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Hogs Turn 180 on the Road

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STARKVILLE, Miss. - For the first time in a while, Arkansas is a good road team.

The Razorbacks overcame the toughest environment they have faced all season Saturday, holding off Mississippi State for a 38-31 win in double overtime. Arkansas finishes the regular season 3-1 on the road and 4-1 in games played outside the state.

That’s quite an accomplishment for any team, but more so for the Razorbacks, who were unless on the road last season. Coming into 2010, Arkansas had lost seven consecutive road games.

“There’s no magic formula,” Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette said. “You’ve just got to be tough enough to play your game and finish games in the clutch. On the road you’re not going to blow everybody out. We played a perfect game at South Carolina and took care of them, but every road game is tough.

“Last year we were kind of snake bit on the road. This year we’re a totally different team and have great leadership.”

Arkansas couldn’t finish the close games last year, falling 23-20 to Florida and losing 33-30 to LSU in an overtime contest.

But the Razorbacks have been hard to stop in the clutch this year. Ryan Mallett’s touchdown pass to Greg Childs with 14 seconds left gave the Hogs a win at Georgia early in the season and Arkansas looked the better team through the final quarter and overtime Saturday in Starkville.

Labeled as a finesse team at times in 2009, the Razorbacks’ physicality showed against the Bulldogs.

“It was a tough, mean, physical SEC football game,” Bequette said. “We came out on top and that just shows close we are and how physical we are.”

Though its much smaller than most of its SEC brethren, Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium more than held its own. An announced crowd of 56,404 fans – the fourth largest in school history – squeezed their way in Saturday, ringing their cowbells to ear-splitting decibels at times.

It was a far cry from the last time the Razorbacks traveled here two years ago and players noticed.

“They were intense; you’ve got to hand it to the Starkville crowd,” Bequette said. “There are a lot of great road environments and this is one of the best. It was nasty, but it was fun.”

Arkansas brings its own bell on road games and players are encouraged to ring it when they have their best performance to date. Accompanied by the sound of Hog calls from the thousands of Razorbacks fans in attendance, it was the bell ringing in the end.

“We wanted to let them know how our bell sounded,” Mallett said. “It was a little bit louder.”

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Leon Faces First Half Suspension

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STARKVILLE, Miss. - Arkansas linebacker Anthony Leon will be suspended for the first half of the Razorbacks’ game next weekend against LSU after he was ejected Saturday night.

Ejections carry an automatic suspension for the first half of the following game. The suspension is handled by the NCAA and is not subject to appeal.

Leon was ejected when he appeared to throw a punch at Mississippi State receiver Chad Bumphis in the third quarter of the Razorbacks’ 38-31 win in double overtime. The senior has 52 tackles this season.

Leon will be one of three defensive players serving suspensions in high-profile SEC games next week. Auburn defensive linemen Michael Goggans and Mike Blanc won’t play in the first half of the Tigers’ game with Alabama after both were ejected for throwing punches in their game last week against Georgia.

Arkansas and LSU will kick-off at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The game will be televised by CBS.

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Wright Call Swings Momentum

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STARKVILLE, Miss. - Trailing 21-17, Arkansas needed a spark late in the third quarter to slow Mississippi State. Instead, the Razorbacks got two.

Elton Ford forced a Bulldogs fumble deep in Arkansas territory that was recovered by Darius Winston. Ryan Mallett connected with Jarius Wright for an 89-yard touchdown on the ensuing play to give the Razorbacks the lead. They would never trail again.

The touchdown was a byproduct of a risky defense Mississippi State has used throughout the season. The Bulldogs often bring pressure with their cornerbacks, leaving the middle of the field vulnerable.

On the play, Wright caught a quick slant across the middle, regained his footing after stumbling and raced toward the record books with the second-longest touchdown catch in school history.

“They’re a pressure team. We have plays that are built for pressure and we started calling pressure plays,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said. “That’s one of our base plays and it’s actually one Jarius caught again in overtime.

“An 89-yard touchdown when you’re down is a huge play.”

Wright didn’t know he would be the target until just before the snap.

“I kind of got my pre-snap read and I saw the field just spread open,” Wright said. “As the ball was coming into my hands I knew I was going to have open field to run. I was just thinking in my head, ‘I’ve got to score.’ I just think I tried to take off too fast. I think that’s why I started to stumble. I was thinking in my head, ‘I can’t go down.’ I just kept my balance and got the ball in the endzone.”

The score gave the Razorbacks a 24-21 lead. That lead would eventually grow to 10 points before Arkansas had to hold off the Bulldogs in overtime.
Up until Wright’s catch, the Razorbacks had relied a lot on run plays in the first half, and rightfully so. Knile Davis had 117 yards on the ground after the first quarter alone and finished the game with a career-high 187 yards.

But Wright’s catch opened up the pass game. Mallett hit Joe Adams and Cobi Hamilton for big gains on the next series, which culminated in Davis’ second touchdown run of the night.

“They’re a really good team with really good players, and they have an interesting defensive scheme,” McGee said. “It took us a while to figure out what was going on.

“We began to hit the right defense at the right time. Ryan made really nice throws under pressure. Our kids played well when the pressure was on and that was good.”

Wright, who finished with 105 receiving yards, had one of two touchdown catches on the night with substantial yards after the reception. D.J. Williams had a 25-yard score earlier in the game in which he ran the width of the field to find pay dirt.

“Those guys have ben doing it all year,” said Mallett, who passed for 305 yards and three touchdowns. “Once you get the ball in their hands they’re very explosive.”

Wright had one of the key blocks to help Williams into the endzone in the first quarter.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons out there,” Wright said. “We can go from anywhere on the field. When someone catches the ball we’ve got to have good effort and good blocking, and that’s what has helped us.”

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Arkansas 38, Mississippi State 31 (2OT)

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STARKVILLE, Miss. - Knile Davis rushed for two touchdowns and added the game-winning 7-yard touchdown reception in double overtime as Arkansas beat Mississippi State 38-31 at Davis Wade Stadium.

Davis, a sophomore, rushed for a career-high 187 yards on 30 carries as the No. 13 Razorbacks won their fifth consecutive game overall.

Arkansas led 31-21 before Vick Ballard’s 4-yard touchdown run with 4:24 remaining pulled the No. 21 Bulldogs within a field goal. Mississippi State got that kick from Derek DePasquale on a 25-yarder as time expired in regulation.

The drive began at the Arkansas 46 following a Davis fumble with less than two minutes remaining. In addition to his three touchdowns, Davis had two fumbles lost.

Ballard, who finished with 150 rushing yards and three touchdowns, fumbled away the Bulldogs’ first possession in overtime when a hit by Jerico Nelson jarred loose the ball, which went out of the endzone for a touchback. Arkansas couldn’t capitalize, however, as Zach Hocker missed a 39-yard field goal that would have given the Razorbacks the win.

Arkansas (9-2, 5-2 SEC) got the ball first in the second overtime and took the lead on Ryan Mallett’s pass to Davis, the first receiving touchdown of his career.

Mallett finished the game completing 17 of 26 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns. He was also intercepted once.

The Bulldogs got as far as the 11-yard line during their half of the second overtime session, but Chris Relf was sacked by Tenarius Wright to end the game.

Arkansas built a 14-7 lead on a 62-yard touchdown run by Davis and a 25-yard touchdown reception by D.J. Williams in the first quarter. That lead didn’t hold, however, as the Bulldogs used a pair of Ballard touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 21-17 halftime lead.

That was still the score when Arkansas safety Elton Ford forced and cornerback Darius Winston recovered a Mississippi State fumble at the Razorbacks 22 late in the third quarter. Arkansas was backed up on the play, though, when Anthony Leon was ejected for throwing a punch at Bulldogs receiver Chad Bumphis.

It wouldn’t matter as Mallett hit Jarius Wright on the ensuing play for an 89-yard touchdown pass to give the Razorbacks a 24-21 lead with 2:03 left in the third.

Arkansas would add to that lead with Davis’ second touchdown run from a yard out early in the final frame. Davis eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the season during the game. In the last five games he has 737 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.

The Razorbacks have now won 11 of the last 12 meetings with Mississippi State. It was the third time the two schools have played an overtime game in Starkville. Arkansas needed just one extra period to beat the Bulldogs here in 1996 and 2000.

The Razorbacks improved to 9-2 all-time in overtime contests.

Arkansas now looks ahead to a rivalry game with No. 5 LSU (10-1, 6-1) at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium in what might turn out to be a play-in game for the Sugar Bowl.

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