Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Losing its grip
Defense caves in amid offense’s implosion
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/RICK MCFARLAND --11/17/12-- Arkansas's Will Hines (9) and Ross Rasner (35) hang onto Mississippi State's Chris Smith (8) after he caught a pass in their game at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.
STARKVILLE, Miss. An encouraging second quarter gave way to a disastrous second half for the Arkansas defense Saturday when Mississippi State pounded the Razorbacks 45-14 at Scott Field.
“That wasn’t how we should have finished,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said. “Win or lose, we should have finished that game better.”
The defense finished the first half well, holding the Bulldogs to a field goal after Kaelon Kelleybrew’s fumbled punt return set up Mississippi State at the Arkansas 22 and cornerbacks Will Hines and Tevin Mitchel combining on a forced fumble and recovery at the Razorbacks’ 7 to end a scoring threat that kept them within 17-14 at halftime.
But the defense collapsed in the second half, allowing 289 yards and 4 touchdowns - including touchdowns on 3 consecutive Mississippi State possessions after Arkansas turnovers.
Those three touchdowns covered a combined 142 yards in seven plays, capped by Nick Griffin’s 60-yard touchdown run on the first snap after Darius Slay intercepted a Tyler Wilson pass.
“We use the terminology we’ve got to hold the rope,” said Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith, when asked about the defense’s mind-set when taking the field after a turnover. “When the defense makes mistakes, the offense has got to have our back, and we’ve got to do the same when the offense makes mistakes.
“We should have had their back, and we didn’t.”
Mississippi State redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Russell completed 19 of 32 passes for 274 yards and 4 touchdowns without an interception. He has 21 touchdown passes and four interceptions this season.
“He’s a great quarterback, and that’s something Mississippi State hasn’t had in a long time,” Smith said. “I kept on getting to him, but he kept on releasing it.
“He just hung in there and played very well. He was always just getting the ball away.”
Haynes said the Razorbacks used more man-to-man coverage to free up rushers to put pressure on Russell, but they sacked him just twice.
“He did a good job controlling their offense, like we knew he would.” Haynes said. “But there were a lot of times we hit him. He just got rid of it, and we weren’t in tight enough coverage.”
Two of Russell’s touchdown passes went to running back LaDarius Perkins on wheel routes.
“We got him into man coverage twice and had him lined up on their ‘backer or safety,” Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen said.
“It’s something we saw on film, that you have an opportunity to get them in some man coverage.
“Perk made two spectacular catches, and Tyler made two great throws. It was executed about as well as you could.
“It’s hard to get that look in practice sometimes. In practice we’re a little more open than that. It was covered, and they just both made great plays.”
Haynes said Mississippi State also hurt the Razorbacks with some option runs in the second half.
“We just had a couple guys out of position and didn’t make the play,” Haynes said. “I hate to make excuses, but it’s about getting lined up right and doing the right things over and over again.”
Arkansas is starting three true freshmen in Hines and linebackers Otha Peters and A.J. Turner.
“It’s been tough,” Haynes said. “We ended up with the injuries, and we’ve got a bunch of young dudes playing.
“It is very, very challenging for them. They will be good for this program, and they will continue to get better, but they had a little bit of a rough day today.
“They played hard, they try to play right, but this time last year they were in high school and they’re going to struggle.
“They’ll be great for this program. We’ve just got to go through the battles with them right now, but we will get better and this program will be back.”
Sports, Pages 36 on 11/18/2012