2:30 PM ET, November 18, 2006
Davis Wade Stadium, STARKVILLE, MS
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Darren McFadden didn't have his usually strong game rushing but made up for it by returning a kickoff for a touchdown.
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.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||5-13||5-15|
|4th Down Conversions||0-1||0-1|
|TD||2:44||CHRIS HOUSTON 87 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (JEREMY DAVIS KICK)||7||0|
|TD||1:11||ANTHONY DIXON 65 YD RUN (ADAM CARLSON KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||0:54||DARREN MCFADDEN 92 YD KICK RETURN (JEREMY DAVIS KICK)||14||7|
|TD||8:41||TONY BURKS 22 YD PASS FROM MICHAEL HENIG (ADAM CARLSON KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 20 yards.
|TD||0:41||DAMIAN WILLIAMS 29 YD PASS FROM CASEY DICK (JEREMY DAVIS KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 33 yards.
|TD||2:13||MARCUS MONK 35 YD PASS FROM CASEY DICK (JEREMY DAVIS KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 80 yards.