Big Plays Doom Bulldogs

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Sylvester Croom turned back toward the field, hurriedly ushering the few remaining Mississippi State players to the locker room following Arkansas' 28-14 win on Saturday.

Behind Croom, Arkansas' players and coaches celebrated with the fans who traveled to Starkville to watch the Razorbacks clinch their first outright Southeastern Conference Western Division championship since 1995.

It was a scene Croom could have done without, and he didn't want the Bulldogs to stick around to watch.

"No, I didn't like that," Croom said as the echoes of Arkansas' (10-1 overall, 7-0 SEC) locker room celebration filtered in during his postgame news conference. "I don't want to see that, and I don't want our players to watch that."

Croom's main reason for discontent wasn't that the Bulldogs (3-8, 1-6) had played poorly against the Razorbacks in the loss. Rather, it was a pair of big plays by Arkansas in the first half that had him fuming afterward.

Late in the first quarter, with the game still scoreless, Mississippi State drove 66 yards from its own 15 to the Arkansas 19 on 11 plays. Neither team had earned a first down on their two possessions before the Bulldogs' march, and it appeared as though Mississippi State was about to take the lead.

However, after having an interception negated earlier in the drive because of a holding penalty, Arkansas' Chris Houston stepped in front of a Michael Henig pass and returned it for an 87-yard touchdown that put the Razorbacks up 7-0.

It was a scene replayed following the Bulldogs next possession, when they went 80 yards in three plays to tie the game. That's when Arkansas' Darren McFadden took the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to give the Razorbacks the lead.

Two plays, two touchdowns -- and neither were by the Arkansas offense.

"You're talking 12 seconds and the score is 14-14, and (Arkansas) hasn't earned anything," Croom said. "They haven't worked for anything.

"If they're going to get something, I want them to take the ball 80 yards down the field and make a play, but to just give them 14 points, that's ridiculous."

Those mistakes perpetuated the feeling of regret for Mississippi State, including from senior linebacker Quinton Culberson, the team's leading tackler. Culberson finished with 10 tackles, including a punishing, head-on collision with McFadden in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs held McFadden to just 41 yards on 18 carries through three quarters, and they limited Arkansas' offense to no points in the first half despite the Razorbacks starting five possessions in Mississippi State territory.

Afterward, Culberson was asked to compare McFadden to the two other leading rushers in the SEC he has faced this season, Auburn's Kenny Irons and Alabama's Kenneth Darby. Entering Saturday's games, McFadden led the conference with 121.9 yards per game, while Irons was third with 80.8 and Darby fifth with 70.2.

So, who did he think was the best of the three?

"Right now, I'd go with Irons," Culberson said.




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