bench. DePasquale deadlocked the score 14-14 at the 9:52 mark of the second quarter.
The Bulldogs then used 11 plays to cover 60 yards to take the lead with Ballard again cashing in the final 2 yards with DePasquale's PAT sending his team ahead 21-14 with 2:29 left in the half.
That did leave Arkansas enough time to dash down the field, but it settled for Hocker's 32-yard field goal that left the intermission deficit at 21-17.
Petrino said the Bulldogs make it tough with a powerful running attack.
"They can run the ball," Petrino said. "I thought Relf made some good throws, too. I did think our pressure took something out of him. We started hitting him more in the second half and I thought that was the difference in the game at the end.
"We made it tough on our defense by giving them some extra possessions. We gave up the fake punt, we hit the punter and then we had 12 men on the field on a third down stop. That's rough on our defense and that gave them a lot more snaps than we had."
Knile Davis scampers along the sideline on a 62-yard touchdown run.
Anthony Leon and Jake Bequette tackle MSU runner Vick Ballard.
Cobi Hamilton breaks free for a long gainer.
D. J. Williams had four catches for 70 yards.
Jarius Wright sets sail on an 89-yard TD play.
Knile Davis ran for 187 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Bobby Petrino gives a play to Ryan Mallett.
Tenarius Wright (43) celebrates after the victory.
Ryan Mallett looks for an opening.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated