Vandy falls just short of Hogs
NASHVILLE -- Vanderbilt's bid to upset Arkansas for the second year in a row came up just short when Bryant Hahnfeldt missed a 48-yard field goal with 55 seconds to play to allow the Razorbacks to escape with a 21-19 victory Saturday.
The Commodores kept the vaunted Arkansas rushing game in check, allowing 170 yards on 39 attempts, holding Darren McFadden to just 71 yards.
Vanderbilt's rushing attack. meanwhile. was at its season best as Chris Nickson, Cassen Jackson-Garrison and Jared Hawkins combined to double their previous best effort by accounting for 240 yards.
"If you get the running game going, it opens up a lot of things," Vandy coach Bobby Johnson said. "I was very pleased to see the running game pick up."
Razorback freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain picked up the slack for the running game by completing 13-of-20 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns.
Vandy got on the board first by driving 87 yards in nine plays, matching their longest scoring drive of the season as Hawkins provided a spark when he broke off a 41-yard run from deep in Commodore territory.
Nickson topped off the drive when he crossed the goal line for the first rushing touchdown of his young career from 7 yards out.
"That was one of our goals coming into this game," Nickson said. "We wanted to better execute the running game and we feel like we met the challenge today."
Mustain came right back and guided the Razorbacks to a touchdown in their opening drive, capped by a 56-yard pass to wideout Marcus Monk to tie the score at 7-all.
Nickson connected with Jackson-Garrison out of the backfield for a 9-yard touchdown pass at the 6:44 mark of the second quarter to finish a 67-yard drive. The point after failed due to a poor snap and the play proved to be a key factor in the outcome of the game.
Arkansas answered by driving 81 yards on eight plays. Mustain's second scoring pass of the day covered 21 yards to running back Felix Jones. Jeremy Davis' kick sailed true for a 14-13 advantage at the half.
The Razorbacks went up 21-13 late in the third quarter aided by a non-call by the referees on a botched throw from Mustain to McFadden in the backfield that was ruled incomplete. Replays appeared to show that the throw was a lateral, which would have turned the ball over to Vanderbilt.
"I couldn't tell you where he released the ball or where the receiver was or even where the ball went," Johnson said. "When they call something like that incomplete, it is not reviewable."
The ruling left the Razorbacks with a third-and-10 at the Arkansas 48, which they promptly converted.
Arkansas continued its march to the end zone culminated by a 15-yard pitch-and-catch from Mustain to tight end Ben Cleveland.
Vanderbilt scored at the 13:18 mark of the fourth on a 15-yard scamper by Nickson aided by excellent running by Jackson-Garrison, who picked up two first downs covering 9 and 16 yards along the way.
The Commodores lined up for the two-point try but Nickson's pass was knocked down at the line of scrimmage to keep the score at 21-19 Arkansas.
Vanderbilt's defense got the ball back on a three-and-out and tuned it over to the offense at their own 28 with 4:44 left to play.
Nickson and George Smith hooked up for a huge 7-yard pass completion on fourth-and-three from the 35 and Vanderbilt was able to sustain the drive.
Nickson threw 16 yards to receiver Marlon White to take the ball to the Arkansas 39.
Two incompletions later, Earl Bennett was stopped 2 yards short of a first down at the Razorback 32.
After a Johnson time out, the field goal unit was sent onto the field for the 48-yard attempt which would have matched the previous long for sophomore Brian Hahnfeldt.
Hahnfeldt's kick was dead center but fell just short, setting off a massive Razorback celebration.
"It was going through all the way; it was straight down the middle the whole way," Hahnfeldt said. "As soon as I hit, I was celebrating. It was going straight through. Then I saw the wind hit it."
Vanderbilt plays host to Tennessee State on Saturday at 6.