UA 24, MSU 21

An injured Matt Jones, a determined De'Arrius Howard and a big special teams play helps Arkansas rally to a 24-21 win at Mississippi State.

Elliott Harris (98) blocked this field goal that turned into a Pierre Brown touchdown return for the key play in the second half for Arkansas.
Photo By Tom Ewart

STARKVILLE, Miss. - There are much easier ways to win a football game on the road then falling down by two touchdowns and asking you're agile and talented - but also banged up - quarterback to stay in the pocket while you rally.

But that is just the way the University of Arkansas remained alive for a bowl on Saturday by scoring 24 unanswered points and then holding off Mississippi State in what turned into a 24-21 win at Scott Field.

"It's always a battle," Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. "What a great team win by our offense, defense and special teams...Anytime you win on the road in the SEC, it's special."

Jones, known more for his feet than his arm, was 18-of-27 passing for 210 yards while carrying the ball just four times for six yards on a day where he was hampered by hamstring problems according to UA head trainer Dean Weber.

"He's better today than he was at this time last week (after the game)," Weber told Hawgs Illustrated's Clay Henry after the game. "We did not have him do one thing in practice this week to test it because if you test it, you might tear it and lose him for good.

"He didn't do anything to test it before the game and we didn't know what we had until the first series of the game," Weber continued. "With another week, he'll be very, very close to full speed."

Jones said after the game that he played it safe.

"I just sit in the pocket and only ran on it to test it once in the game," Jones said laughing. "You saw what happened - I ran a 4.8."

But the biggest play of the afternoon was probably made by the combination of senior defensive lineman Elliott Harris, who blocked a third-quarter field goal attempt that Pierre Brown scooped up and raced 65 yards with for a touchdown.

Instead of a 17-17 tie, the Razorbacks' first special team touchdown of the season sent the Razorbacks ahead 24-14 with exactly four minutes left in the third quarter.

"That was a critical turning point in the game for Elliott to block that kick," Nutt said. "It's things that you work on and I am so glad he didn't take it for granted. He blocks that and Pierre has the awareness to catch it and I thought Vickiel Vaughn of blocking to spring him and make that an RBI to get him in the end zone."

That became even more important when Mississippi State scored on 2-yard pass from quarterback Omarr Conner to Eric Butler with 10:44 left in the game to cut it to 24-21.

The Razorbacks, who were 10-of-19 on third down conversions and 3-of-6 on fourth down, then used two possessions - around a three-and-out by the hosts - to run down the clock - and win their second straight game after breaking a four-game losing streak.

Junior running back De'Arrius Howard continued his resurgence by carrying the ball 29 times for a career-high 127 yards, including a 32-yarder deep into MSU territory that was the last play of the game.

"I've done had a chipped on my shoulder since our Homecoming game against Georgia where I didn't get to play," Howard said. "Me and Coach Nutt had a long talk and he told me I was running too high and I took his advice and stayed low and the rest is history."

Howard (6-0, 228), whose previous high this year had been 109 yards against Louisiana-Monroe and whose previous career high was 121 yards at Mississippi State in 2002, ripped off 18 yards on his first carry of the day after his team had fallen down 14-0.

"My first run was a nice run and I looked at (fullback) Brandon Kennedy and he said ‘this is going to be all day long,'" Howard said. "Just like my freshman year I came down here and had a good game. I am real proud of our offensive line, our tight end and of our fullbacks."

After Chris Balseiro's 42-yard field goal cut it to 14-3 as time ran out in the opening quarter, Howard's 2-yard run and Balseiro's PAT cut it to 14-10 with 11:07 left before halftime.

That touchdown capped an 8-play, 76-yard drive whose key play was a 44-yard pass a play before the touchdown from Jones to Cedric Washington, who had his best day as a Razorback with 5 catches for 101 yards.

"Cedric Washington played outstanding and had some critical, critical catches," Nutt said. "I thought Steven Harris (6 catches, 69 yards) also did, too. Everybody had to play a role today and they did."

The Razorbacks then took their next possession 66 yards in 18 plays and took a 17-14 lead when Jones took it in the final yard with exactly two minutes remaining before the teams went to the locker rooms for a break.

Arkansas did dodge a bullet right before half after Mississippi State after Markell McKinley somehow got free behind the Razorbacks' prevent defense for 49 yards to the UA 1.

But two plays later - after a penalty and MSU getting back to the one - the Arkansas defense stiffened and stopped a run and then time ran out before the Bulldogs could stop the clock and try a field goal.

"The one thing we don't want to do is give up a big play, but we've got some babies back there," Nutt said. "They have got to realize the speed of the game and back up. What was great was how they responded and kept them out of the end zone and fortunately they didn't have any timeouts."

Mississippi State breezed through the Arkansas offense on its first two drives to jump out to a 14-0 lead.

Conner completed his first seven passes, five of them coming on an 8-yard, 80-yard opening jaunt down the field, and was 20-of-27 passing for 217 yards with three touchdowns.

The fifth was a 29-yard connection to McKinley Scott that set up MSU at the five and then Jerious Norwood (23 carries, 113 yards) took it in from there. Keith Andrews' PAT made it 7-0 at the 11:52 mark.

The Bulldogs then 72 yards on 8 plays on their second possession, this time Conner hooking up with Tee Milons for a 26-yard scoring strike that combined with Andrews' kick made it a 14-0 deficit for Arkansas with 5:14 left in the opening quarter.

Jones, getting stretched in between series, was not full speed and offensive tackle Matt Gilbow had to fill in as an extra tight end when starter Jared Hicks went down early.

"We knew that he wouldn't be full speed," Nutt said, "but we didn't think he was going to be that slow. That really takes away from what we wanted to do and made me really, really nervous. But I thought De'Arrius Howard, DeCori Birmingham and Peyton Hillis really came through and BK (Kennedy) at fullback."

It looked bleak at that point but the Razorbacks bucked up and came away with their first road victory of the year.

That means that Arkansas (5-5, 3-4) can get into a bowl for the seventh straight year if it can beat LSU next Friday in a 1:30 p.m. game at War Memorial Stadium, where Nutt's teams are 17-0.

LSU was 7-2 heading into Saturday night's game with visiting Ole Miss.

"We're still kicking and we're going to the Rock," Nutt said.

Marcus Monk is tackled by a State defender.

Houston Nutt and staff give instructions.

Photos by Tom Ewart

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