Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
It took everything Hogs had to top Bears
Missouri State coach Bobby Petrino (left) and Arkansas coach Sam Pittman speak prior to a game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Fayetteville. Petrino was coaching in Fayetteville for the first time since he was fired as the Razorbacks' coach in 2012.
Bryce Stephens has only been rumored as a threat on punt returns.
Until Saturday night.
The redshirt freshman fielded a punt at the Arkansas 18, made a zig and a zag that got him to the right sideline and it was obvious no one other than Usain Bolt was going to catch him.
His 82-yard punt return gave the Arkansas Razorbacks their first lead of the game after more than 50 minutes of play en route to a 38-27 win over Missouri State that was wild and crazy.
Everyone remembered the rambling, gambling man Bobby Petrino and his offensive genius. But no one remembered it as well as they liked when the Bears lined up on fourth and one from the Arkansas 47 and decided to go for it.
Everyone sold out to stop a dive play, except Petrino who had his quarterback Jason Shelly drop a pass into an undefended receiver for a 47-yard touchdown and a 24-17 lead.
Missouri State would stretch it 27-17 early in the fourth quarter, but the Razorbacks would score touchdowns on their next three possessions, including the punt return, for the win.
The problem was never the Razorbacks’ offense, it had 597 yards. But what haunted the Hogs the whole game was missed tackles.
If yardage made after a missed tackle is added up, it will be shocking.
Petrino exploited everything he could. But in the end, speed was the difference.
Not just Stephens.
Raheim Sanders had a 73-yard touchdown reception and a 43- yard gain to set up the final score.
The Razorbacks did have two costly fumbles in the first half and Jefferson had his first interception, but they moved the ball the last three quarters.
They once again showed poise and answered the bell when it looked like they might be knocked down — like after Missouri State took that 27-17 lead and Jefferson calmly shoveled a pass to Sanders for the 73-yard touchdown to cut the margin to a field goal.
It was their second two-play drive -for a touchdown in the game.
Saying the Razorbacks started slow would be like saying Florida has some beaches.
Looking nothing like a top-10 team — and they still may fall which wouldn’t be all bad — the Hogs fell behind 17-0 to what was supposed to be the easiest team on their schedule.
The Bears capitalized on two fumbles for scores while the Razorbacks were wasting their first four possessions
Until they looked up at that big scoreboard and saw 17-0. Until there was about eight minutes left in the first half.
The offense rolled 75 yards in just eight plays, taking only 2:11 off the clock with Sanders scoring from the 3 to make it 17-7.
The defense buttoned up tighter on the Bears’ next possession when they converted their sixth third down on nine tries. But with pressure on the quarterback there would be no more conversions or scores in the first half.
The Hogs received boos on their next possession when they drove to their 40 and three downs later were staring at a fourth and 9 from their 41 with 2:27 to play in the half.
Most of the crowd wanted to go for it. Most didn’t want a run up the middle that turned the ball over to Missouri State.
The defense, which finished with seven sacks, got their fourth of the first half and forced a punt and suddenly it was magic time for Jefferson.
He hit Matt Landers for 47 yards and Jadon Haselwood for 38 and the touchdown.
Landers transferred from Toldeo and Haselwood from Oklahoma.
Arkansas avoided becoming only the second top-10 team to lose to a FCS team in history, and in the end they raced to the win by refusing to lose.
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