Fleeting success: Luck, lead vanish for Hogs in 28-21 loss to Mississippi State

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Sunday, November 19, 2017
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) is chased by Arkansas defenders during a game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) is chased by Arkansas defenders during a game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks benefited from a couple of bizarre bounces and a kicked ball to grab leads against No. 16 Mississippi State on Saturday.

Game sketch

RECORDS Miss. State 8-3, 4-3 SEC; Arkansas 4-7, 1-6 STARS Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald ran for 101 yards and a TD and passed for 153 yards and 2 TDs. Arkansas DE McTelvin Agim had 9 tackles, 1 sack and forced 2 fumbles TURNING POINT The Razorbacks passed incomplete on fourth and 2 from their own 44 to give Mississippi State the ball with 3:01 remaining in a tied game. KEY STATS The Bulldogs won 348-221 in total offense and 33:31 to 26:29 in time of possession. UP NEXT The Razorbacks host Missouri at 1:30 p.m. on CBS on Friday in the regular-season finale.

Hard times

Arkansas’ loss Saturday ensured it will not be bowl eligible for the 10th time since joining the SEC in 1992:

YEAR;ALL;SEC

2013;3-9;0-8

NEXT YEAR 7-6, 2-6 (Texas Bowl)

2012;4-8;2-6

NEXT YEAR 3-9, 0-8 (none)

2008;5-7;2-6

NEXT YEAR 8-5, 3-5 (Liberty Bowl)

2005;4-7;2-6

NEXT YEAR;10-4, 7-1 (Capital One Bowl)

2004;5-6;3-5

NEXT YEAR 4-7, 2-6 (none)

1997;4-7, 2-6

NEXT YEAR 9-3, 6-2 (Florida Citrus Bowl)

1996;4-7;2-6

NEXT YEAR 4-7, 2-6 (none)

1994;4-7;2-6

NEXT YEAR 8-5, 6-2 (CarQuest Bowl)

1993;5-5-1;3-4-1

NEXT YEAR 4-7, 2-6 (none)

1992;3-7-1;3-4-1

NEXT YEAR 5-5-1, 3-4-1 (none)

But the Razorbacks couldn't hold the leads, then gave the Bulldogs the biggest gift of the game on a failed fourth-down pass from their own 44 late in the fourth quarter. Nick Fitzgerald threw a tie-breaking 6-yard touchdown pass to Deddrick Thomas with 17 seconds left to cap a short drive and lead Mississippi State to a 28-21 victory before an announced crowd of 64,153 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

The Bulldogs (8-3, 4-3 SEC) won for the third time in a row in Arkansas and beat the Razorbacks (4-7, 1-6) for the fifth time in the past six games.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville clinched a losing record for the second time in five seasons under Coach Bret Bielema and cannot reach bowl eligibility with only Friday's home finale against Missouri remaining. The Razorbacks lost for the 12th time under Bielema when entering the fourth quarter with a lead.

"They ignored all the noise going on around them and just focused on the task at hand and came out fighting the whole day," Bielema said. "Obviously fell a little bit short, but it was a team that doesn't quit. Keeps fighting until the end. We want them to keep swinging all day, and that's what they did."

After enduring a tough week that included quarterback Cole Kelley's arrest Sunday and Athletic Director Jeff Long's firing Wednesday, the Razorbacks wanted to play hard for Bielema, whose tenure appears in jeopardy with a 29-33 overall record and an 11-28 mark in the SEC.

"It's horrible. It really, really is," Allen said when asked about the pressure Bielema is under. "We want to play so hard for him. He cares about us. He does all the right things for us.

"How it's been this year is just tough. We see the stuff people say, we hear it, and ... you want to go out there and win the game for him. That's what we wanted to do today. It didn't happen for us. We were right there. We didn't do enough."

Mississippi State held a 348-221 advantage in total yards and outrushed the Razorbacks 195-97. The Bulldogs rallied from a 21-14 deficit to tie the game on Fitzgerald's 37-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Todd with 3:57 remaining.

Four plays later, Bielema rolled the dice on fourth and 2, but Austin Allen's play-action pass sailed over the head of La'Michael Pettway, who was tangled up with defensive back Lashard Durr. Allen said there was a miscommunication with Pettway on the play.

"That was a hard-fought win by our guys," Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen said. "Any time you go against Bret, you know his guys are going to play hard and play physical. I give them a lot of credit. That's a big win for us."

The Razorbacks bolted to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter with the help of a wind-blown punt and a big defensive play by McTelvin Agim.

Arkansas' first punt got knocked down by the wind and caromed off the back of Cameron Dantzler and into the arms of the Hogs' Reid Miller at the Bulldogs' 36. The offense cashed in the gift field position quickly.

Deon Stewart turned an out route into a 20-yard gain, then David Williams ran 13 yards on a trap play to set up his 3-yard touchdown run.

The lead grew when Agim shot a gap at the Bulldogs' 5-yard line, crashed into Nick Gibson and jarred the ball free into the end zone where fellow lineman Briston Guidry recovered it for a 14-0 lead.

"I thought today was going to be a day when the ball finally bounced our way," Agim said.

Mississippi State bounced back to forge a tie by halftime. Fitzgerald ran in an 18-yard touchdown to cap a 50-yard drive after the Bulldogs converted on fourth and 10.

The Bulldogs got their own short-field score when Arkansas punter Blake Johnson had to jump high to grab a snap from Robert Decker and was engulfed at the Hogs' 17. Aeris Williams tied the game with an 8-yard touchdown run three plays later.

The good bounces were not over for the Razorbacks.

After holding the Bulldogs on the first possession of the second half, Arkansas drove 41 yards to the Mississippi State 34. On a second-and-5 handoff, David Williams was hit and fumbled after a short gain, but Bulldogs' defensive lineman Tre Brown kicked the ball nearly 30 yards toward the goal line. Brandon Martin recovered for Arkansas at the 1.

"Yeah, it was crazy because the play was actually open," Williams said. "I was maneuvering through and hit the hole and somehow, I don't remember how it happened, but it just came out and I instantly freaked out, like, 'Oh, I've got to get the ball back.' But it worked out in my favor."

Said Allen: "I thought it was going to be our day. The defense came out on fire, ready to play.

"Having those things happen for us, it hasn't happened like that in awhile. You just kind of had that feeling where it was kind of the same atmosphere as that Ole Miss game a few years ago."

Devwah Whaley pushed through the line for a 1-yard touchdown two plays later to give the Razorbacks a 21-14 lead. Whaley scored a touchdown for the fifth consecutive game.

The Razorbacks maintained the lead by holding the Bulldogs for three series in a row, including one after Allen lost a fumble at the Mississippi State 47.

Arkansas linebacker Randy Ramsey, patrolling the right flat, had a chance to make a game-changing play late in the third quarter two plays after the Allen fumble. Fitzgerald threw a pass into his area, and Ramsey got both hands on the ball with nothing but green turf ahead of him, but he could not hold on to it.

Allen was sacked and had his right leg rolled up on by Jeffery Simmons midway through the fourth quarter, and Mississippi State took over at its own 45 after Johnson's 31-yard punt.

The Bulldogs needed six plays to reach the end zone, converting a third and 2 on Fitzgerald's 4-yard keeper, then striking deep behind Henre Toliver on Todd's 37-yard touchdown catch.

Mississippi State, which held a time-of-possession advantage of 33:31 to 26:29, ran the clock down on its final drive, converting a fourth and 1 on Fitzgerald's 2-yard keeper along the way. The replay booth took an extra look at Thomas' diving 6-yard touchdown catch but did not overturn the call on the field.

Sports on 11/19/2017

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