By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State got its turnover machine working again.
Two key turnovers in the third quarter led to two touchdowns, and MSU forced a total of five turnovers in a 45-14 shellacking of Arkansas in front of 54,838 at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (8-3, 4-3 SEC) snapped a three-game losing streak, as well as a three-game skid against the Razorbacks (4-7, 2-5). It was the most points State has ever scored against Arkansas, and its largest margin of victory in the series, too.
MSU was minus-4 in turnover margin in its losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU with no interceptions, but it was plus-4 on Saturday. Four of the Arkansas turnovers were forced after halftime, allowing State to quickly extend its three-point halftime lead.
It had two picks of Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, by Jamerson Love and Darius Slay.
“We kind of got our mojo back and got the win,” said linebacker Cam Lawrence, who had a team-high 11 tackles and recovered a fumble in the third quarter.
That turnover – tailback Jonathan Williams simply lost the ball – set up Tyler Russell’s 24-yard touchdown pass to tailback LaDarius Perkins. That gave State a 31-14 lead with 1 minute, 31 seconds left in the third quarter.
That was the first of three consecutive Arkansas turnovers, leading to three straight MSU touchdowns.
Lawrence said that defensive coordinator Chris Wilson “made a big emphasis that we needed to make more plays, create more turnovers, and that’s exactly what we did. We came out, and we were hunting the ball the whole time, and we were able to come up with it a couple of times.”
MSU’s offense gained 505 total yards en route to breaking several single-season records. Quarterback Tyler Russell was 19 of 32 for 274 yards and four TDs, and his 2,523 passing yards on the season are a new school mark.
It was his backup, redshirt freshman Dak Prescott, who helped the offense get going after halftime. On a fourth-and-1 from the Arkansas 4-yard line, Prescott bulled in for the score and a 24-14 MSU lead at the 5:51 mark of the third quarter.
“We got the opportunity to get everybody over to the sideline, and the guys said, hey, that’s the play call they wanted to go with,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “The thought is to get the first down there, and then Dak did a great job.”
Wilson was then stopped short on a fourth-and-9 scramble, but MSU failed to take advantage. At that point, MSU’s offense had scored only three points off a fumble recovery, interception and the turnover on downs.
“When you get a turnover, the momentum shifts,” Russell said. “You’ve got to go out there and put the ball in the end zone. We did that sometimes, and sometimes we didn’t. We talked about it and were able to do it when it happened again.”
Perkins had two touchdown receptions, and he gained 91 yards on 17 carries after missing the previous game with a quad injury. Receiver Chad Bumphis had 82 yards and two TDs on six catches for State.
Wilson completed his first 10 passes to help Arkansas take a 14-7 lead. He was 14 of 15 in the first half and finished 23 of 29 for 225 yards.
Cobi Hamilton, the SEC’s leading receiver, had seven catches for 88 yards and a touchdown, but he was held to one catch in the second half.
Russell completed all three of his passes for 53 yards on a 78-yard touchdown drive. He hit Bumphis from 6 yards out for a 17-14 lead at the 4:48 mark of the second quarter.
Russell kept it up on the next drive, but Arceto Clark fumbled after catching a pass inside the red zone, and so MSU settled for a 17-14 halftime lead.