Arkansas Bowl Hopes Vanish In Blowout Loss


STARKVILLE, Miss. — Arkansas said all the right things the past two months.

It hadn’t given up on the 2012 season despite the 1-4 start. It planned to salvage as much as possible through the mounting disappointment. It was aiming for a bowl game, any bowl game, in hopes of staying together a little longer this winter.

But the harsh reality was setting in as players walked off the field at Davis Wade Stadium following a 45-14 loss at Mississippi State on Saturday. The 2012 campaign will conclude  in less than a week against LSU.

Arkansas’ goal of extending its season came to an ugly, and official, end in front of an announced crowd of 54,836. The Razorbacks turned the ball over a season-high five times, including four in the second half, and watched as the Bulldogs rolled to a record 45 points in the series against Arkansas.

It left the Razorbacks (4-7, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) wallowing in their first loss to Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3) since 2008, which, coincidentally was the last time Arkansas missed going to a bowl game. It also secured Arkansas’ fate as one of the season’s biggest disappointments after opening the preseason ranked in the Top 10 of the Associated Press poll.

“It’s rough. It’s rough,” Wilson said. “But sometimes it’s a test of your character, a test of who you are deep down inside. How long you can stay positive and keep believing and keep going out on that field and give it everything you’ve got.”

Arkansas tried in the first quarter, showing plenty of fight. But just like in several other losses this season, familiar themes derailed the Hogs’ hopes quickly.

The unraveling began after Arkansas, which jumped out to a 14-7 lead, forced Mississippi State to go three plays and out from deep in its own territory in the second quarter. Cornerback Kaelon Kelleybrew, who took over punt return duties with Nate Holmes injured, muffed his only attempt and Mississippi State recovered.

The defense did well in holding the Bulldogs to a field goal, but it cut Arkansas’ lead to 14-10. The Razorbacks failed to move the chains on their next possession, handing the ball to Knile Davis four times on six plays. So Mississippi State took possession and sliced through the Arkansas defense to take the lead.

Quarterback Tyler Russell capped a five-play, 78-yard drive by throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to receiver Chad Bumphis. It gave the Bulldogs a 17-14 edge.

“We got up and our guys started playing with a lot more confidence,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.

Arkansas wasn’t overrun at halftime in trailing 17-14. But the Razorbacks — who fell to 0-6 in games when trailing at the half — could never recover offensively.

“It’s like one thing hits and it kind of deflates all the air in the tires,” Wilson said. “That’s what we’ve got to eliminate from happening. We’ve got to play almost a flawless game in all three areas, whether it be special teams, offense or defense, to keep everybody’s morale and spirit up.

“If not, it seems like it turns the other way.”

Mississippi State turned the game into a rout thanks to Arkansas’ turnovers

Wilson tossed an interception on the fourth play of the third quarter, trying to force a ball into record-setting wide receiver Cobi Hamilton. It didn’t lead to points for Mississippi State, but consecutive fumbles by both running back Jonathan Williams and receiver Javontee Herndon did.

Russell threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to LaDarius Perkins, then a 22-yard strike to Chad Bumphis to push the MSU lead to 38-14. Russell finished the game completing 19 of 32 passes for 274 yards with four touchdowns.

“It’s just kind of how we’ve self-destructed all year,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said of the turnovers. “We can’t do those things.”

Arkansas added one more turnover when Wilson threw an errant pass intercepted by the Bulldogs. Mississippi State scored on the very next play, when running back Nick Griffin sprinted 60 yards through an Arkansas defense that had no fight left.

Arkansas’s five giveaways swelled its SEC-leading total to 29 this season. MSU scored 24 points off the mistakes, all coming as part of a 38-0 run to close the game after trailing 14-7 early in the second quarter.

 “I wish I had the answer for it,” junior center Travis Swanson said of Arkansas’ latest collapse because of turnovers.

“I really do because it could solve it. But you can’t really explain it.”

Wilson, who started the game with 10 straight completions, finished 23 of 29 for 225 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Cobi Hamilton caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, while Dennis Johnson ran for 88 yards.

All three — along with the rest of the Razorbacks — had to walk off Scott Field with another loss Saturday after the Bulldogs piled up 505 yards.

Arkansas coach John L. Smith was asked afterward if he was stunned the Razorbacks weren’t bowl eligible considering its preseason expectations and said, ‘Am I stunned? No. Are you? Another question.”

It leaves his team with only Friday’s game against LSU at Reynolds Razorback Stadium — which also is senior day — remaining as the Hogs try to avoid their first eight-loss season since 1990.

“They’ve been through a lot,” Smith said. “And they’re going to continue to battle and fight with class and do it right. … We’re going to put it all on the line.”