State of the Hogs: Eight Straight

The winning plays eluded Arkansas again Saturday, this time with a failed fake punt late in the first half and a fumble late in regulation.

How do you win? Bret Bielema knows the formula. It's the little things like being on time for weight lifting, something that didn't happen this week for the top two running backs.

It's knowing you can cut block on a fake punt. That's a mistake Dan Skipper made on the critical lost yardage run by Sam Irwin-Hill that set up Mississippi State for a touchdown late in the first half.

It's not fumbling on the goal line when it's winning time. That's what happened to Alex Collins at the MSU 9-yard line with the score tied and just 5:22 left in the fourth quarter.

And, it's not wearing long sleeves when you are going to carry the football. Apparently, that's what Mitch Loewen did that contributed to his fumble on a kickoff return.

Those are some of the details that became obvious after the season's eighth straight loss, a school record. It came when Mississippi State's freshman quarterback kept it up the middle on a 25-yard run on the first play of overtime to provide the difference in a 24-17 defeat in War Memorial Stadium.

"I continue to be surprised," Bielema said, when asked about Collins and Williams missing the first quarter for being late to a lift. "JWill and Alex will continue to grow.

"We have a lot of recurring issues. I needed to make a stand. The details matter."

Bielema was upset at the fumbles. He said they've been stressed all season. He said the way to victory is to win the turnover battle and the Hogs were ahead there, 2-1, until Collins fumbled inside the 10 and Brandon Allen was intercepted to end the overtime to let MSU win that statistic, 3-2.

The Loewen fumble struck a nerve with Bielema afterwards because it related to a detail that slipped away.

"Our rule, no long sleeves if you are handling the ball," Bielema said. "The ball is cold. You want your bare skin on it when you lock it away. You have it against your arm and it slips when you are wearing that kind of material. We don't allow that."

The Collins fumble was the stunner. It came on the next play after Allen found tight end Jeremey Sprinkle on a play-action throwback for 44 yards to the 12-yard line. Collins found some running room up the middle on the next play, but free safety Nickoe Whitley stripped the ball away at the 9-yard line.

"That was a stunner," Allen said. "Alex has been good with the ball. I know he didn't have (sleeves). He was bare on his arms, so that wasn't it on that one.

"Our thought there, we were about to win the game. That's what we talked about, putting it into the end zone and using as much of the clock as we could. We were not trying to set up a field goal. We were trying to score a touchdown."

The Hogs had things go right at other times, too, only to give away the momentum. They were cruising with a 10-0 lead on Zach Hocker's 54-yard field goal with 6:53 left in the second quarter.

But that's when State changed plans on offense, taking advantage of some wide safety alignments by the Hogs. With Alan Turner and Erik Bennett flashing outside to help two new starters at cornerback, D. J. Dean and Jared Collins, MSU quarterback Tyler Russell worked the middle for three big plays.

The first two set up Nick Bell's 24-yard field goal. Russell passed 35 yards to Jameon Lewis. That throw was a bit short and Lewis stumbled and fell with open field ahead. There was another 29-yard throw down the middle to tight end Malcolm Johnson.

That's when Bielema called for the fake punt, his fourth of the season. Sam Irwin-Hill was supposed to cut behind a block of Dan Skipper, but MSU end Denico Autry eluded Skipper and stuffed Irwin-Hill on the fourth-and-2 play with 2:42 left in the half.

"Mississippi State runs a lot of punt safe," Bielema said. "It looked good so we gave it the green light. But we missed a block on (Autry). I thought we'd get five to 10 yards.

"We had the look we wanted. Dan (Skipper) could have cut him. You can't cut on punts, but you can if you are going to run the ball. Dan just missed him."

Bielema said the fumble on the goal line late in the game was a stunner, too.

"We talked all week and stressed it," Bielema said. "It's in our preparation. The ball (on cold days) is a little slick, but he's got to take care of it. It's games like this where it's so critical."

The wide safeties were exploited by the Bulldogs until the Hogs adjusted in the second half.

"They were giving a hard run fake into the middle of the formation," Bielema said. "We were playing some cover two to help our corners, but they took that away from us. We were trying to give our corners some relief and they went down the middle of the field. It's pick your poison. We played more cover three with a middle safety in the second half."

Safety Alan Turner led the Hogs with 16 tackles. He filled the gaps often left by the linebackers on MSU run plays.

"I didn't know what it was," Turner said. "I just wanted to help my team.

"The passes over the middle hurt us, though, and they had some great play-action (fakes). It hurt to let the running back come right down the pipe on one of those pass plays. Tyler Russell is a good quarterback and he took advantage of our coverages."

The eight-game losing streak came up over and over in the post-game media sessions.

"I didn't know it was (eight)," said Julian Horton. "Obviously, that is not a good number. We just have to keep working and try not to get beat again."

Turner admitted that the Hogs have been closer to ending the streak, but in the end that doesn't matter.

"Frustration, it really is," he said. "A loss is a loss. They all hurt the same. You know the last two we should have won. It's tough, but we just pick ourselves back up and we keep going."

Allen said the team continues to fight hard in the middle of the losing streak.

"We are always trying to stay positive," Allen said. "Things like this happen. You have to bury it, get back to practice and get ready.

"We didn't think it would be like this. We had high expectations. We thought we had a great team. So this surprises us and a lot of people. We are going to keep fighting.

"We are getting closer, especially today. We fought hard the entire game.

"I thought we were going to get through (for a win) today when we were down on the goal line after the pass to Sprinkle. The guy made a good play on Alex, though. He's going to be a very good back, but he's still young. The ball didn't bounce right there for us."

Horton said it will turn around for the Hogs at some point.

"I know everyone is down on us right now," Horton said. "But we are going to keep working. Coach Bielema has instilled in us the work ethic and pride. We will keep fighting.

"I thought it was about to happen and it was a shocker when we didn't get the touchdown at the end of the game. I thought we were about to put it in and this (losing streak) was over. It didn't turn out that way."

The best words came from the other side of the stadium, from Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. He noted the way the Hogs ran it on his front, for 225 yards. Few have done that to the Bulldogs this season.

"Give those guys credit," Mullen said. "Give Bret and that crew credit. He's building his program right there.

"You can see what they're trying to build and how they're trying to build it. They have a tough, physical defensive line that makes plays. They have a big, physical offensive line.

"They ran the ball for 225 yards on us, which is, I mean, we've held some really good rushing teams down in rushing statistics this year. The two top teams like Auburn and Texas A&M, we were able to stop. They were able to run the ball on us today. We've got to look at that.

"You can see what they're trying to build here and the direction he's got this team headed in. which is to get back to being a really good program."

Horton said it's details.

"You saw Coach Bielema held guys out (in the first quarter)," Horton said. "He's going to be the same towards everyone, all are treated the same. He's going to win. He will stick to his rules. You mess up, you get the same treatment as everyone else. Everything is fair, all the same.

"His program is his way. It's going to happen here. It's going to get done."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories