Hogs Survive Another Dogfight

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Arkansas coach Houston Nutt typically reserves Thursday night meetings for last-minute pointers, but he gave the Razorbacks a history lesson four days ago.

Instead of spending time on X's and O's, Nutt talked about Arkansas' nail-biting series at Mississippi State. He mentioned the one-point loss in 1998, the frigid 2000 overtime win and Mississippi State's furious fourth-quarter rally in 2002.

The Razorbacks can add one more dogfight to their Mississippi State tussles.

Arkansas was involved in another thriller against the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon, but turned in big plays at key moments to escape with a 24-21 win in front of 43,634 in Davis Wade Stadium.

The Hogs (5-5, 3-4 in Southeastern Conference) started the game with quarterback Matt Jones hobbling because of a right hamstring injury and fell into a 14-point hole against the Bulldogs (3-7, 2-5), before holding onto bowl hopes with their first road win of the season.

"Last three games that we've played Mississippi State here have always been a dogfight," said Arkansas tailback De'Arrius Howard, who rushed for a game-high 125 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. "We knew that. We've been preparing for that in practice. We had to roll up our sleeves and the ball bounced our way this time.

"Thank God."

The Razorbacks had to earn their sixth consecutive win with their quarterback operating at "60 percent," according to Nutt. Arkansas kept the extent of the injury quiet during last week's practices, but it hampered the Hogs' ability to run the option and forced the senior to become a pocket passer.

Jones scanned the field, ducked defenders and found open receivers on critical plays throughout. He turned in one of his best days as a passer, completing 18 of 27 for 215 yards with one interception.

"Not to say we were worried, it was just kind of weird around here because we didn't know exactly how the offense was going to perform," said Arkansas receiver Cedric Washington, who caught 5 passes for 101 yards. "But Matt stepped up big-time.

"I'm amazed with what he did (Saturday)."

Arkansas fell behind 14-0 but adjusted to claw back with three scoring drives in the first half. Howard, Washington and receiver Steven Harris each turned in big plays, while the offensive line quieted Mississippi State's pass rush.

The Razorbacks took a 17-14 lead with an impressive 19-play, 66-yard scoring drive that ate 7 minutes, 20 seconds off the clock. Arkansas converted three times on fourth down and the gambles paid off with Jones' 1-yard scoring plunge.

The Razorback had 11 fourth down attempts before Saturday's game when they went for it seven times.

"Well, your back is against the wall and you've got to let your players know you believe in them," Nutt said. "You're on the road and you're trying to win the game.

"So go for it and depend on your defense if you don't make it."

The Hogs needed every score, including their first special teams touchdowns since the season-opener. Keith Andrews had a chance to tie the game with a 37-yard field goal attempt, but Arkansas defensive end Elliott Harris got his right hand on the ball. Linebacker Pierre Brown plucked it from mid-air, dodged would-be tacklers and bounded down the right sideline for a 76-yard score that gave the Hogs a 24-14 lead.

"We had three down linemen and all three of us got a good push," Harris said. "I just jumped and got as high as I could."

Arkansas struggled to slow Mississippi State quarterback Omarr Conner, tailback Jerious Norwood and receiver McKinley Scott. The Bulldogs entered with one of the worst offenses in the nation, but put together 80- and 72-yard scoring drives in the first quarter to whip the home crowd into a frenzy.

Conner was the catalyst, completing his first eight passes for 119 yards. Norwood scored Mississippi State's first touchdown on a 5-yard run and Conner found receiver Tee Milons for a 26-yard score.

Conner completed 12 of 14 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

"Coach wanted us to be 70 percent in our passing game today," said Conner, who completed 20 of 27 passes for 214 yards and 2 touchdowns. "I tried to do that and go through my reads."

After falling behind 17-14, the Bulldogs got the ball back at their own 15 with 1:55 left in the half. Three running plays and a 10-yard completion moved Mississippi State to midfield with 34 seconds left.

Scott slipped behind cornerback Matterral Richardson on the next play and hauled in a deep ball from Conner. The Bulldogs thought they scored the go-ahead touchdown, but an official ruled Scott out of bounds at the Arkansas 1.

After a delay of game penalty, Conner found Norwood near the goal-line, but Brown shoved him out inches short of the end zone with 19 seconds left. Norwood was met on the next play by defensive tackle Titus Peebles and linebacker Clarke Moore for a 1-yard loss.

Mississippi State failed to run another play before time expired.

"We have been dealing with this all year," said an irritated MSU coach Sylvester Croom. "We have been fighting uphill all year. Our kids are fighting as hard as they can fight. And I am not asking for anyone to hand us anything.

"I just want things to be even."

The Bulldogs tried to use the bitter ending as a source of motivation for the second half. But MSU didn't score again until Conner found tight end Eric Butler for a 2-yard touchdown pass with 10:44 left to play.

Arkansas held on to win its sixth straight against Mississippi State and avoided its first winless season on the road since 1999. Now the Razorbacks enter their regular season finale against LSU in Little Rock on Friday needing a win to become bowl eligible.

"It was a close game. It was a dogfight, which is what we expected," said Arkansas defensive end Jeb Huckeba. "We capitalized when we had to. The defense made stops when we had to. Matt, the offensive line and receivers were unreal.

"Now it's do or die, life or death and it's in the Rock. That's a blessing from God right there to get that opportunity."

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