STARKVILLE, Miss. - Life on the road in the Southeastern Conference isn't easy. It's always a grind. That was perfect for the team that prides itself in grinding and the back that's been the best grinder in the second half of the season.
That would be Knile Davis, the sophomore running back who gave the Hogs the only touchdown in two, grinding overtime periods. That came after he lost a pair of fumbles, the last to setup a tying Mississippi State touchdown to end regulation.
"I had my head down after that last fumble," Davis said. "My teammates helped get me back up. I just told myself it was like what we do in the summer, grind, grind, grind.
"That's what this team is all about. You work when no one is around, when there are no cameras. That's what we do, grind. You just have to get yourself back up and go get it done."
Davis hooked up with quarterback Ryan Mallett on a 7-yard touchdown pass to start the second overtime, the difference in a 38-31 victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
"It was zero coverage, maximum blitz," Mallett said. "We've practiced that play a thousand times. I was going to give D. J. Williams the first look and then I saw no one was on Knile. I thought I had missed him, but it turned out just fine. Knile made a great catch."
The Bulldogs did a lot of grinding, too. They ran 100 plays on the night, 39 more than the Hogs.
"That's alright," said Jerry Franklin, the middle linebacker who had to hold his ground against the inside running of quarterback Chris Relf and halfback Vick Ballard.
Franklin had a team-high 15 tackles with one of Arkansas' five sacks and two tackles for lost yardage.
"I'm pretty sure they watched the Auburn tape. That's what Auburn did. They both read the three technique, and then came down through the 'A' gap. They ran a lot of plays, but we made it tough on them. I don't think we gave them anything easy. We made it tough on them, especially in the second half."
The Hogs hung in there with a reworked secondary. True freshman Eric Bennett and true sophomore Darius Winston took over at cornerback. Elton Ford replaced Rudell Crim at safety.
"To be honest, I don't think about their years," said Willy Robinson, defensive coordinator. "We've had guys go down, but those corners have earned their spots.
"We called some blitzes and loaded the box and left them out there by themselves a lot tonight. They gave up some catches, but they tackled the catch and that made them try to drive it. They didn't miss tackles."
That's why Ford was on the field. Rudell Crim started, but he made a weak attempt at Relf on a 23-yard touchdown run and Ford's number was called.
"Rudell had struggled with tackling the last couple of weeks," Robinson said. "We decided to go with Elton. He made some plays, too. He gave us some toughness back there at strong safety.
"Really, our secondary did make some plays. They knocked down some passes, knocked the ball loose some. I thought Eric Bennett had a big hit to knock the ball out on a third down that forced a punt."
Robinson thought the Hogs got just what was expected.
"We knew there was a good team waiting for us down here," he said. "They are tough and it's always going to be a battle when you come here. They are a very good team in this place.
"But I think what you see is that we have a very good team, too. It's not easy to come here and get a win. That's what we did. We are good and we are tough. That's what I saw tonight."
Robinson said he threw everything at the State offense.
"Blitz after blitz," he said. "We had run blitzes and then we finally got them in some long yardage situations and could call some of our staples.
"That was a pass call at the end and Tenarius Wright was just a blur off the ball. He got there so quick. But it was one of the few times we knew they were going to pass. You don't get many chances to call a pass blitz against that offense.
"I have to say that I truly didn't know if they would call a pass because even on third and long they might just run the dive or the option. That's what makes them so tough is that they will keep running it on any down."
Wright blitzed from the outside, getting Relf's legs on the sack to end the second overtime. Jake Bequette was closing from the other end.
"Tank beat me to him, but we were all coming," Bequette said. "I was coming from one side and there was Jerico Nelson, too. We were all right there.
"It was an intense game. It was exactly like we thought it would be. We knew this wasn't a finesse team and it was going to be like that. We didn't match them in the first half, but we did the second half. It's a tough place, just like any SEC games.
"You go on the road, it's going to be close. We kinda got out on South Carolina, but the rest of them were just like you expect on the road. You have to make a few clutch plays at the end. You have to finish. We did tonight."
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