FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. — Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino had no intention of playing for overtime. Neither did the rest of the No. 10 Razorbacks.
After surrendering a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead at Georgia on Saturday, Arkansas forced a key stop and got the ball back on its own 27 with 47 seconds remaining and the game tied at 24-24. Petrino said the distance didn’t bother him, and neither did the lack of time — not when the two-minute, no-huddle offense is something the Razorbacks work on nearly every week in practice.
“I think every player out there did believe when we got the ball, we would go score,” Petrino said.
Arkansas (3-0, 1-0 SEC) did just that, and it did so in only three plays, all completions by quarterback Ryan Mallett to three different receivers. The last was to junior receiver Greg Childs, who sidestepped a Georgia defender and raced 40 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds remaining.
“I’m not really sure what the safety was thinking, but he was thinking the wrong thing,” Childs said when asked whether the Bulldogs safety might have thought he would go out of bounds after the catch. “I had something else on my mind, and he had something else on his.”
The drive cemented a spot in the Heisman Trophy discussion for Mallet, who leads the nation in passing yards per game (359.3) and has thrown nine touchdowns and just two interceptions. It was a breakthrough moment for the junior quarterback who struggled in SEC road games last year, completing only 39 percent of his passes as the Razorbacks finished 0-4.
The win also couldn’t have come at a better time for Arkansas, which faces its toughest test of the season when it hosts No. 1 Alabama (3-0) on Saturday. It’s the first time two Top 10 teams have met in Fayetteville since 1979.
“Just to get a win in the SEC on the road is big-time, especially going into Alabama at home,” Mallett said. “We wanted to carry that momentum into this game, and that’s what we did. Last year was a whole different story, and that was a different team. This year, it’s a more mature team and we’re excited about it.”
Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy said the Razorbacks would benefit from the close win.
“I think you do have to win games like that,” he said. “I think you look at Auburn’s game (with Clemson), you look at Arkansas’ game, sometimes you just squeak out of games. Maybe games that you shouldn’t have won, maybe games that you should have won and you just didn’t make the plays necessary to really blow a team out.
“Those are the things about championship-caliber teams, they have the mindset. They’re able to bounce back when adversity is staring them in the face. The fact that both of those teams were able to do that really speaks volumes about the way they’re able to prepare.”
Neither Mallett nor Arkansas looked ready for a big game last year in a 35-7 loss at Alabama. The Crimson Tide held Mallett to just 12 of 35 passing for 160 yards, outgaining the Razorbacks 425-254 in total yardage.
“We felt like it was a big learning experience for us,” Petrino said. “We didn’t execute the way we normally do, and I felt like it was because when we stepped on the field, we didn’t truly believe that we could beat them.”
Petrino said Arkansas learned from that loss, pointing to close road losses to Florida and LSU later last season as examples. Since a loss to Ole Miss on the road last season, the Razorbacks have won eight of nine.
“It’s a real good opportunity,” Arkansas junior cornerback Isaac Madison said of facing Alabama. “It gives the world the chance to see the type of football team we have, how we’ve matured, how we can keep our composure and play with those guys.”