Razorbacks Show Resiliency In Win

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas accomplished two feats it hadn't yet during Saturday's 24-21 win against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.

Win a close game and win on the road.

But the Razorbacks (5-5 overall, 3-4 in the Southeastern Conference) had to rally to do it, falling behind 14-0 after the first 11 minutes which Hogs coach Houston Nutt described as "depressing."

"The reason I say that is because we feel like we were so ready," Nutt said. "And you've got to give (MSU first-year) coach (Sylvester) Croom credit, he had his team ready for Senior Day."

Just one game and one win removed from a tough 35-32 loss on South Carolina's Senior Day, Nutt feared the worse.

"Senior Day was pretty haunting even though I hate to even think about Columbia (S.C.)," Nutt said. "And that was the first thing that went through my mind was it was Starkville and Senior Day."

Nutt cheered up by intermission as the Razorbacks built a 17-14 lead with the help of a goal-line stand to end the half.

MSU quarterback Omarr Conner completed a 5-yard pass to Jerious Norwood, who would have scored on the first-down play had Hogs linebacker Pierre Brown not pushed him at out the 1-yard line.

"The only thing going through my mind was, make sure he doesn't get in the end zone by any means," Brown said. "Grab him, kick him, bite him, whatever you can do, push him out of bounds, make sure he doesn't get in the end zone."

On second down, defensive end Jeb Huckeba stuck Norwood for a loss of a yard and the Bulldogs were unable to get set up to spike the ball and stop the clock for a field goal attempt before time expired.

"There's a difference kind of confidence on the sideline now where nobody panicked and nobody thought, ‘Oh no, here we go again,'" Nutt said. "It was more of a ‘Let's just hang in here and let's play the next.' And that's what has been refreshing here the last couple of weeks.

"We came back and stuck together and stuck with the plan."

Not counting the first quarter, Nutt said tackling (an inconsistency all season) was much improved while adding that linebackers Brown (8 tackles, 3 for a loss), Sam Olajubutu (team-high 9 tackles), Desmond Sims (5 tackles) and Clarke Moore (No tackles) checked in their top performance as a unit this season.

Nutt blamed the few missed tackles early on the shifty running Norwood and Conner, who he said came out "as hot as a firecracker."

"You've got to start off as soon as the whistle blows though," Nutt said. "You could see easily why a team as good as Florida (a 38-31 MSU win) can get beat if you're mind set isn't right in Starkville, Miss."

Airing It Out

Marcus Monk became the most prolific freshman receiver in Arkansas history when he broke Richard Smith's receptions record for a freshman.

Monk had two catches for 11 yards against Mississippi State and leads the team with 512 yards and 6 touchdowns and 34 receptions, which broke Smith's record of 33 set in 2000.

"He's only going to get better," Nutt said. "The catches he's made, there has been some highlights. It's just been awesome. Very few receivers could make those catches."

But with the success comes more attention from defenses like on Saturday when the Bulldogs often used both a safety and a cornerback to cover the 6-foot-6, 225-pounder throughout the game.

They even did it on a 4th-and-2 play early in the second half, but quarterback Matt Jones wisely chucked it out of bounds as the safety sprinted over to help with coverage a split second before Jones released the pass.

"That kind of threw us off on one of the fourth downs that we didn't make," Nutt said. "We thought surely we were going to get man to man out there and I'll be dog gone if they don't send two guys on Marcus."

The focus on Monk did free up Arkansas' other play makers. Cedric Washington had a career-high 101 yards on 5 receptions while Steven Harris had a team-high 6 catches for 71 yards.

"Steven and Cedric made some big-time plays," Nutt said. "Chris Baker and all these guys, that will only help. These guys will be open even more."

Isn't That Special

Nutt said special teams turned in its best overall performance which included Elliott Harris' blocked field goal attempt that was returned 76 yards by Brown for a touchdown.

According to the sports information department, it's the first time in school history that the Razorbacks scored a touchdown off of a blocked kick.

"This was a perfect bounce, a perfect ricochet I think off of (Harris)," Nutt said. "He hit it with his hand, then I think he hit his helmet, popped up, Pierre Brown catches and here we go running. And Vickiel Vaughn gave great effort to really get an RBI to (block) that last guy, I think the kicker, to get him out of the way.

"That is amazing. You'd think that has already happen."

Both return teams were as solid as ever. DeCori Birmingham, Arkansas' all-time leading returner, had two kickoff returns for 38 yards and was able to improve field position with a pair of punt returns for 32 yards, including a 29-yarder in the third quarter.

It gave the Hogs the ball at the MSU 38, but the Hogs were unable to capitalize as running back Peyton Hillis was stopped short of a first down four plays later.

"DeCori has been so valuable for us," Nutt said. "Kick return and punt return, he has been so steady. That was a big punt return and I wish we would have finished off that drive right there because we had the momentum."

Hammerhead Hillis

Hillis, a true freshman, had just six carries for 12 yards Saturday, but still made an impact with a 6-yard reception in the third quarter.

On 3rd-and-5, Hillis caught a pass from Jones in the flat. He was hit by a defender about three yards short of first-down marker, but stayed low, kept his legs churning and then had to fight through a second defender as he stretched the ball out for the first down.

"That was unbelievable effort," Nutt said. "To have the awareness to catch a ball and then with a couple of people on his back to reach out and get that extra six or seven inches.

"Things like that, I mean, that's tough football for a true freshman."

Injury Report

The Hogs didn't practice Sunday so Nutt was unable to give a complete injury update from Saturday's win.

Jones remains hobbled with a strained right hamstring while tight end Jared Hicks re-sprained his left shoulder. Both are expected to practice sparingly this week, but will play Friday when the Razorbacks host LSU in Little Rock (1:30 p.m., CBS).

Free safety Randy Kelley said he dislocated his left shoulder on a second-quarter tackle, but had it popped back in place and returned for the second half. He still tied for third on the team with eight tackles.

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