Long Drive, Goal-Line Stand Made The Difference

STARKVILLE, Miss. –  Thanks much to an Elliott Harris swat of a 37-yard Keith Andrews field-goal attempt that Pierre Brown scooped up and turned into a 76-yard Arkansas touchdown, and a defense that finally got its act together, the Hogs survived Mississippi State here, 24-20.

But things looked awful grim until two key second-quarter drives.

On a dreary, gray, cool day in Davis Wade Stadium, Arkansas (now 5-6) looked to have two feet (those giant ones of senior quarterback Matt Jones) firmly planted in a postseason grave.

Clearly hampered – he couldn't scramble for squat (4 carries, 7 yards) – by a nagging right hamstring problem, Jones was forced to be a pocket passer. Nutt knew that would be the case, but kept it on the hush-hush coming in.

"I was bummed," Nutt said, "because I knew you could throw half (the playbook) away."

Meantime, Arkansas' green secondary was making marginal Mississippi State quarterback Omarr Conner look red-hot. Heismanish, even. By the time the Bulldogs carved a 14-0 lead into the Hogs, Conner had completed all eight of his passing attempts, including a dandy 26-yard TD strike to a wide-open Tee Milons.

Then it happened. Should've seen it. Oh, yeah, no TV.

Try this: When Arkansas took over on its 34-yard line with 9 minutes, 22 seconds left to play in the first half, the Hogs took the field with a 14-10 deficit but also with increased purpose.

De'Arrius Howard bulled for 3 on first down and Jones hit Steven Harris for 6 yards before Peyton Hillis was squashed for no gain. On fourth-and-1 from the Arkansas 43, Nutt went for it and Hillis plowed for 2 yards. After the Hogs were backed up 5 yards for a false start, Jones threw incomplete twice. On third-and-15 from his 40 and with Gabe O'Neal and Michael Heard in his face, Jones rifled, almost side-armed, to Cedric Washington over the middle for an 18-yard gain.

"That's just a square to Cedric Washington," Nutt said. "We were counting on him to just find a window in-between two linebackers. He ran about a 16-yard square and he did a good job of sitting in that hole."

With a first down on the MSU 42, Howard got nothing wide right and DeCori Birmingham followed with a 7-yard gain the other way. Jones threw incomplete, setting up fourth-and-3 from the MSU 35. With big Ronald Fields all over him, Jones somehow found Marcus Monk working left to right, hitting him just inside the right sideline for 8 yards.

Nutt called timeout before the play. Consider a run?

"Yeah, thought hard about it," Nutt said. "But we thought they would run that storm blitz and we'd have a 1-on-1 with Marcus Monk."

Good call on all counts.

Howard for 6, Howard for 3, Howard for zip set up fourth-and-1 from the 17. A Jones sneak eked out 2 yards. On first down from the 15, Jones threw incomplete toward tight end Jared Hicks in the end zone, but Jeramie Johnson was called for pass interference, placing the ball at the 2.

From there, a Jones incompletion was followed by a 1-yard Howard run and 1-yard Jones TD sneak.

"Well, that was a 20-play (really 19) drive," Nutt said. "We ate up a lot of clock. Great execution. Again, if Matt Jones is healthy, it makes things a little bit easier. When they know that he can't run, they can gang up on you.

"That's why that drive was so important, because we had to use the throwing game."

It was important for the Hogs' defense, too.

"You've got to give credit to the offensive line, Matt Jones, the tailbacks," said Arkansas senior defensive end Jeb Huckeba. "Steven Harris, Marcus Monk and Cedric Washington, they all made critical catches. Seemed like every time it was third-and-5, third-and-10, they got it every time.

"And when you can keep our defense off the field and let us rest and keep their defense on the field, it's just unbelievable. I can't believe we had a 20-play drive."

Up 17-14, Arkansas had wrestled back the momentum.

But the Bulldogs broke from the Hogs' grasp.

Starting from their 15 with 2:02 left before intermission, Jerious Norwood ran for 14, 4 and 7 yards before Conner found Eric Butler for a 10-yard gain and a first down at midfield.

Then all yell broke loose in Davis Wade Stadium.

McKinley Scott broke free from Matterral Richardson on the right sideline and Conner hit him in stride. It looked as though Conner may have scored (the fans here certainly thought so), but the ball was spotted at the 1.

"That was a very critical point in the game," Huckeba said. "And I was trying to get the guys to realize how crucial that was to stop ‘em there."

With 25 seconds left, the celebratory Bulldogs were hit with a delay of game penalty even as Norwood danced untouched into the end zone. Next play, with most of Starkville booing the officials, Conner hit Norwood for 5 yards. He came very close to breaking the plane, too. Next play, Huckeba, Titus Peebles and Clarke Moore stuffed Norwood for a 1-yard loss.

"Everybody put their heart on the line and we had a great push up the middle," Huckeba said. "Keith Jackson, Jeremy Harrell, Arrion Dixon, Titus Peebles and Clarke Moore and (Sam Olajubutu) came and filled it up because (Norwood) tried to hit it up the middle. But he didn't have anywhere to go. And myself and some other guys were coming on the edge, so we just kind of trapped him.

"Man, that was a huge play and a lot of momentum."

Confusion mounted and the clock ran out as the Bulldogs tried to scurry up another play.

Time ran out on the Bulldogs and the rest is history.

The Hogs still have time to secure a bowl bid with a win against LSU in raucous Little Rock on Friday.

But they'd better get off to a much faster start or their postseason plans will be finished.

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