Arkansas football survives against Missouri State, Bobby Petrino with comeback win

Christina Long
Fort Smith Times Record

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football was dangerously close to becoming the latest upset in a college football season full of them. But the No. 11 Razorbacks escaped with a 38-27 win over FCS Missouri State on Saturday night at Razorback Stadium.

Arkansas (3-0) had a poor first half, struggled with turnovers and gave up big plays on defense. But fourth-quarter heroics from punt returner Bryce Stephens and a series of sacks by the defense got the Razorbacks past former coach Bobby Petrino and Missouri State (2-1).

Bryce Stephens' heroics

Arkansas was trailing by three in the fourth quarter when Missouri State was forced to punt. Stephens, who had already had a pair of solid returns blemished by teammates' penalties, made the play of the game.

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He returned the punt 82 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. It was the redshirt freshman's first career score and the longest punt return by Arkansas since Joe Adams in 2010.

Turnover troubles throughout

Arkansas' first four drives were a series of unfortunate events. The Razorbacks went three-and-out on two of their first four possessions, and sandwiched in between the punts were two fumbles.

Arkansas entered the game having lost one fumble in its first two games. But after quarterback KJ Jefferson fumbled on an 8-yard run and Raheim Sanders coughed the ball up into the end zone for a touchback, Arkansas has now lost three.

Even worse, Missouri State turned the back-to-back fumbles into 10 points before the Razorbacks got on the board.

Arkansas had found some life in its offense late in the first half, and the Razorbacks received the kickoff to start the second. That opening drive, however, ended with Jefferson's first interception of the season. Missouri State linebacker Tahj Chambers came up with the pick off the hands of Arkansas tight end Trey Knox and put the Bears up three in the turnover margin.

Passing game stands out alongside Sanders' big game

When Arkansas was successful on offense, it was often in the passing game.

Wide receiver Matt Landers made some chunk plays throughout. He had four receptions of at least 18 yards, the longest of which was a 47-yard gain.

Landers' seven receptions were a career-high. His previous best came last season when he was at Toledo and caught five passes against Akron. Against Missouri State, he also racked up a career-best 123 receiving yards.

Jadon Haselwood had a strong game, too, with a career-high 86 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Sanders, too, contributed to the passing game. His 79-yard touchdown run came after a shovel pass and brought the Razorbacks within 3. He finished with his third straight 100-plus-yard rushing performance with 167 and 242 total yards.

Up next

Arkansas will face No. 22 Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, next Saturday (6 p.m. CT, ESPN).

Christina Long covers the Arkansas Razorbacks for the Southwest Times Record and USA Today Network. You can follow her on Twitter @christinalong00 or email her at clong@swtimes.com.