Postgame Thoughts: Mississippi State 28, Arkansas 21

By: Matt Jones
Published: Saturday, November 18, 2017
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald slips past Arkansas defender Grant Morgan to score a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald slips past Arkansas defender Grant Morgan to score a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

— This was the type of game Arkansas and Mississippi State have been providing for more than two decades, but for the fifth time in six years it was the Bulldogs that came out victorious.

The nation's No. 16 team overcame a double-digit deficit and some sloppy play early to end any talk of Arkansas playing in a bowl game. It was the 16th time since 1992 the matchup was decided by seven points or less.

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was great in the fourth quarter, engineering two scoring drives in the final five minutes to cap the comeback. His 37-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Todd tied the game with 3:57 left and his 6-yard touchdown pass to Deddrick Thomas put the Bulldogs ahead 28-21 with 17 seconds to play.

Fitzgerald was 3-for-6 for 51 yards and 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and rushed six times for 42 yards. He finished with 254 all-purpose yards and accounted for three touchdowns.

Mississippi State's game-winning drive was aided by a questionable call by the Razorbacks, who went for it on fourth-and-2 from their own 44. Austin Allen badly overthrew Austin Cantrell on the play.

Perhaps embattled Arkansas coach Bret Bielema figured he had nothing to lose by such a risky play call. The game was the first the Razorbacks had played since athletics director Jeff Long was fired, with university leaders citing football performance as a reason.

Arkansas won't make a bowl game for the first time since Bielema's first season in 2013.

The game began to turn when Hjalte Froholdt re-injured his ankle in the first quarter. Froholdt had been successful in neutralizing Mississippi State's potential All-American tackle Jeffery Simmons on the Razorbacks' first couple of drives, one of which ended in a score.

But Froholdt's replacement, Jake Raulerson, had plenty of trouble with Simmons and made some mistakes. Raulerson was called for a hold on a third-and-1 conversion in the third quarter and gave up a sack to Simmons on a third-and-short in the fourth quarter. The sack sent Austin Allen to the medical tent, but he returned for the next drive.

Mississippi State had four sacks and five more tackles for loss. Arkansas lost 39 yards because of the negative plays and finished with only 221 total yards.

The Razorbacks' three scores all came as a result of recovered fumbles, they type of bounces needed to pull off an upset. A three-play, 36-yard drive in the first quarter was the result of a punt that hit a Mississippi State blocker; Briston Guidry recovered a fumble in the end zone later in the first quarter to put Arkansas ahead 14-0; and a 1-yard touchdown run by Devwah Whaley in the third quarter came two plays after receiver Brandon Martin recovered a fumble at the 1. David Williams had the ball stripped near the 30, then the ball went more than 20 yards upfield when a Mississippi State defensive lineman kicked it.

Arkansas' two scoring drives went for 111 yards on 13 plays, but the other 11 drives totaled 110 yards on 39 plays.

Defensively, McTelvin Agim had a breakout type performance that has been expected since he signed with the Razorbacks as one of the nation's top recruits. Agim had 9 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 tackles for loss and forced 2 fumbles, including the one recovered by Guidry to put the Razorbacks ahead by double digits.

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