Fortunately for Mississippi State Beniquez Brown did go. All the way in and at the right attack angle to reach Cole Headlund’s 29-yard try for the win. When Brown got a big right hand on the low line drive, the visiting Bulldogs had just 39 seconds for burning to seal their 51-50 victory at Arkansas.
Dak Prescott was the unquestioned hero of the Mississippi State evening in Fayetteville. But it was outside linebacker Brown who became man of the last moment. Not that quarterback Prescott saw it live.
“I had my head down and was like forget it. As soon as I looked up I guess it got blocked. The guys went crazy.”
The craziness continued into an ecstatic locker room as Mississippi State scored a first-ever victory on the Razorbacks’ home field. And what was really wild? Brown wasn’t supposed to even be on the block team in the first place. Yet with Arkansas reaching the MSU 12-yard line with 0:46 remaining, well…
“I had just asked Coach (David) Turner on the sideline if it was OK if I go. He said sure. I activated in.”
While one Brown found his place on the far left end of the line, another left the field. “They’d just taken me off because I’m the middle linebacker and they put Hutch (TE Darrion Hutcherson) on so they could have a taller jumper. They don’t like white guys jumping I guess.”
Brown grinned saying so, but then it made good sense to have the 6-7 Hutcherson coming from straight center over the 6-2 R.Brown. To an extent that part worked.
“We got a great push from the inside so it kind of opened up the outside,” Ben. Brown said.
Here, too, Brown showed initiative. His end is scripted to take the kicking team’s tight end and presumably open an inside lane. Brown had a hunch though and asked a couple of teammates to cover for his role. “They had my back to go, and I went.”
“I didn’t even watch,” WR Wilson said. “I was looking at Malik Dear, just tell me what happened.”
Replay showed what happened. Of course replaying other Arkansas placekicks gave Mississippi State reason for some optimism about Hedlund.
“All week we noticed they kicked the ball low,” B.Brown said. “Like when they played against Ole Miss and (Laquon) Treadwell blocked it. Obviously Coach told us he was 1-of-4 from a certain distance. So we knew if we gave it our all we had a chance.”
Snap and spot were just fine, and Hedlund was indeed low. Still it was straight…but so was Brown shooting in from the far end and extending the right hand.
“When I saw I said I just hope I don’t miss it! But I got it.” Solidly enough that 20 minutes later his hand still stung…not that Brown cared.
Nor was he overly interested in a team-leading 12 tackles. His Maroon blood-brother Ri. Brown had 10, and each had 1.5 for losses. Both linebackers were very busy Bulldogs on the long Ozark evening of course. Arkansas ran 72 offensive plays for 479 yards after all, with 32-plus minutes of possession. Quarterback Brandon Allen tied both Prescott and the SEC game record with seven touchdowns, all of his passes, and seemed to convert almost all meaningful third downs.
Yet Ri.Brown didn’t see it as an efficient attack.
“It was a bunch of crazy plays, he kept making a bunch of big throws. Nothing we felt they were earning it, chipping away at it, it was a frustrating game trying to figure out whose guy that was. And turnovers always frustrate a defense.”
He meant the three game-changing giveaways by Mississippi State that turned a 31-21 lead into a fast 42-31 deficit. A forced fumble on the opening kickoff of the third quarter; a ricochet interception; and a Prescott sack-fumble set up the Razorbacks for three short-field touchdowns.
Yet Ri.Brown agreed with Coach Dan Mullen’s post-game comment that just like the offense, the Dog defense stuck to their gameplan and their schemes even after those disasters. Or even when the Razorbacks were flinging and flying around the field.
“We bend, don’t break. We’re not going to panic if something goes wrong. We train all off-season for that.”
“I had faith in our defense,” receiver Wilson said. “No matter what it was, what down it was, what position they were in. I knew they were going to make the play.”
They couldn’t tell it at the time, but just getting the Razorbacks to stop throwing and run some safe handoff to spot-up that field goal was also a ‘win’ of sorts. Ri.Brown would have gladly stayed on the field for the kick, but… “I was watching very intently, I’d done everything I could to that point on that defensive drive.”
When Ben.Brown did all he could do on the block, it was enough. Never mind how many stops he’d made and hits he’d given up to then, or all the statistics and scores for the Razorbacks.
“I kind of wanted the game to be on my shoulders when it got late. I feel that’s part of being a leader.”
He was. Unscripted maybe, but right Dog in the right spot at the right time. Just as was the whole defense on a frustrating but ultimately fun evening.
“We did enough to win,” Ri.Brown said. “And that’s all that matters.”