Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
Turning Point: Morgan's fumbles opened the door for Hokies
Arkansas receiver Drew Morgan is chased down by Virginia Tech defender Adonis Alexander in the third quarter of the Belk Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One lost fumble and a fumble that didn't count changed Arkansas' fortunes in a collapse at the Belk Bowl on Thursday.
Receiver Drew Morgan had both fumbles early in the third quarter of the Razorbacks' 35-24 loss.
The first came on the first possession of the second half. With Arkansas leading 24-0, Morgan fumbled when he was hit short of the first-down marker on third-and-long. Anthony Shegog jarred the ball loose and Woody Baron recovered.
That gave Virginia Tech a short field at the Arkansas 30. Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans threw consecutive 13-yard passes to Isaiah Ford, then rushed for a 4-yard touchdown to pull the Hokies within 24-7.
It was the first of four short scoring drives Virginia Tech had in the second half. The Hokies scored three more touchdowns off Arkansas turnovers with drives totaling 44, 5 and 8 yards.
"We put the defense in bad places with short fields," Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen said.
The first touchdown of the half swung momentum and brought the large Virginia Tech crowd to life. The attendance was announced as 46,902, with an estimated 80 percent or more pro-Hokies.
"I think there are a lot of things you can count to in the second half," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "...You've got to withstand the swings in momentum. Obviously they got momentum on their side in the second half fairly early with the turnover and we had chances to bring that momentum back."
Arkansas' best chance to answer came on its next offensive play. Morgan had one-on-one coverage and Allen threw a perfect pass behind the Virginia Tech secondary. Morgan caught the ball for a 74-yard gain before being tackled at the Hokies 1.
But when he was hit from behind by Adonis Alexander, Morgan fumbled the ball through the end zone, which should have resulted in a touchback and Virginia Tech possession. The Hokies committed a penalty on the play, however, which allowed Arkansas to keep the ball in its own territory. The Razorbacks punted after a short run, incomplete pass and negative run play.
"That could have been a key play," Bielema said. "We were fortunate because they had a holding call and we were able to maintain possession, but we couldn't capitalize on it."
Had Morgan been able to control the ball to the ground, Arkansas would have had a first-and-goal.
"We had an opportunity to go up 31-7 and it might have been a different ballgame there," Allen said.
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