The University of Arkansas left Nashville on Saturday afternoon with a much-needed win – by a couple of feet.
That's how close Vanderbilt came to pulling off a second consecutive upset over the Razorbacks, but Bryant Hahnfeldt's 48-yard field goal came up just short with less than a minute to play.
So behind Mitch Mustain's 224 yards passing and three touchdowns and a big day from junior wideout Marcus Monk Arkansas escaped with a 21-19 road win in its SEC opener, exacting some revenge on the Commodores' home field for a home loss of their own last season.
"It was 60 minutes and a game of inches," UA head coach Houston Nutt said. "We needed every first down, every second off that clock and it took a full 70 guys on that sideline as one heartbeat to win that game."
The road win put Arkansas (2-1, 1-0) to have a good start to the SEC league race if it can beat Alabama – who beat visiting Vanderbilt 13-10 last week on a late field goal – in a nationally televised game next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
it was also Nutt's 100th game at Arkansas with 60 of them being wins.
"Anytime you go on the road in the SEC and get a win, it's a great one," Nutt said. "This isn't the Vanderbilt of old."
Mustain was 13-of-20 for 224 yards and three touchdowns in the rookie's first start away from home while Monk had his biggest day in awhile with 5 catches for 124 yards, including a 56-yard bomb from the young signal caller on the UA's first series of the game.
"He (Mustain) is getting better and he just has to keep coming," Nutt said. "We tried to work Casey Dick in there a series, too, but it was hard the way the game was going and he was feeling it. He was hot at some different things he was executing and I just didn't want to break that energy right there."
The Razorbacks trio of tailbacks Felix Jones (77 yards), Darren McFadden (71) and Michael Smith (27) combined for 175 yards rushing.
"I think I came out a little bit shaky again, but I settled down and we did a good job establishing some drives and then got to playing like I could," Mustain said.
Arkansas had 392 yards total offense while Vanderbilt rolled up 365, including 239 rushing with some of those yards coming after missed UA tackles.
They did not end up allowing any points on he last two Vandy possessions after keeping the Commodores from tying it on a the two-point conversion.
"I know we can be a better defense," Nutt said. "When they had to stop them, they did stop them. That I was very proud of them for today."
Perhaps the key play of the game – other than the missed field goal came late in the third quarter when Mustain scrambled out of the pocket and hit Monk with a third-down pass that he turned into a 40-yard gain.
"He is a big guy and did a great job on that one of keeping it going," Mustain said. "He is definitely I guy I am confident throwing to."
Arkansas then capped the pivotal 7-play, 93- yard drive a couple of snaps later when Mustain hit a wide-open tight end Ben Cleveland for a 14-yard touchdown right in the middle of the field.
Jeremy Davis' PAT moved the Razorbacks ahead 21-13 with 1:32 left in the third quarter.
But with the help of a pass interference penalty and a couple of missed tackles early in the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt got it back to 21-19 on quarterback Chris Nixson's 16-yard run for a score with 13:18 remaining in the game.
Vanderbilt took the opening kickoff and – despite several penalties that gave them even more yardage to cover than the original amount – went 87 yards in 8 plays to take the lead.
Nixson did the scoring honors on a 7-yard run and Hahnfeldt added the PAT to put the host Commodores up 7-0 with 8:02 left in the opening quarter.
Arkansas answered right back with Mustain going up top to Monk, a 55-yard connection for a touchdown that was the capper of a five-play, 67-yard dash that took just 2:16 off the clock.
"It was an out called originally, but they had three over two and so he turned it into a fade and just did an unbelievable job of breaking the route and splitting the free safety there," Nutt said.
Mustain said it was just a simple adjustment.
"That is a play we have worked on in practice," Mustain said, "although we hadn't gotten to that point yet. I just saw him break and anticipated that and he was wide open and I just threw it out there for him."
Davis, who won the placekicking job in a pre-game competition with Stephen Arnold, added the PAT to tie it 7-7 at the 5:35 mark.
It appeared that the Razorbacks took a 10-7 lead on its first possession of the second quarter when Davis was true on a 45-yard field goal.
But an illegal formation nullified that and Mustain threw an interception when Arkansas chose to go for it on its second attempt at fourth down.
The Commodores failed to captilize on that possession, but did on its following one when Nickson hit Cassen Jackson-Garrison with a 10 yard screen pass to cap a 7-play, 67-yarfd drive but a botched PAT left them ahead just 13-7.
That allowed Arkansas to take the lead when Mustain's screen pass to Felix Jones covered the final 21 yards of 9-play, 74-yard jaunt and Davis' PAT gave them a 14-13 edge with 3:42 left before intermission.
Jones not only had the touchdown on that drive, but a huge 33-yard run to get the Razorbacks down to the Commodores 23.
Mustain was 8-of-12 in the first half for 106 yards and the two touchdowns with one interception while Jones rushed for 66 yards and McFadden 39.
Razorback defensive end Jamaal Anderson hauls down Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nixson.
Arkansas coaches celebrate Mitch Mustain's early touchdown pass to Marcus Monk.
Razorback head coach Houston Nutt does a postgame interview after his team downed Vanderbilt 21-19 on Saturday.
Arkansas 21, Vanderbilt 19
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