No. 6 Arkansas rolls, sets up showdown with No. 1 LSU - NBC Sports

No. 6 Arkansas rolls, sets up showdown with No. 1 LSU
Wilson 44-17 rout; Razorbacks next face Tigers with SEC, national title implications
AP
A young Arkansas fan reminds college football about next Friday's big game.
November 20, 2011, 5:11 am

Tyler Wilson made sure Arkansas didn't stumble on its way to Baton Rouge, La. Anything but.

The Razorbacks and their quarterback now have the chance to make their case in the national championship debate.

Wilson had a school-record 32 completions and threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns as the No. 6 Razorbacks made quick work of Mississippi State in a 44-17 win on Saturday.

The win is the seventh straight for Arkansas (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference), which travels to No. 1 LSU next week for a game with conference and national implications. Before the Razorbacks could turn their collective attention to the Tigers, though, they first had to deal with the Bulldogs (5-6, 1-6).

Arkansas did just that - and how.

The Razorbacks outgained Mississippi State 539-211 and scored 30 straight points after the Bulldogs closed within 14-10 in the second quarter. They've now outscored South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi State 137-52 over their last three games in an attempt to crash both the SEC and BCS national title game parties.

"I like the way we're playing," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "I think we're playing really good football.

"... I really like the way we've played the last three games."

Arkansas completed its first undefeated season at home since 1999 with the win in its home away from home, Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium. The win also clinched the school's first back-to-back 10-win seasons since 1988-89 when it was in the Southwest Conference.

All of the history is nice, but it's the current group of comeback Razorbacks who have forced their way into the national picture after being left by the wayside following a 38-14 drubbing at the hands of Alabama on Sept. 24.

After rallying for wins over Texas A&M, Mississippi and Vanderbilt, they now appear on the verge of saving their preseason championship hopes.

"It was really about the leadership from within the team," Petrino said. "The maturity that we have; it's nice to have those 17 seniors that have been through the battles and been on the wrong side and now know how to win games."

Mississippi State continued to struggle against the best the SEC has to offer. All six of the Bulldogs' losses this season have now come against teams currently ranked in the BCS standings, and they are now 2-12 in the SEC West under coach Dan Mullen.

They were held to six three-and-outs by Arkansas, and the quarterback tandem of Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre combined to finish 15 of 31 passing for 127 yards. Mississippi State took the Razorbacks to double overtime last season behind 150 yards from running back Vick Ballard, but the senior was held to 54 yards rushing on 13 carries on Saturday.

"That's probably collectively as bad as we've played I think since I've been the head coach, and that falls on my shoulders," Mullen said. "We need to make sure we have a better performance out there on the field."

Arkansas, meanwhile, had no such offensive problems. Wilson's completion record eclipsed the former mark of 31 completions by Joe Ferguson against Texas A&M in 1971.

The Razorbacks led 14-3 in the first quarter and appeared on their way to another score when Wilson was sacked and fumbled on a third-and-goal. Fletcher Cox returned the fumble 52 yards for the Bulldogs, who closed the lead to 14-10 four plays later on Favre's 5-yard touchdown run.

That was the last of the meaningful highlights for Mississippi State.

Wilson, who finished 32 of 43 passing, started the game with a 20-yard touchdown throw to Cobi Hamilton on the game's opening possession. He then put the Razorbacks up 21-10 in the second quarter with a 32-yard strike to Joe Adams.

The Razorbacks then scored 30 straight points to go up 44-10 after Zach Hocker's third field goal of the game early in the fourth quarter.

"We spread them out a little bit right before halftime," Wilson said. "We just kind of walked the ball down the field at times, it seemed like. It was nice to do that."

Chris Gragg had a career-high 119 yards receiving on eight catches, and Jarius Wright added eight catches for 96 yards. Dennis Johnson also had 98 yards rushing on 14 carries for Arkansas, which entered the game No. 6 in this week's BCS standings.

That was tied for the school's highest mark, and the Razorbacks talked openly this week about the possibility of reaching both the SEC and national title games.

Oklahoma State's loss to Iowa State on Friday night possibly opened the door somewhat for Arkansas, but its best opportunity to impress voters - and the computers - will come Friday against the top-ranked and undefeated Tigers.

"There's no beating around the bush anymore," Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette said. "We've got a huge game on Friday, and we'll have the whole country watching.

"We're playing well right now, so it should be a battle."

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