FAYETTEVILLE — On his biggest rushing night of his Razorbacks career Rawleigh Williams rushed ahead to the Razorbacks’ last SEC challenge.
In Arkansas’ 58-42 SEC West success over the Mississippi State Bulldogs last Saturday night in Starkville, Miss., sophomore running back Williams had just rushed a career 205 yards, ran a career high four touchdowns and threw his first-ever touchdown pass.
Naturally Williams was the Razorbacks’ radio network star of the game interviewed postgame by Chuck Barrett.
Williams seized upon a Barrett question regarding how he keeps an even keel to assert that the Razorbacks must seize their last chance to break their 2016 SEC pattern.
Now 7-4 overall and 3-4 in the SEC, the Razorbacks, with a nonconference rout over Alcorn State in Little Rock sandwiched between their opening SEC West losses to Texas A&M and Alabama, have been win a game, lose a game, win a game, lose a game since the SEC season began.
Friday’s 1:30 p.m. CBS televised regular season finale against the Missouri Tigers in Columbia, Mo. mark Arkansas’ last SEC chance to win consecutive games.
Coming off a 31-10 victory over Florida on Nov. 5 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks were optimistic that they could defeat LSU on the Nov. 12 Senior Night in Fayetteville.
LSU waxed them, 38-10.
“The SEC is such a tough conference to play in that you know every week you have to come prepared,” Williams said. “After Florida we didn’t prepare as well as we should have against LSU. We can’t let that happen this week. We have to finish the year out strong.”
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema commented that mentally the Razorbacks must do a lot in a little amount of time prepping off coming home from a Saturday night road game for the next game on Friday instead of the customary Saturday.
“Our coaches are going to have the whole day (Sunday) to game plan Mizzou,” Bielema said during Saturday’s postgame in Starkville. “I’m going to meet with the team tomorrow night real brief and give them a day to recover. And then Monday night, we usually have Mondays off, we will have a short 12-period practice and get a chance to get back on the road.”
Arkansas practices through Wednesday in Fayetteville and flies Thanksgiving Day to Columbia, Mo.
Williams stunned Mississippi State from his second carry on. Rawleigh ran three yards on Arkansas’ first play from scrimmage then silenced State’s cowbells ringing crowd with a 72-yard touchdown run on the very next play.
Williams said he envisioned at last Tuesday’s practice in Fayetteville the touchdown he ran on Saturday’s second play in Starkville.
“Man, we had been practicing that all week and it was open all week against our scout team and I was very excited to run it,” Williams said. “ When we called it, we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s try to get it this time.’ That’s what happened. It was crazy. We knew it was coming and the hole opened up huge and I tried to do my part and score.”
Williams laughed about not remotely throwing an Austin Allen spiral like Arkansas’ quarterback but somehow getting his fourth-down 1-yard jump pass touchdown delivered to Austin Cantrell for the first career touchdown for the redshirt freshman tight end from Roland, Okla.
“That was a lot of fun,” Williams said. “We had been practicing that for awhile. I thought he was going to call it the play before and then it was fourth down and Austin (Allen) comes to the huddle and says, ‘You’d better throw a good ball.’ So I knew right then he was going to call the play. I was hoping Austin (Cantrell) would get open and he did and it was a touchdown.”
With Williams running 205 yards, freshman running back Devwah Whaley netting 112, freshman T.J. Hammonds 30 on his lone carry while Austin Allen completed 18 of 25 for 303 yards, two touchdown and zero turnovers, the Razorbacks fueled 661 offensive yards.
The offensive line dominated so thoroughly that Toby Baker, Arkansas’ excellent senior punter, never stepped on the field other than to practice.
Yielding 42 points and 533 yards, the Razorback defense obviously didn’t give Bielema the four-quarters game he wanted. But the defense did shut out State in the second quarter while Arkansas scored 24 second-quarter points.
“I think that second quarter became the tale of the game,” Bielema said. “We stayed on track offensively, and held them out in the second quarter. That really ended up being the big difference in the game.”