By LEE ADAMS
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Mississippi State's offensive struggles continued on Saturday and that's never a good situation when it comes to playing against the nation's sixth-ranked team.
The Bulldogs gained only 211 yards on 63 plays, while the Tyler Wilson led Arkansas Razorbacks had a big 539-yard game.
That combination hurt the Bulldogs as they fell 44-17 to the Razorbacks at War Memorial Stadium.
"That's probably collectively as bad as we've played since I've been the coach," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "That falls on my shoulders of making sure we have a better performance out there on the field."
State (5-6 overall, 1-6 Southeastern Conference) knew Arkansas (10-1, 6-1) had potential to put up big numbers as it had scored over 40 points in two consecutive games leading into Saturday's contest. The Bulldogs knew they would have to be able to score to hang with them, but that didn't happen.
"We just couldn't get anything going," said MSU starting quarterback Tyler Russell. "You play an offense like that, you have to score and we couldn't do it. We did a poor job of running our offense (Saturday)."
The offensive struggles were magnified on a fourth and inches play that Mullen chose to go for in the first half and Vick Ballard was hit for a loss turning the ball over on the MSU 26-yard line. The field position was such when the call to go for it on fourth down was made that it caused numerous questions to be raised in the minds of fans.
"We're an aggressive team, have an aggressive mindset and I want our players to have an aggressive mindset," said Mullen. "You think you should be able to get a foot, but looking back, I don't like my play call, I don't mind my decision to go for it right there."
When the Bulldogs offense was able to score, it was when redshirt freshman signal caller Dylan Favre was in the game. Favre rushed for one touchdown and threw for another. His rushing touchdown was set up by a 52-yard fumble return by Fletcher Cox midway through the second quarter. Cox also had a blocked field goal earlier to keep the Razorbacks lead at 14-3. Cox's fumble return that set up Favre's touchdown was huge at the time as it gave MSU some much needed momentum and pulled them within four points.
Despite his big game Cox wasn't impressed by his stats.
"It's not an individual game," said Cox. "We have to come out as a team and play at a high level. (Saturday) we fell off and we'll get in the film room in the morning and get ready for next week."
One thing Cox did seem impressed with was the play of Arkansas' Wilson who finished the day with 365 passing yards and three passing touchdowns.
“He is an NFL guy," said Cox. "He can get rid of the ball quick. When he feels pressure, he is going to get rid of the ball.”
Even though Cox and the defense seemed to be picked apart by WIlson and the Razorback offense, Mullen feels they did some things correctly.
"At times, we played some really good red zone defense," said Mullen. "We bent and we bent a lot and gave up way too many yards, but in the red zone, we did make some plays."
MSU defensive coordinator Chris WIlson realizes his defense didn't play to their potential, but credits the Razorbacks for playing to theirs.
"Arkansas is a really good football team," said Wilson. "Wilson was able to make a lot of throws, but we didn't didn't get off the field, we didn't tackle as well as we should have. Give those guys a lot of credit, but I'm disappointed in how we executed at times."
The offensive woes seemed to hit the hardest in the third quarter when the Bulldogs went three and out on every drive. At the end of the quarter, the Bulldogs number of three and outs matched their number of first downs.
"I'm disappointed in our execution and disappointed in myself," said Mullen. "We have to play better. We just weren't executing very well at all, and we have to be sharper and crisper in throwing the football and we didn't do that (Saturday)."
The loss keeps the Bulldogs one win shy of being bowl eligible with one game remaining. That game, of course, is the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss.
Mullen announced that Russell would be the starter for the Egg Bowl, which takes place next Saturday at 6 p.m, but bowl eligibility doesn't seem to be his focus.
"To me, the Egg Bowl is the most important thing," said Mullen. "If it means a bowl game, fantastic. If it doesn't, fantastic. It's about winning that game as it's always been since I took this job."