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Sanders Avoids Running His Way Into Razorback History Books

Night so similar to former Arkansas running back, but memory will much different
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In the first ever Arkansas game as an official SEC team, running back E.D. Jackson had 167 yards in a memorable performance. 

In Saturday night's shootout against Missouri State, current Arkansas running back Raheim 'Rocket' Sanders had 167 yards in a memorable performance.

In that game, Jackson had a fumble at a cruicial time and point on the field. 

Saturday night, Sanders too had a fumble at a crucial time and point on the field.

Ikenna Ahumibe-Raheim Sanders-Missouri State

In Jackson's case, despite his best efforts, Arkansas lost to an FCS team. 

In Sanders's case, because of his best efforts, Arkansas avoided an upset at the hands of an FCS school.

Once scenario played out as the most infamous loss in Razorback history, a defeat at the hands of The Citadel that led an angered Frank Broyles to fire head coach Jack Crowe before the afternoon NFL games had finished up the following Sunday.

The other led to the first boos Arkansas coach Sam Pittman has had to face, but ended with a positive vibe and the chance to keep moving forward toward a showdown with Texas A&M in Cowboys Stadium as an undefeated team.

Sanders knew he couldn't make up for a first quarter fumble, but what he did do is put the team on his back when things were starting to get out of control and turn the tide when his team needed it most.

With the game now 20 minutes old and Missouri State on the verge of putting the game away with a 17-0 lead, Sanders took over. He posted runs of 27, 15 and 8, putting hope in the mind of Razorback fans who had spent over a quarter having Bears' quarterback Jason Shelley rip their hearts out and show it to them Indiana Jones style.

He then powered his way for two yards for a first down at the Missouri State 3-yard line before literally walking into the end zone to cut the lead to 17-7. 

It was the beginning of a clear message to the country and any running backs hoping to steal playing time from 6-2, 227 pound back who plows through defenses more like a muzzleloader ball than the rocket his nickname suggests.

Work harder. This is Rocket Sanders's world right now.

"I definitely feel like I am making a statement," Sanders said. "I feel like with this game I had a lot of [missed assignments] and that started off in the first quarter. Just trusting my offense and trusting my reads helped me out with that."

With the Hogs still trailing in the fourth quarter, Sanders again took the opportunity to snatch momentum from Missouri State. Shelley had just led the Bears on a 10-play drive to the Arkansas 14 that resulted in a field goal to put Missouri State up 27-17. 

Petrino could smell blood in the water. He spent most of that drive going against his natural instincts by calling running plays that were chewing up clock and punching at the heart of the Razorback defense. 

If Arkansas didn't respond, one more haymaker was going to put the nation's No. 10 football team on the mat for good. 

"Just looking at their defense, we knew they were loading up the box," Jefferson said. "They were ready for the run, so we knew we could open up the passing game and the running game would come after that."

Fortunately for the Hogs, Sanders put quality time in the film room. 

He had learned from his mistake the previous week on a discreet screen play where Sanders runs into the line of scrimmage and spins around hoping the defense has lost him while Jefferson slips a shuttle pass that is at best a sneaky glorified hand-off.

Once Sanders shot through traffic into open space and found the angle needed to keep the lone remaining defensive back from catching up with him on the final leg of his 73-yard touchdown run, it was clear Arkansas wasn't losing this game.

"I actually ran that against South Carolina and it didn’t work, Sanders said. "Well, it worked, but I didn’t read it how I was supposed to read it.

"I got chills knowing that I was going to take it far, if not for a touchdown. Looking at the one in South Carolina, I feel like I could have scored on that play and watching that play helped me out today."

Arkansas was now within striking distance at 27-24 and the house was rocking so hard the press box was literally swaying back and forth.

If Sanders had to put the ball between his teeth so he could toss linemen and tight ends into Missouri State defenders to clear a path to victory then he would. His fumble wasn't going to join Jackson's in the dark annals or Razorback history.

One punt return later, the Razorbacks were clinging to a 31-27 lead. Pittman once again turned to his fiery running back. 

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Sanders for six.

Sanders for seven.

Sanders for 43, setting the Hogs up at the Missouri State 5-yard line.

All the while, the clock melted like a little kid's ice cream cone in July.

Jefferson finished off the drive with a pair of runs, including a touchdown from a yard out, to slam the door to history shut for good. 

There would be no infamous fumble for Sanders, only a mistake that had already been forgotten by most Arkansas fans that needs cleaning up before next week.

"I feel like I didn’t make up for it," Sanders said. "Yeah, I did great tonight, but I feel like that’s something I need to work on. We work on ball security a lot, so I feel like that was a [missed assignment] for me. Having my team there for me, that was a down play for me. Making great plays after that helped me."

Arkansas divider

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