HOGS end SEC skid, pick off MSU
FAYETTEVILLE - Those Mississippi State Bulldogs who last week set SEC passing records and upset reigning national champion LSU became upset victims Saturday night for Arkansas, which snapped a 20-game SEC losing skid.
Arkansas first-year coach Sam Pittman’s now 1-1 underdog Razorbacks thwarted the 14th-ranked Bulldogs (1-1) and MSU coach Mike Leach’s renowned Air Raid offense 21-14 at State’s Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.
“I’m really happy for the state of Arkansas, the kids and the coaching staff,” said Pittman, who returned to Arkansas last winter as head coach after from 2013-2015 coaching Arkansas’ offensive line. “We hired some really good coaches and we inherited some good kids and some good football players tired of losing SEC games. That’s a ranked team, they beat.”
For these Razorbacks, with seniors on board when the SEC skid started during former UA coach Bret Bielema’s final three games of 2017, it was especially sweet to snap the streak at Starkville. Mississippi State embarrassed the Hogs 52-6 two years ago in Starkville.
Junior linebacker Bumper Pool (20 tackles Saturday), and then new Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek, wince when remembering 2018 in “Stark Vegas.”
“We were here two years ago, and we got beat really bad,” Pool said. “And Mr. Yurachek said it would never happen again. And for it (winning) to happen here tonight, it was just awesome!”
Yurachek thought so, too, for he was in a giving mood.
“Hunter Yurachek gave me the game ball, so that’ll be with me forever,” Pittman said.
They need to get another game ball for Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who worked during the 2000’s on Gary Pinkel’s Missouri staffs that annually confounded Leach’s pass-happy offenses at Texas Tech.
After Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello torched LSU’s aggressive man-to-man defense for an SEC record 623 passing yards with five touchdowns, Odom rushed only three defenders and dropped eight back in zones. Odom’s patient scheme denied the deep ball Costello threw so spectacularly against LSU in Baton Rouge, La.
Instead Costello threw three interceptions, had to dink underneath with Arkansas relying on linebackers Pool and Grant Morgan and safety Jalen Catalon, a combined 48 tackles, preventing big yards after short catches.
Costello compiled nice numbers, 43 of 59 for 313 yards, but with only one touchdown a 17-yarder to receiver Javonta Payton capping a 15-play drive tying it 7-7 in the first quarter.
Costello’s impatience led to the three interceptions.
The first, picked off by Arkansas nickel back Greg Brooks, set the game’s tone. Brooks returned it for a 69-yard TD and a 7-0 lead on the game’s first series.
“It was such a big momentum change early in the game,” Pittman said. “They were driving a little bit. We said, 'Hey, he's going to get impatient and hopefully he'll throw us some.’ And he did, and Brooks took it to the house.”|
If there were any doubt about Odom’s game plan, Brooks dispelled it.
“We were so prepared,” Pool said. “This was the most prepared game I’ve ever played in. Everybody going into it knew that we were going to do what we did tonight.”
Safety Joe Foucha’s two interceptions thwarted two Mississippi State second-half drives. The Bulldogs were down 21-7 when they scored on running back Dillon Johnson’s 6-yard run to complete a 14-play, 76-yard drive with 6:50 left in the game.
Arkansas secured four turnovers on three interceptions and Deon Edwards’ recovery of MSU’s Jaden Walley’s muffed punt.
Additionally, Morgan and Foucha stopped MSU running back Jo’quavious Marks on fourth and two from Arkansas’ seven with 3:50 left in the game.
“Well, you look at the fourth down that we stopped them late in the game,” Pittman said. “That was, to me, that was a turnover.”
Though the pregame quarterback spotlight shined on Costello,
Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks won the game.
Contrasted to Costello’s three picks, Franks never turned it over while completing 20 of 28 for 212 yards with TD passes of 19 yards to wideout De’Vion Warren (four catches for 100 yards) and 12 yards to tight end Hudson Henry.
“I mean, it’s wonderful,” Franks said of winning. “It’s just a start, man. It’s a great win. We’ll celebrate and then the same time next week we’ll be prepared to go out and get another one.”
Preseason All-SEC running backs Rakeem Boyd (eight carries for 28 yards) for Arkansas and Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill were injured during the first half and did not return.
Sophomore wide receiver Treylon Burks (seven catches for 102 yards in the 37-10 loss to Georgia) exited injured in Starkville after one 10-yard catch.
Morgan and Pool were among other Hogs injured during Saturday’s game but resurfaced.
“We had a few injuries,” Pittman said. “The number of guys we had on the plane, we might have needed them all. We might have played them all.”
Pittman presumes he’ll need them all again Saturday. At 3 p.m. on they SEC Network, they visit Auburn, ranked No. 7 after beating Kentucky on Sept. 26 but losing Saturday night at Georgia 27-6.