LITTLE ROCK — Setting the stage for a five-play snapshot of Arkansas’ previous seven games required 60 minutes.
In overtime against Mississippi State on Saturday, the Razorbacks reverted to an all-too familiar pattern, producing an eighth check mark on the wrong side of the W-L ledger. They gave up a big play for a touchdown, couldn’t run the ball, threw incomplete, failed on a fool ′em play, and had a pass intercepted.
Even before this disappointing season began, the Bulldogs were identified as the Southeastern Conference team that Arkansas was most likely to defeat.
The Razorbacks had their chances. So did MSU. For instance, Alex Collins’ pocket was picked at the MSU 9 in the fourth quarter; the Bulldogs’ Derrick Milton fumbled into the end zone late in the first half and Devon Bell, who had a field goal blocked, missed a 42-yard attempt in the final 30 seconds.
Heading into overtime, I figured Arkansas had the advantage since both offenses had hit-and-miss moments and Razorback kicker Zach Hocker is far superior to Bell. Instead, Damian Williams covered the 25 yards in one play and Arkansas had no response.
Bret Bielema made at least one in-game decision open to second-guessing , but his pregame reprimand of some of Arkansas’ best players is to be applauded for the clear message to Razorback athletes about being responsible now and in the future.
Late to lift weights, Collins and Jonathan Williams remained on the bench for the first quarter, Bielema knowing that he was risking a slow start by a team fragile from failures every week since Sept. 14.
Instead, Korliss Marshall carried eight times for 36 yards, Kody Walker contributed 22 yards on four attempts, and Arkansas held the ball almost 11 minutes on its way to a 7-0 lead in the opening period.
In fact, Marshall and Walker were so effective that when there was a timeout early in the second quarter, the question was whether Bielema would go back to Collins and Williams or stick with his starters. When the Razorbacks huddled near the sideline, Marshall and Walker were on the outside looking in.
Collins’ 10 carries for 52 and Williams’ eight for 59 says that was the right decision.
The same cannot be said for the green light from the Arkansas sideline for a fake punt from the Razorback 44 with a 10-3 lead late in the second period.
If the idea was to try and make 2 yards and Bielema’s goal is to overpower opponents, why not get shoulder to shoulder and hand the ball to a stout running back. Instead, running into the short side of the field, punter Sam Irwin-Hill lost 4 yards. Bielema said somebody missed a critical block.
MSU’s thank-you was to cover the 40 yards in three plays, including a 30-yard pass made possible when the defense checked LaDarius Perkins to make certain Tyler Russell had not handed him the ball and then ignored the running back in the middle of the secondary.
Although Arkansas looked unprepared on the first play of overtime, there was some irony involved with the MSU personnel had on the field. Coach Dan Mullen, who only trusted the freshman Williams to throw four times while authorizing 28 attempts by Tyler Russell, had no choice but to play Williams because of Trey Flowers’ hit on Russell in the final minute of the game.
MSU threw for 297 yards, but the Bulldogs’ 191 rushing hurt Arkansas just as much. Too many times, MSU’S shortish running backs would appear to be going for a yard or 2 at the most and then pop out for much more.
Digging deep for Arkansas bright spots, Alan Turner was in on 16 tackles and redshirt freshman Jared Collins tracked across the field to make an interception that set up the second touchdown. Oh, and the end of the season is near.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.