Arkansas put together another turnover-free performance to build a big early lead before surviving a scare at the end to defeat Mississippi State, 26-19, for its fifth straight victory.
The Hogs improved to 8-3 overall, 4-3 in the SEC. They will play host to LSU (8-3, 4-3) on Friday in Little Rock. The winner will face Georgia in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 7 in Atlanta, Ga.
Arkansas led 26-6 early in the fourth quarter after Mark Pierce blasted through the Bulldog defense for a 5-yard touchdown run. Pierce also hauled in a 15-yard TD pass from Matt Jones in the second quarter. The Hogs' opening TD came on an 8-yard pass from Jones to George Wilson. Jones floated free of the pocket to buy his receivers time to get open on both of his TD passes.
"I thought Matt Jones delivered a championship performance today," said David Lee, the UA quarterback coach. "He found his open receivers and he made good decisions with the football. He didn't make any bad plays. He's getting better every week. We talked about him doing a better job of finding his open receivers this week, and he did that today."
The Hogs also got a safety when linebacker Clarke Moore tackled MSU quarterback Kevin Fant in the end zone on a 6-yard sack. David Carlton connected on a 26-yard field goal, but missed from 41 yards, the first miss inside of 50 yards for the sophomore kicker.
MSU used a big fourth quarter to pile up a 414-326 edge in total yards with most of that coming on pass plays. The Bulldogs made 289 yards through the air.
Arkansas gained 237 yards on the ground. Freshman tailback De'Arrius Howard made 121 on 25 carries and Fred Talley added 94 on 18 tries. Jones completed 8 of 14 passes for 89 yards. Wilson caught four for 38 yards and Pierce snagged three for 44 yards.
The Hogs made most of their ground yardage between the tackles, mostly behind massive right tackle Shawn Andrews with a boost from freshman tight end Jared Hicks. Hicks got his first start when Houston Nutt elected to bench Jason Peters after he was arrested Thursday night on Dickson Street for disorderly conduct.
"That was a big day for Jared Hicks," said George Pugh, the Hogs' tight end coach. "We told Jared he would start about 30 minutes before the game. We knew it the day before, but there was no use in making him nervous. He was already ready to play.
"I would say we ran behind Jared and Shawn a lot today. Really, all three of our tight ends with Jared, James Toussaint and Marcellus Poydras played well today. We were in two tights most of the day."
The Hogs made it hard on themselves with some botched interceptions in the fourth quarter. One of them resulted in a touchdown, and another set up a score. Lawrence Richardson had a ball go off his hands when he broke in front of the MSU receiver, and he tipped the ball into the Bulldogs' Antonio Hargro for a 21-yard TD play to give the underdogs their first score of the game midway through the fourth quarter. Tony Bua also had a probable interception slip through his grasps on the Bulldogs' final touchdown drive.
MSU's last chance, boosted by a successful recovery of an onside kick, was thwarted when Bua tackled QB Kyle York for a 1-yard gain on a fourth-and-5 play in the final minute at the UA 18-yard line. York fired incomplete in the UA end zone on the two previous plays. The Hogs were able to run off the final 51 seconds of the clock when Jones twice took the snap and went to his knee.
Tony Bua directs traffic during the MSU game.
Mark Pierce scored twice against the Bulldogs.
Thomas Crowder (38) was a terror on special teams once again.
Fred Talley protects the ball as he heads for the line of scrimmage.
De'Arrius Howard battles through a tight spot against MSU.
Photos by Tom Ewart and Melissa Purdy.