By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
– MSU’s offense showed it can move the ball in different ways, as QB Chris Relf completed 20 of 30 passes for 224 yards. The running game was there, of course, as State gained 262 of its 486 yards on the ground. Relf had 103 yards, while Vick Ballard gained 150 and scored three touchdowns.
And the Bulldogs proved that even a run-heavy offense can rally, as they overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter despite throwing the ball on only five of the 21 plays in the two late scoring drives.
– For the second consecutive week, the defense gave up too many big plays, including a 62-yard Knile Davis touchdown run and an 89-yard Jarius Wright TD catch from Ryan Mallett. Davis gashed MSU for 187 rushing yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry.
Also, MSU lost three fumbles, two of them inside the Arkansas 30-yard line. The last one was a Ballard fumble in the first overtime, and the ball went through the end zone for a touchback.
Keys to victory review
– Evaluating the keys to victory in Saturday’s GameDay section:
1. Don’t get burned. Again, the big plays hurt. MSU had given up three scoring plays of 40-plus yards entering the Alabama game. In the last two games combined, it’s allowed five such plays.
The problem at Alabama was poor tackling. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said the problem Saturday was more with missed assignments, and he placed the blame for that on himself.
2. Make Mallett move. The big Arkansas quarterback was sacked twice and intercepted once, but he made the big throws when he needed to. And MSU couldn’t produce a consistent pass rush because Arkansas ran the ball so often – 35 times, compared to 26 pass plays.
3. Get physical. MSU was clearly the more physical team for the first two-and-a-half quarters, especially on the offensive line. Ballard and Relf ran right at the Hogs and both recorded career highs in carries.
But Arkansas’ defenders eventually started getting to Relf when he dropped back – the Hogs recorded four of their five sacks after halftime.
– Quarterback Chris Relf. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior didn’t hit on all his throws, missing a couple of open receivers, but he made some big ones. None was bigger than a 21-yard toss to Chad Bumphis on a third-and-11 on a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive that cut the Razorbacks’ lead to 31-28.
– MSU (7-4, 3-4 SEC) can’t get over the hump against superior Western Division teams (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU), going 0-4 against them with Ole Miss remaining. But those are arguably the four best teams in the league, and State has shown that it’s getting closer to challenging those squads on a regular basis.