STARKVILLE, Mississippi (AP) — Scrambling to his left with two Arkansas defenders in pursuit, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott was in serious trouble.
A few seconds later, what looked like a broken play turned into a 69-yard touchdown heave to a wide open Fred Ross, and the top-ranked Bulldogs had their go-ahead touchdown in a 17-10 victory over Arkansas on Saturday night.
Prescott threw for a career-high 331 yards and a touchdown to help Mississippi State (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 1 CFP) claw out of an early 10-0 hole and win its 11th straight game dating to last season.
It wasn’t the prettiest performance for Prescott — who threw two interceptions — but he made clutch throws during crucial moments in the second half. The completion to Ross with 13:21 remaining in the fourth quarter was by far the most important.
“Our guys are finding ways to win,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “That’s all that matters.”
Josh Robinson — the SEC’s leading rusher coming into the night — ran for just 64 yards, but caught six passes for a career-high 110 yards.
Arkansas had two promising drives in the fourth quarter, but neither resulted in points. Will Redmond intercepted a pass in the end zone with 15 seconds left to end the Razorbacks’ final chance.
The Razorbacks (4-5, 0-5) have lost 17 straight conference games dating to 2012. It was another frustrating night for coach Bret Bielema’s bunch, which again played a close game against an SEC opponent without any payoff.
“At this point, it’s almost numbing to be so close and not be able to come out on top with one of these opportunities,” Bielema said. “We’ll take the bye week and get a little bit better, get healthy, and nobody will attack these last three games like the Arkansas Razorbacks.”
Arkansas’ Brandon Allen completed 22 of 43 passes for 238 yards and the interception in the final seconds. Alex Collins had 93 yards rushing.
But the Razorbacks’ vaunted running game never completely got on track. Arkansas was averaging 258.9 yards rushing in eight games, but managed just 163 on Saturday.
Mississippi State has won 11 straight games, the second-longest streak in the country behind Florida State. Prescott is the first Mississippi State player to throw for 300 yards since 2007. He completed 18 of 27 passes.
Arkansas led 10-0 early in the second quarter on Adam McFain’s 36-yard field goal and Collins’ 1-yard touchdown run. The Razorbacks looked little like a team that hadn’t won an SEC game in two years, methodically moving the ball down the field.
Mississippi State struggled to get started. The Bulldogs had three turnovers in the first half.
Prescott wore a protective boot on his left foot during interview sessions throughout the week leading up to the game, but insisted that it was only a precautionary measure.
That might have been a little gamesmanship. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior didn’t look comfortable early, gingerly moving in the pocket. He threw two interceptions in the first half and didn’t even attempt to run the ball until the second quarter, when it became obvious that the offense was struggling without that threat.
“He knows we have great confidence in him,” Mullen said. “He expects to make plays.”
The Bulldogs finally broke through with Robinson’s 3-yard touchdown with 7:30 remaining in the second quarter to pull to 10-7. Prescott and Robinson combined for 35 yards rushing on the drive.
It didn’t exactly open the floodgates, but the drive did establish some semblance of rhythm.
“At halftime, we just had to relax,” Prescott said. “We know we’re a high-powered offense and that we’re always only one play away from scoring.”
Robinson’s play was crucial throughout the night. He came into the game with just 12 catches for 159 yards over the first seven games, but was Prescott’s favorite target for much of Saturday.
The Bulldogs tied it at 10 with 3:35 remaining in the third quarter on Evan Sobiesk’s 37-yard field goal.
Arkansas had a chance to take the lead early in the fourth, but McFain’s 42-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Barely a minute later, Prescott’s long pass found Ross with no defender in sight, and the Bulldogs had the breakout play they had desperately sought the entire evening.
“The thing about this team is we don’t have to have a pep talk,” Robinson said. “We’ve got a veteran squad and we’ve just got to put together a series.”