This one was indeed tougher than the rest of #1 Mississippi State’s other seven successes. Still by walking off Scott Field 8-0 and, more importantly, 5-0 in Southeastern Conference action, the Bulldogs not only remained perfect on the season. They are still alone atop the league standings.
Arkansas left 4-5, 0-5, and having lost for the 17th-consecutive conference game, a streak dating back to 2012. But the Razorbacks showed they keep coming closer to snapping their skid…and were uncomfortably close to doing so at the expense of the nation’s #1-ranked team.
Choosing to receive, the Razorbacks showed their strength immediately, with a 12-yard punch right up the middle by Jonathan Williams. But they also had some air ability to display with a 24-yard hookup to Jared Cornelius moving the ball across midfield quickly. Even a failed throwback play was a positive, a six-yard keeper as everything was covered. The drive finally ran down at the 19-yard line after CB Jamerson Love broke up the third down throw at the five. A 36-yard field goal put the visitors on the scoreboard at 9:50.
State went to the air to begin and for the first play it worked, with a 21-yard catch by TE Malcolm Johnson. Then Prescott missed an open WR Gabe Myles, and while being hit tried to muscle a throw downfield that was short and intercepted by Alan Turner at the Arkansas 36. The Razorbacks didn’t use the gift fully; they did get to the MSU 37 with a fourth and long yard before punting, the kick downed at the eight.
State had to punt it back with P Devon Bell booming a 50-yarder. With third-and-short Brandon Allen faked the middle handoff and had time to throw but nobody open, so Arkansas kicked it away with another deep-downing at the nine.
Two big plays by RB Josh Robinson seemed to have State started at last. He ran for 12 yards to get out of the deep hole, then made an amazing one-handed grab of Prescott’s pass at the MSU 45 and got down to the UA31. But after a swing pass lost two yards, M.Johnson drew a post-play conduct foul sticking his team back on the 48 and effectively killing the drive. State’s punt was downed at the seven.
The quarter changed with Arkansas facing 3rd-and-6, and CB Taveze Calhoun breaking up a long sideline pass. But the Razorback punt worked out well for the kicking team, as KR Jamoral Graham chose this moment for his usual once-a-game fumble. And this one was recovered by UA’s at the 25-yard line. Two rushes got ten yards, and a slant pattern to Hunter Henry on third down got first-and-goal on the two, so Alex Collins could crack right guard at 11:01 for the 10-0 lead.
The first double-digit deficit of the season put some spark in the Bulldogs at last. The responding drive began with a hot-route throw to Robinson for nine yards, and really got going as Prescott found WR Fred Brown at the Arkansas 31 for a 32-yard play. Then Prescott started hauling the ball himself, converting a 3rd-and-10 with a 12-yard bolt do the eight-yard line. Robinson squirmed for five yards, then got around right end and out of a hand-tackle for the touchdown at 7:30.
Arkansas was able to take some minutes off before their punt, this one fielded by WR Fred Ross at the 10-yard line. The Bulldogs had their timeouts left and were at the Razorback 41 with first down at 1:05 still to work with. But Prescott hesitated his scramble on second down for a loss, then threw a bullet right to linebacker Brooks Ellis for a return to the Bulldog 42. Nothing came of this turnover but further frustration as for the first the Bulldogs trailed at halftime.
The new half began well enough with six positive plays, one a Prescott keep-and-slide for first down at the 41. He called his own number on 3rd-and-3 for another conversion. Then Robinson lost three and while TE Gus Walley caught the sideline pass he’d stepped out of bounds first, making it 3rd-and-13. A throw to Ross got 12 and maybe more; but State rushed up to the line before any measurement. Worse, again Prescott was hesitant with the keeper and when he opted to dive inside rather than run outside he was well short at 11:08.
A big-time catch by Cornelius on the sidelines netted 15 for one first down, and quarterback Brandon Allen snuck for another at State’s 48. Though on that play wideout Drew Morgan kept hitting after the whistle for a conduct foul meaning the first down was back at the Razorback 38. That and a false start stopped the drive with Arkansas settling for a third-down draw to set up the punt.
Starting at their 25 again, Robinson turned a catch into 15 yards and Prescott netted a first down with his eight-yard keeper. He found RB Nick Griffin down the middle for 23 more to the 25. But a catch by WR Joe Morrow was negated as C Dillon Day had gone too far downfield, and on third down Prescott was too high for Brown at the ten. So State gambled on a field goal of 37 yards, and PK Evan Sobiesk knocked it down the middle at 3:35 for the tie.
One that Arkansas tried to break on the responding drive, starting with 15-yard strike to Hatcher. A false-start set up 3rd-and-5 near midfield with State looking for a throw. But a simple draw handoff became a 32-yard breakaway for Collins and only a saving tackle by LB Matt Wells kept it from going the distance. Still the quarter ended with Arkansas already in field goal range, presumably.
Even a false-start and 3rd-and-16 throwaway still meant only a 42-yard range for Adam McFain. He pushed it to the right at 14:38.
With 3rd-and-4 Prescott rolled to his right and a Razorback defensive lineman dove from behind and got hands on ankles. But before going down Prescott saw Ross left entirely alone at the Razorback 35. Ross waited on the ball and took off for the remaining ground and 69-yard touchdown at 13:21.
There was no more scoring. There was lots more drama.
Because Arkansas got about as close as a club can get to evening it back up on their turn, with a 17-play drive all the way to the Bulldog one. Twice big tight end Henry converted third downs with clutch catches of 8 and 14 yards, and Williams did it again with a nine-yard draw to the Dog 28. Love broke up a wildcat throw in the end zone but it was Henry again moving the sticks with a 12-yard connection to the nine.
Allen’s first down throw netted six yards; and consecutive Williams gained and then lost two. With little over five minutes left Arkansas was not settling for three points. They ran a power-play out of the I set with Collins taking the counter and trying to first angle to the right. That was sealed off by support, so Collins had to turn inside. DE A.J. Jefferson and LB Beniquez Brown got credit(s) for the combined tackle at the three, though a host of teammates were in the area as well.
And still this was far from settled as Arkansas had timeouts left and 5:05 on the clock. Prescott threw to M.Johnson for 21 yards to give some breathing room on first down, and on 3rd-and-14 with two Razorbacks in his face he flipped to Robinson in the hole they’d left open by rushing off the MSU right edge. That went for another 21 yards to the 41.
The next three runs didn’t extend the drive; they did burn the remaining Razorback timeouts before a 42-yard Bell punt to the 18. And with 4th-and-15 that should have sealed the evening…except that Allen evaded a four-Dog rush long enough to find the sure-handed Henry 36 yards away, and place the ball just a foot in front of S Justin Cox’s reach for a breakup. An 11-yard throw to Wilson, then a 24-yard completion to You Know Who at the 16 had first down with the clock inside 30 seconds.
Fortunately that was all the heroics left in Allen’s arm. Hurrying the play and his two-step throw meant Wilson wasn’t quite positioned at the left pylon in time. CB Will Redmond was for the interception at 0:15. Meaning, the only Arkansas turnover of the game was the deciding play.
The Bulldogs by contrast lost the ball twice on Prescott picks and once on Graham’s fumble, the latter setting up the only Arkansas touchdown. That was ironic as the Razorbacks had a numbing edge in possession time of 17:32 and ran 16 more plays in the process.
Yet Mississippi State came out on top in yardage, 459 to 401. And while the Bulldogs were for this once bested on the ground, neither running game was particularly productive. Robinson had just 64 yards, Prescott 61; while Collins ran for 93 yards and Williams 47 more. The difference was State’s superiority in the air. Even if he had an off-night with turnovers, Prescott was 18-of-27 for 331 yards and the big-break touchdown. Allen was 22-of-43 for 238 yards, no scores and the final, fatal pick.
And in a real twist, a Dog had as many receiving yards as did Henry (7 for 110). It wasn’t a wideout; it was Robinson who got his 110 on six balls. Showing just how the Bulldogs adapted their offense as needed to grind out their eighth win of the season.
One which doesn’t look the least bit ugly for the league’s leader one game into November.