Rapid Reaction: Arkansas shocks Mississippi State, wins first SEC game since 2017
After he watched LSU try to defend the Air Raid offense last week with man-to-man coverage, new Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom deployed a different strategy.
This time, a week after pulling off an upset, Mississippi State tried to avoid one thanks in large part to Odom’s defense bottling up the Bulldogs. But they couldn’t, and in the process, Arkansas snapped a pair of losing streaks. The Razorbacks’ 21-14 win Saturday night in Starkville ended a 10-game overall losing streak, and a 20-game SEC losing streak. It was the Bulldogs’ first SEC win since Ole Miss in 2017. But it wasn’t without a late personal foul penalty against Arkansas that allowed State one more chance.
Mississippi State QB K.J. Costello got off to a rough start on the first possession of the game with a Pick Six to Greg Brooks, who returned it 69 yards. But that wasn’t the only problem. The high-flying offense, which drew national headlines after the upset of LSU last week, couldn’t find a rhythm.
After it averaged 8.3 yards per play last week at LSU, the Bulldogs averaged only 4.6 yards per play in the first half against the Razorbacks. It had trouble dissecting the Odom defense, which rushed three and dropped eight players. With the passing game struggling, the Bulldogs turned to the rushing attack, and had 20 rushes for 81 yards by midway through the fourth quarter. Last week, they had just 16 attempts.
But when it needed a first down the most, State was stuffed on fourth down with 4:39 to play at the Arkansas 7-yard line, the second turnover on downs inside the 15. That dropped State to 3-for-5 on fourth down in the game.
And on a night when not much went right for the Bulldogs, a muffed punt with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter became their fourth turnover in the game, and ultimately sealed it for Arkansas.
Earlier, it appeared Mississippi State would get back on track in the second half, but Arkansas’ Joe Foucha picked off Costello for a second time in the game, and Costello’s third pick. The Razorbacks also held Mississippi State to only one play of 20-plus yards in the first three quarters.
But Arkansas botched a snap and State’s Aaron Brule recovered a fumble at the Arkansas 21. The Bulldogs couldn’t convert as a Costello pass on fourth down fell incomplete.
To start the second quarter, Arkansas’ offense had a chance to add to the scoreboard, but QB Feleipe Franks was replaced by K.J. Jefferson on third down and fourth down near the goal line. Jefferson gained one yard on third down, then lost a yard and fumbled on fourth down.
Franks himself threw two TD passes as Arkansas built a two-score lead, including this one to Hudson Henry.
The Pump Fake Franks strikes again pic.twitter.com/Fi0e1YXhHB
— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) October 4, 2020
It was a rough night for both teams’ all-SEC caliber running backs.
In an upgrade from last week, Arkansas RB Rakeem Boyd exceeded last week’s rushing total (21 yards) in the first half. But he suffered an injury and was carted off the field in the second quarter.
Mississippi State star RB Kylin Hill took a big hit on MSU’s first offensive series and left the game. Eventually, he went to the locker room for the rest of the half.
Hill’s absence gave a pair of true freshmen the chance to run the ball. Dillon Johnson converted two 4th-and-short plays to pick up first downs on the way to State’s first touchdown. Johnson and Jo’Quavious Marks combined for 40 yards in the first half. Marks also had five catches for 22 yards. Johnson caught four balls for 14 yards receiving.