LITTLE ROCK — When Bret Bielema was hired as the Arkansas head coach, some fans worried his offense would be too conservative.
After the past two games, perhaps he needs to exercise more discretion — at least when it comes to gadget plays.
For the second consecutive game, a failed trick play turned the tide against Arkansas as Mississippi State won 24-17 in overtime at War Memorial Stadium.
Leading 10-3 late in the second quarter, the Razorbacks faced a fourth-and-2 at their own 44 with the howling wind at punter Sam Irwin-Hill’s back. Both teams had been playing a field position battle due to a steady 14-20 mph wind blowing out of the north end of the stadium.
Arkansas had reached the Bulldogs’ 32 in the first quarter and, instead of trying a long Zach Hocker field goal into the wind, the Razorbacks punted. After Arkansas scored for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, Hocker booted a high pooch kick that covered only 29 yards into the wind.
Mississippi State’s kicker did the same in the second quarter after the Bulldogs pulled within four at 7-3 with a field goal.
Given all that, few expected Bielema to dial up yet another fake punt by Irwin-Hill. Few that is, except the Mississippi State special teamers, who easily stuffed the Australian’s run for a 4-yard loss. Three plays later, the Bulldogs tied the game at 10-10 with a 30-yard TD pass.
"Mississippi State runs ‘punt safe’ quite a bit. We thought that we had a very, very good look. It was the look we wanted and gave it the green light to go," Bielema said. "We missed a critical block. If I had it to do all over again, obviously I wouldn’t. But we thought the look was there and thought we’d get 5 to 10 (yards) if they reacted properly."
Bielema said the play broke down because Dan Skipper missed a block on Mississippi State’s Denico Autry.
"We missed the block on (Autry) there," Bielema said "On kicking formations, you can’t cut (block). If you’re running the ball, you can and that’s what Dan tried to do and obviously missed it."
It was the fourth time Irwin-Hill has tried a fake punt. He’s been successful twice. He ran 12 yards for a first down against Alabama. He’s also completed 1-of-2 passes for 24 yards, with the one completion against Rutgers and the incompletion against South Carolina.
"Four (fake punts) a year, yeah, that would be a record (for me)," Bielema said. "But it’s nothing more than you get a look you feel you want. Sam is a very good athlete, we thought with that look there … but we missed an opportunity."
In the Razorbacks’ last game two weeks ago against Ole Miss, another botched gimmick play also turned the momentum in the favor of the Rebels. With the Razorbacks trailing by three, Arkansas drove into Rebels territory midway through the third quarter.
On first-and-10 at the Ole Miss 39, Arkansas tried a halfback pass. Jonathan Williams was dumped for a 9-yard loss. Never able to make up that lost yardage, the Razorbacks punted. Five plays later Ole Miss took a 10-point lead and all the momentum.