FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ defense bent a few times on Saturday in a 31-28 victory over No. 17 Mississippi State, but never broke.
The Arkansas defense gave up 486 yards of total offense including 417 through the air. The Arkansas defense did get the only turnover in the game which was an interception by linebacker Grant Morgan. The Hogs led 13-7 at halftime with the defense holding the Bulldogs down most of the first 30 minutes. Sam Pittman talked about how they accomplished that.
“To be totally honest with you, we rallied around the ball and we didn’t miss as many tackles,” Pittman said. “If you look in the second half, we overran some things and we missed tackles. I thought our pressure on them was a little better in the first half than it was the second half even though we got a sack there late. Basically, they adjusted some and went a little more towards the middle of the field. Saw we might have been playing a little deep there. I think they adjusted and we didn’t tackle well in the second half. And he made 4th-and-4 the one time in his own territory which could have changed the game if we got off the field there, but we just didn’t. Barry *Odom) stayed patient. He did try to blitz. Played man coverage and they got behind us and threw the long one down their sideline in the third quarter.”
Arkansas had to hold on until the final play of the game when the Mississippi State kicker missed a 40-yard field goal. The Hogs took the lead with 21 seconds remaining in the game on a touchdown run and two-point conversion by Dominique Johnson. Pittman could afford to be a good mood later when meeting the media and asked if he was nervous during the field goal attempt?
“Oh, I knew they were going to miss it,” Pittman joked. “Oh, shoot. I hate it for the kid and all of that, but I told them after the end of the game when there’s no time on the clock, all anybody cares about is who won. They completed three good balls there, went right down the middle. Coach (Mike) Leach is such a good coach, he kept that one timeout the whole time, therefore he could throw it down the middle. He’d throw it outside and then down the middle, knew he had a timeout. So we’re very, very fortunate to have won, but I think we earned the win, as well. We’ve got to get better, because we shot ourselves in the foot the entire first half with penalties. We came back in the second half and did a better job. We had three in the second half, but we shot ourselves in the foot with offsides, personal fouls and things of that nature. That is coach and that’s my responsibility, and it has to get better. We made a big emphasis on it all week, but it has to get better and that’s my job.”
Both teams caused a lot of laundry on the field on Saturday. Arkansas was penalized 11 times for 78 yards while the Bulldogs drew 10 flags for 78 yards as well. Morgan talked about what happened in the second half on defense.
“They hadn’t seen a team that matched their routes the way we did today,” Morgan said. “The first half we matched them really well. They shouldn’t have really scored. I guess the PI call, take it however you want. But we matched up every route pretty well. Even the intermediate routes about 15 yards, we were still matching up. We had a hate on the ball every single time.
“In the second half, they started hitting the hole behind the backers. We were matching the underneath routes like we were supposed to, but they found those holes about 15, 20 yards deep, and they started hitting those over and over again. I think the thing we did defensively is that we kept our mind and we kept our identity the whole game. We didn’t get uncomfortable the whole time. We knew we could keep doing our job and be able to keep going. Obviously, we’re not satisfied, but we’re satisfied with a win every single week.”
Linebacker Bumper Pool led the Hogs with 10 tackles on the day. He talked about the defense in second half compared to first half.
“We were getting antsy especially in our coverages,” Pool said. “We wanted to jump on balls and make plays. We just had to go back to just staying in our zones letting the plays happen in front of us then go run and tackle them.”
Morgan also talked about what happened on the pass he intercepted off of Will Rogers.
So I was matching off the back and kind of figuring out in our zone that were running that play,” Morgan said. “I was matching off the back and getting depth. Our D-line did amazing. They got him out of the pocket and they got pressure on him, better than what we’ve done. So it pushed him out, and he started scrambling. And scrambling drill for the mike, usually we’re the guy wrapping up and going to get the quarterback. Like against A&M this year, you saw me going and getting the quarterback a lot.
“So this week we knew he didn’t want to run it as much, so we stayed back and stayed patient. Our nickel and our will ended up going and putting pressure on him. And if you watch the play, if I didn’t pick it, I knew there were two guys behind me that were going to, I think it was Busta (Montaric Brown) and Sim (Blair). He didn’t see me because he probably didn’t expect me to be there. I was just reading his eyes. I’m glad I caught this one instead of the ones in the past.”
Arkansas (6-3, 2-3) is an early 3-point favorite at LSU Saturday night. The kickoff will be at 6:30 p.m. and televised on the SEC Network.