NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Call them the Cardiac Hogs for falling behind early yet again. The Arkansas Razorbacks (No. 10 BCS, No. 8 AP) only care about the win.
Zach Hocker kicked a 42-yard field goal with 6:53 left, and Arkansas rallied from 14 points down to beat Vanderbilt 31-28 Saturday — the Razorbacks’ fourth straight win.
“You can’t get frustrated winning,” said Arkansas receiver Jarius Wright, who had 10 catches for 135 yards. “You can get frustrated by not starting out like you expect your team to do. We know how good we are. We expect to start faster. We expect to play way better than we played. We did get the win. You can never be mad getting the win.”
This was the third time this season the Razorbacks have trailed by double digits. They didn’t trail by 18 as they did against Texas A&M or 17 last week before beating Mississippi. This time, Vanderbilt led 21-7 with 1:39 left in the first half.
The Commodores (4-4, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) also had the ball at the Arkansas 5 in the fourth quarter leading 28-20 when Zac Stacy fumbled, and Jerry Franklin picked it up and ran it 94 yards for a touchdown. Tyler Wilson found Wright in the end zone for the tying 2-point conversion with 13:25 left.
“That was huge,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said of Franklin’s TD. “We had a lot of opportunities for a lot of turnovers, but that one was the biggest one. It was the one that swung the game for us.”
Vanderbilt missed a chance to force overtime when Carey Spear’s 27-yard field goal went wide right with 8 seconds left.
“We’re lucky they missed the kick,” Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette said. “I felt like our chances were good in overtime, but I’m glad we didn’t have to do that.
First-year coach James Franklin said this isn’t the same old Vanderbilt.
“We’re going to find ways to finish games like this,” Franklin said.
That allowed Arkansas (7-1, 3-1) to escape with its best start under coach Bobby Petrino and the Razorbacks’ third 7-1 start since joining the SEC (1998 and 2006). The Razorbacks head home to start a three-game stand starting with South Carolina (No. 13 BCS, No. 14 AP).
“The thing I am happy about is we are going home 7-1,” Petrino said. “You know, it has been a tough go for our football team.”
Arkansas had two sacks and forced three turnovers, turning those into 10 points. Hocker finished with three field goals, and Wilson threw for 316 yards and a TD. Backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell also ran for a TD.
Wilson also set a school record for consecutive passes without an interception, a streak now at 176 and counting despite going against a Vanderbilt defense that came in leading the SEC and tied for first nationally with 15 interceptions. His streak continues only because Vandy cornerback Casey Hayward nearly picked off three of the six passes he broke up. Hayward dropped one he might have returned for a touchdown in the first half.
The Razorbacks had been averaging an SEC-best 462.1 yards total offense. The Commodores held Arkansas to 388 while racking up 462 themselves.
Jordan Rodgers threw for a touchdown and ran for two others with his big brother, Aaron Rodgers, watching in the stands with the Green Bay Packers enjoying a bye week. The little brother nearly rallied Vandy for its biggest home win in years by driving them from the Commodores 10. Rodgers missed Brandon Barden in the end zone before having to throw the ball away on third down to set up Spear’s field goal attempt.
“I told Jordan that if it’s not there, don’t force it,” Franklin said. “That was the plan. We were very aggressive. I believe in our special teams.”
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler watched his alma mater from the sideline. Stacy also ran for a 62-yard TD and finished with 128 yards rushing with 51 yards receiving.
Wilson threw an 11-yard TD pass to Wright. He found Wright for a 30-yard completion on fourth-and-10 with the clock running down, then tossed a perfect pass to him in the end zone for an 11-yard TD on the next play to trim Vandy’s lead to 21-14 at halftime.
“If you learn anything from the World Series, it’s that you just hang in there and keep going,” Petrino said.
Vandy led 21-7 after Franklin went for it on fourth down in his own side of the 50 on each drive. The Commodores converted a fourth-and-inches in an 81-yard drive Rodgers finished off with a 19-yard TD run early in the second quarter. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Vandy 32, Franklin went for a fake punt, and tight end Fitz Lassing took the ball left for a 25-yard run.
Rodgers ran right on a bootleg for a 3-yard TD with 1:39 left to finish an 88-yard drive for the lead.
Watch Bobby Petrino’s postgame press conference.