FAYETTEVILLE — Hard to believe the Razorbacks could break their 20-game SEC losing streak winning over 16th-ranked Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi, while losing their best running back, best receiver and best cornerback to injuries.
But Arkansas did, 21-14 last Saturday night at the Bulldogs’ Davis-Wade Stadium.
They did so with each team’s Preseason All-SEC running back, Arkansas’ Rakeem Boyd and State’s Kylin Hill, injured during the first half and not returning.
Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks, seven catches for 102 the previous week in the 37-10 loss to nationally No. 4 Georgia, and top cornerback Montaric Brown were injured during Saturday’s first half and did not return.
First-team defensive ends Dorian Gerald (injured) and Julius Coates (as yet unspecified) did not travel to Starkville.
“The number of guys on the plane, that’s how many we needed,” Pittman said.
Backups like receiver De’Vion Warren, four catches for 100 yards including a 52-yarder and a 19-yard touchdown, running back Trelon Smith, 14 carries for a team-leading 48 yards, and defensive end Zach Williams, six tackles against Mississippi State after making seven off the bench when Gerald was injured against Georgia, are among those Arkansas coach Sam Pittman.
Unheralded virtually unheard of walk-on defensive back Hudson Clark, summoned by defensive coordinator Barry Odom and cornerbacks coach Sam Carter, contributed two tackles with Brown out and the Razorbacks rotating defensive backs like crowd scene movie extras against Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello’s 59 pass attempts.
“He played a really good game,” Pittman said.
“Barry and Sam Carter, they were going to play him regardless if someone had gotten hurt or not. He had earned playing time and was looking really good, and I agreed with them. It was nice to see him do some special things and be a huge part of a big win.”
Defensive starting linebackers Bumper Pool, 20 tackles, Greenwood’s Grant Morgan, 15 tackles, and safety Jalen Catalon, 13 tackles combined for 48 tackles in defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s scheme dropping back eight in zone coverage denying the deep ball and relying on sure tackling ceasing the open short passes held to short gains.
Morgan and Pool both were injured, too, but able to return.
“Grant’s a warrior,” Pool said. “He had a tough little injury, but he said ‘Screw it, I’m going to get tougher, I’m going to go out there and make plays.’”
What about Pool briefly getting treated inside the injury tent?
“Got a little stinger (shoulder injury) but I felt fine after that,” Pool said. “I took a few plays off, got back in there. Nothing was going to stop me from getting on the field and trying to get this win.”
Defense gets the plaudits recording three interceptions, nickel back Greg Brooks’ pick-six for a first series 69-yard touchdown return and two by safety Joe Foucha, plus linebacker Deon Edwards on special teams recovering a fumbled punt and some pivotal short-yardage stops.
Defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall’s late game fourth and two stops short of the Arkansas 5-yard line stands out.
Offensively, Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks never turned it over, completing 20 of 28 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns and piloting a first-half drive foiled when the Bulldogs stopped the goal-line package designed for athletic backup quarterback KJ Jefferson.
Though not yet where Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles want it to be, Briles’ uptempo offense flashed brilliantly at times against Mississippi Time though other times not so much.
“You could see at times where it was boom, boom, boom, boom,” Pittman said. “Then you could see times where we’d go three-and-out and take 25 seconds off the clock. We’ve just got to continue to work and build on that. We’re not there yet offensively, but we were better than we were last week.”
Enough better to help stop a 20-game SEC skid and beat the nation’s 16th-ranked team on the road.
At 3 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network in Auburn, Alabama, the 13th-ranked Auburn Tigers await Arkansas.
Auburn, with former 2006 Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn the head coach, and former 2018-2019 Arkansas head coach Chad Morris, the offensive coordinator, is 1-1 and coming off Saturday night’s 27-6 loss at Georgia.