STARKVILLE, Miss. – One week was all it took to see that the Mississippi State version of the Air Raid offense won't always have clear skies to fly in. And shockingly, it was the team that'd previously lost 20 straight Southeastern Conference games providing all the turbulence.
The No. 16 Bulldogs were upset by Arkansas 21-14 on Saturday. It marked the Razorbacks' first SEC win since 2017 and sent Mississippi State crashing back to reality after its own upset victory over defending national champion LSU just seven days prior.
It was, by any measure, a frustrating day for the Bulldogs (1-1). Arkansas (1-1) used a zone defense to hamper quarterback K.J. Costello and the MSU offense at every turn. The Razorbacks picked off three Costello passes and forced a pair of turnover on downs. Two of the interceptions came in Arkansas territory with one accounting for the game's opening score: a 69-yard return that put the Razorbacks up 7-0. It was an omen of the costly mistakes to follow.
"I really didn't feel like it was Arkansas as much as ourselves," Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach said. "I want to give (Arkansas) all the credit in the world. They deserve the credit. I thought they played harder than we did. I also thought they played one play after the next a little better than we did. I think some of our inconsistency was revealed. But you know, Arkansas gets credit for the win for sure but I thought a lot of our wounds were self-inflicted."
The critical gaffes began with the Arkansas pick-six. They continued on, one after the other, throughout the night for the Bulldogs. Three down the stretch in the fourth quarter were especially costly. Fighting to tie the game, twice the Bulldogs got inside the Arkansas 15-yard line. Both times, MSU got to 4th-and-short situations and couldn't convert.
"I wished I'd have kicked (the field goal) both times in hindsight," Leach said.
Instead, the Bulldogs got no points on either trip. Later in the fourth, State got another chance. After State's defense – which gave up just 101 second-half yards – got another of its several big stops, Bulldogs punt returner Jaden Walley muffed a punt that gave the football back to Arkansas. By the time MSU got the ball back, only 25 seconds remained and State couldn't put anything together and suffered the loss.
The defeat comes in a game that, statistically, was in State's favor. The Bulldogs outgained Arkansas 400-275 and had the football for nearly 13 minutes of game time more than the Razorbacks. Yet MSU couldn't find a way to overcome the Arkansas pick-six and a pair of first-half Felipe Franks touchdown passes to wide-open receivers – the only major blemishes against the State defense on this night.
The Bulldogs perhaps lost more than just the game as well. Star running back Kylin Hill had to leave the game in the first quarter after taking a big hit on State's first offensive series. He never returned to action and was seen later in the game on the sideline without his shoulder pads. Leach didn't provide an update on Hill's condition postgame when asked.
If Hill is out for any length of time, it of course puts a bit of a knock in the engine of the Air Raid. Nevertheless, even without Hill for essentially all of Saturday, MSU had its chances to escape with a win. It didn't happen.
Many entered Saturday's affair believing the Bulldogs could make short work of a team with a nearly three-year losing streak in conference action. Leach pondered afterwards if that thought process might have been prevalent amongst his own team.
"We've got to be full-throttle," Leach said. "We can't make judgments about games and opponents and stuff like that. I felt like we did some of that. As coaches, we tried, but we didn't reach it. We didn't get the message across ... Arkansas came here with the determination to take this game away from us and they did."
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