FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas went to Starkville and upset No. 16 Mississippi State on Saturday night 21-14.
The Razorbacks never trailed in the game as they got onto the scoreboard first with 11:44 remaining in the opening quarter when nickel back Greg Brooks picked off a K.J. Costello pass and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown. Sam Pittman praised Brooks afterward as well as defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall who stuffed Mississippi State running back Jo’quavious Marks for a two-yard loss on a fourth-and-two play at the Arkansas 7.
“They were huge, both of them,” Pittman said. “(Brooks’ pick) was such a big momentum change early in the game. They were driving a little bit. We talked about it all day. We said, ‘Hey, he’s going to get impatient and hopefully he’ll throw us some.’ And he did, and Brooks took it to the house. And what a huge play on 4th and 1. We had shown them basically the same look then we did something else. You have to give credit with Barry (Odom) and his staff to make the call, then execution was unbelievable.”
Arkansas was also stopped inside the Mississippi State territory when quarterback KJ Jefferson fumbled on a fourth-and-goal play at the 2 with 10:25 remaining in the first half. Pittman chose to bypass the field goal to try and get a touchdown with the game tied at 7.
“I told our staff and our kids that if we got down there on fourth-and-goal, I was going for it,” Pittman said. “And because to be honest with you, I felt like we might need to take some chances. Not on our own 20, you know, but I felt like we could make it on fourth-and-two. I think they just converted their first three or four on first down. I knew if we didn’t make it, there’s a great chance we could stop them and not let them get out of there. But yeah, it was definitely a lot of decision-making it seemed like. I don’t know if it was or not, but it sure did seem like it.”
But it wasn’t just Pittman who was willing to go for it on fourth down. Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach did it six times with his team successful on four of them.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Pittman said. “I had a real good talk with him. I like him. He’s a really good coach. I’ve always respected him. I think that’s just him, to be honest with you, and how he calls the game.”
Arkansas also won the turnover battle 4-2 and Pittman was obviously pleased with that aspect of the game.
“Well, you look at the fourth-down that we stopped them late in the game, that was, to me, that was a turnover,” Pittman said. “Of course, they stopped us on fourth and goal, as well, too. To be honest with you, I’m just really humbled. I’m just really proud of the team. I mean what I say, I’m just proud for the state. I really am. I’m just one guy. Am I proud that we beat Mississippi State? You’re dang right.”
Arkansas held a 7-5 lead at halftime over No. 4 Georgia in Week 1 and then went on road to defeat the No. 16 team this week. Pittman talked about what he has learned about his team after two games.
“Our kids, I don’t know about the past, but they played hard this year,” Pittman said. “I learned that they’re resilient. A lot of guys, I mean a lot of guys, went down tonight, and the next man stepped in and was ready to play. They believe in us. We certainly believe in them, and that’s really fun to watch, and it’s fun to coach them. I’m hard on them, you know, but I also love them. But it’s just fun to see them grown and start believing in themselves and things of that nature. It really has been a fun process since I was fortunate enough to get the job.”
Pittman even had a message for the fans following the game.
“Well, we’re just happy they believe in us,” Pittman said. “We’ve got a long, long way to go, but we are the University of Arkansas and we’re supposed to win games. We’re supposed to win SEC games. I’m not a guy that can look in the future, but I know this: at the University of Arkansas, you’re supposed to win. So, that’s what we’re going to try to do, and I’m so happy that they’re going to get to go and brag a little bit. They deserve it.”
Arkansas will be at Auburn on Saturday with a 3 p.m. kickoff on the SEC Network.