STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Darren McFadden didn't have his usually
strong game rushing but made up for it by returning a kickoff for a
The Heisman Trophy contender returned a kickoff 92 yards for No.
5 Arkansas and his teammates backed him Saturday with just enough
big plays to slip past Mississippi State 28-14 and into the
Southeastern Conference championship game.
"This was the most important one," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt
said of a game many prophesied the No. 5 Razorbacks would overlook
with No. 9 LSU on the way. "Everybody was talking about the BCS,
about Atlanta, about all these other things. This is why coaches
get gray hair. This is why you get nervous -- Mississippi State."
The Bulldogs (3-8, 1-6 SEC) stopped the Razorbacks (10-1, 7-0)
on offense, but defense and special teams carried Arkansas to the
SEC Western Division title and a spot in the conference title game
against No. 3 Florida on Dec. 2 in Atlanta.
Chris Houston returned a first-quarter interception 87 yards for
one score and quarterback Casey Dick threw two touchdown passes to
help Arkansas win its 10th straight after a season-opening 50-14
loss to No. 4 Southern Cal. It is the school's longest winning
streak since 1988.
Mississippi State held McFadden to 84 yards -- about 36 below his
average -- with more than half coming on the team's final drive.
"We had our minds made up to stop McFadden," Bulldogs middle
linebacker Quinton Culberson said. "Others couldn't stop him, so
we watched film and took some notes, and I thought we did a pretty
good job on him."
The Razorbacks had 76 yards in the first half and 256 in the
game -- well below their average of 399.7 yards per game.
The Razorbacks even had to resort to a trick play in the third
quarter to put the Bulldogs away.
With his team ahead 21-14 and Mississippi State hanging tough,
Dick handed off to McFadden who gave it to Felix Jones on what
appeared to be a reverse. But then Jones pitched the ball back to
Dick and he found Marcus Monk in the corner of the end zone for a
35-yard touchdown with 2:13 remaining in the third quarter.
Nutt said coaches held the play in reserve for about three weeks
while waiting for the right time to unveil it.
"We just felt like they were playing the run so well, it was
time," Nutt said. "We just had to get them off of us."
The Razorbacks had 177 yards of offense through three quarters
and McFadden and backup Felix Jones -- the nation's No. 2 rushing
tandem coming into the game with 200.5 yards per game -- had 42
yards with 15 minutes left and 122 total.
Even the Wildcat formation was a dud against a defense that
features a bevy of future NFL players. The Razorbacks ran the
formation seven times in the game's first three quarters for 30
yards and finished with 35 total.
Culberson led the Bulldogs with 10 tackles and defensive tackle
Deljuan Robinson added five, including two for loss.
Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom lauded his team for
never giving up, even when the game was out of reach. The Bulldogs
held Arkansas out of the end zone on its final drive and blocked a
field goal, setting up a late rally attempt that ended in a second
Houston interception, this time in the end zone.
"You just can't spot them 14 points," Croom said of the two
first-half returns. "That just negated a great defensive effort
all day long."
After Houston's first interception return put Arkansas up 7-0
with 2:44 left in the first quarter, Mississippi State answered
with a 65-yard touchdown run three plays later by tailback Anthony
Dixon to make it 7-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, McFadden took the ball at the 8 and ran
up the left sideline for the score with 54 seconds remaining in the
quarter. It was just McFadden's seventh kickoff return of the
season and his first for a touchdown.
"We get to celebrate tonight, but it just gets bigger," Nutt
said. "We don't have to think about anything but the next game,
which is going to be LSU."
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Marcus Monk caught a 34-yard TD pass from Casey Dick late in the third quarter to give Arkansas a 28-14 lead.
Gameball goes to... Darren McFadden. The Arkansas RB ran for 89 yards against a stingy MSU defense, and he returned a kickoff 92 yards for a TD.
Stat of the game... 96. Mississippi State outgained Arkansas (357-261) in total yardage, but the Bulldogs couldn't convert on their advantage.