STARKVILLE, Miss. — Arkansas proved it can run the ball, but when the big play needed to be made on Saturday night, the Razorbacks went with old faithful.
Standing with poise as Mississippi State’s blitz came hard and fast, Ryan Mallett lofted a perfect 7-yard touchdown pass to Knile Davis in double overtime and Arkansas No. 13 beat Mississippi State (No. 19 BCS, No. 18 AP) 38-31 at Davis Wade Stadium.
Mallett finished with 305 passing yards and three touchdowns, but early in the night, the Razorbacks seemed content to use the quarterback’s powerful arm almost exclusively for handoffs.
He finally got going in the third quarter with an 89-yard touchdown pass to Jarius Wright — the second-longest in school history. Wright was wide open in the middle of the field, but nearly tripped over his own feet before regaining his balance on his way to the end zone.
Mallett completed 17 of 26 passes, making the big play almost every time the Razorbacks needed him. Arkansas (9-2, 5-2 SEC) won its fifth straight.
“They’d been blitzing a whole bunch,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “The middle was open a lot and we had just missed it. So it was a play-action and Jarius knew he was going to have it in the middle of the field. I’m just glad he kept his feet.”
On top of his game-winning touchdown reception, Davis rushed for a career-high 187 yards and two scores, leading the Razorbacks’ potent running game. The final catch was sweet redemption since his two fumbles earlier in the game nearly cost them the victory.
“I don’t like to fumble,” Davis said. “I take that very seriously. But at least we won. It felt good to come up big to help out the team.”
The Bulldogs had a chance to tie the game in the second overtime, but Chris Relf was hit hard as he tried to complete a fourth-down pass. Relf was 20 of 30 passing for 224 yards and rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown.
The game featured loads of offense, with the two teams combining for 974 yards. Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4) ran 100 offensive plays — including 70 rushing attempts as its grind-it-out style nearly produced an upset win.
Arkansas had multiple chances to put the game away, but struggled with turnovers and missed opportunities. The Razorbacks took a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter after Mallett’s 25-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Williams, and then MSU’s Vick Ballard fumbled on the ensuing offensive play, giving Arkansas the ball deep in Bulldogs territory.
But Davis fumbled on the very next play, giving the ball back to MSU, and the Bulldogs avoided the early disaster and rallied in the second quarter for a 21-17 halftime lead.
Arkansas regained its momentum quickly, scoring 14 unanswered points to take a 31-21 lead by early in the fourth quarter. But Mississippi State kept grinding, scoring another touchdown to pull to 31-28, and then Davis’ second fumble of the night gave the Bulldogs possession at their own 46-yard line with 1:56 remaining.
MSU drove downfield quickly, and Derek DePasquale booted a 25-yard field goal as time expired in regulation to tie it at 31.
Ballard rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns for Mississippi State, which lost its second straight.
Ballard was outstanding most of the night, but will undoubtedly regret a crucial play in the first overtime, when he appeared headed for a touchdown before being hit at the 2-yard line and fumbling into the end zone, resulting in an Arkansas touchback.
“You just can’t do things like that when two top 20 teams are playing and expect to win,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said.
The Razorbacks couldn’t capitalize, though, as Zach Hocker’s 39-yard field goal attempt hooked wide left after three straight rushing attempts failed to move the football.
In the second overtime, the Razorbacks wouldn’t need Hocker, relying on Mallett’s arm for the win.
“We’ve grown a lot since last year,” Mallett said. “Last year we were a young team, but now we’re maturing — we’re just growing up.”
- Knile Davis set career highs in rushes (31) and yards (191).
- The Razorbacks beat the Bulldogs for the 11th time in their last 12 meetings.
- Arkansas has won seven of its last eight November games with its only loss coming at LSU last season.
- Vick Ballard set career highs in rushes (34), yards (156) and TDs (three).
– ESPN Stats & Information