FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Bret Bielema's practices always start with work on field goals from point blank range. It's the way games are won. And, it's also the way a game can be lost -- in heartbreaking style. As Bielema said, it stings and hurts in every way possible. It did Saturday night for Arkansas in a 51-50 loss to Mississippi State.
Oh, it stung. It was tough on fans at the end at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. It was the third blocked field goal of the year, all seemingly too low. One fan was yelling from the front row almost dead even with the line of scrimmage before Cole Hedlund's attempt, "Just get it up." He didn't.
Bielema's first inclination was to also say it was too low. But there was a breakdown in protection from the wing. All of that will be evaluated and possibly there will be a change in kickers with Adam McFain in the picture after battling back from an injury.
After doing so many things right in the second half against Mississippi State, they did that one thing wrong. Cole Hedlund's 29-yard field goal attempt for the game winner was blocked with 39 seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 51-50 victory to end the Hogs' four-game winning streak started after the bye week.
Bielema apologized for the team for letting a missed field goal turn an amazing drive in the final three minutes seal their fate. It was the third blocked field goal of the season.
“It sucks,” he said. “It's on me to let a critical moment like that with a field goal cost us.”
It was heartbreak city for the Razorbacks, a return to the close-but-no-cigar finishes of Bielema's first two seasons. It ruined a record breaking night for quarterback Brandon Allen and made a winner of State's Dak Prescott despite two turnovers.
Safety Kevin Richardson got one of them, an interception off of a deflected Prescott throw. Deatrich Wise also knocked the ball loose from Prescott on a sack for the other takeaway. There was a third on a kickoff when Josh Harris splattered the returner. All three led to quick touchdowns and help the Hogs turn a 31-21 halftime definite into a 42-31 lead.
But it was a chance at another Precott throw that haunted the Hogs. Richardson had an interception in his sights early in the second quarter on a night the Hogs forced only one punt. It hit squarely in his hands but went to the ground, a clear muff.
“I must put my hands together and make that catch,” Richardson said. “He threw it right to me.”
Prescott led three touchdown marches in the fourth quarter. Allen, with a school record seven touchdown throws, answered once and then had completions of 17, 16, 13, 6 and 18 on consecutive plays to move the Hogs to the 19 inside the final minute.
From there, Bielema wanted to run the clock and set up Hedlund. It's just like they practice each day, making sure there is not an interception or a sack to lose yardage.
“We were going to go with the two-minute until we got inside the 20,” Bielema said. “We start practice every day with that. It's my fault. I'm extremely disappointed for the fans and the players.”
Allen did not second guess his coach. He said he knew exactly what was coming after his beautiful scrambles and throws landed the Hogs inside the 20-yard line.
“That's the situation we practice,” Allen said. “It's the smart play. Kill as much time as you can and kick a field goal. I'd do the same thing.”
Asked again later if he would have liked to keep throwing at the end, Allen said, “The goal when you get inside the 20, kill as much time as you can. The goal when you get inside the 20, try to get it to the 12.”
In the end, it was more a matter of not being able to stop Prescott enough. The senior quarterback zoomed the Bulldogs to the end zone in amazing efficiency. His scoring marches of 77, 65, 72, 78, 74, 74 and 82 yards took just 2:45, 2:48, 2:26, 2:46, 1:27, 3:21, 4:13 and 2:28 off the game clock. He passed for 508 and ran for 46. He had 65 plays of total offense for 554 yards. The Bulldogs finished with 631 yards.
Arkansas stayed in it with antiseptic play on offense. Allen did not have a turnover and the Hogs did not lose either of their two fumbles. There was only one penalty, a late hit by the defense.
They had no answers for Prescott and a hurry-up style that Bielema said hadn't been in the State game plan of late.
“We hadn't seen that tempo from them,” Bielema said, noting defensive coordinator Robb Smith elected to go with the dime package to match the speed in the second half. That put Richardson on the field at the inside linebacker spot, replacing Dre Greenlaw.
“I'd been playing in the nickel in the first half,” Richardson said. “We were trying to stay with them when they went with more wideouts. We just didn't make enough plays. Credit to them.”
Bielema said the Hogs were gassed at linebacker, too. Brooks Ellis was in on all 86 snaps by the Bulldogs.
“We had Brooksie out there too long,” Bielema said. “We just are short on linebackers. It's been like since we lost Josh Williams. We didn't recruit enough linebackers the last two years and we are just thin there. They were throwing a lot of slants and quick stuff. There just wasn't time for much pressure.
“That's a lot of yardage. I have a lot of respect for Dak, but you can't win games giving up that much.”
Bielema said State's defensive plan to move their linemen at the snap made it tough to run the ball. Alex Collins was held to just 53 yards on 19 carries.
“It was a lot of late stems,” Bielema said. “They were wide, too, with (the defensive ends). We had to get it between the tackles. And, they seemed to blitz into the open areas. They hit two safety blitzes right into the spots we were going.”
The State scheme brought pressures of seven and eight against the UA passing game. Allen beat that by stepping up in the pocket and went to his tight ends, Hunter Henry (7-129) and Jeremy Sprinkle (6-84). He also found Drew Morgan (7-84) on underneath routes.
“We tried to get the run going but this was a night that the passing game was clicking so we stuck with it,” Allen said. “We had some mismatches with our tight ends and we went to that.”
Allen was terrific, but he didn't want to talk about his plays or any records. Someone asked him right away about the seven touchdown passes, besting Ryan Mallett's record.
“Yeah, it didn't matter,” he said. “We did comeback time after time and we were going to go with whatever was working.
“The (records) are something you might look back on later in life. But that's not our focus. Right now, our focus is on Missouri.”
It's a short week with the Tigers coming to town for a 1:30 p.m. Friday game. There was talk of fighting back to send seniors out right in their final home game.
“We have a short work week,” Bielema said. “No one is going to feel sorry for us. We can obviously go back and look at film and make corrections, but what is done is done and we will move our preparation mode for Missouri.”
Bielema also hinted that the field goal job will be evaluated. He said Adam McFain, last year's kicker at the end of the season, had been injured for most of the year, but has been in the plans for a possible late field goal the last two weeks. The idea is that McFain would get the nod if the Hogs were beyond the 2-yard line.
Did Bielema think about possibly using McFain when the Hogs went for fourth-and-1 with a pass play from the MSU 26-yard line with 1:15 left in the third quarter? The Hogs had the north wind.
“I thought it was out of range and I was worried about the operation,” Bielema said. “It was fourth-and-1 but Dan (Enos, offensive coordinator) wanted to take a shot.”
Allen had Henry on a deep route, but with tight coverage. The pass was overthrown.
“We kept fighting back, but so did they,” Bielema said. I don't think this group will have any problem bouncing back. I know it sucks, it hurts, it stings, it bites. I told our players to put this one on me. I'll do everything I can to make us better in those critical moments.”
Yes, it came down to the only miss by either team inside the red zone. The Bulldogs were six for six on red zone chances, needing a field goal only once. The Hogs had scored touchdowns on all six red zone drives until the blocked field goal.
“We've got to keep our heads up and keep grinding,” Henry said. “That's what we were doing all night in this game, just grinding. I thought we played really well in a lot of situations. We've been through so much. We knew we had to go score every time we had it. It was that kind of game.
“Brandon was great. It's what we see every single day in practice. He bought time and gave us time to get open against all of those blitzes. That was a very good SEC defense and they were tough. But he moved around and made plays.
“We came to fight and they came to fight. Give credit to them. They fought through adversity and so did we. It just sucks for it to end like that.
“We just have to go to work this week and play Arkansas football – tough and physical – again this week. We scored a lot of points, but the goal is to score more than the other team. It just sucks for all of us to put so much effort into it and not get the victory.”