NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UofA) - The No. 8 University of Arkansas football team won 31-28 against Vanderbilt on Saturday, taking its fourth straight contest. The game held inside Vanderbilt Stadium was highlighted by a 94-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown from linebacker Jerry Franklin which tied the game at 28-28 early in the fourth quarter. Zach Hocker kicked his third field goal of the game with 6:53 to play to take the lead and give Arkansas the victory.
Quarterback Tyler Wilson finished the game with 316 yards on 27 completions and one touchdown. It is his third 300-yard passing game of the season and fourth of his career. His favorite target of the day came in the form of Jarius Wright, who reeled in 10 catches for 135 yards and one touchdown and tight end Chris Gragg, who finished the game with five catches for 62 yards, good for second on the team.
The Razorbacks first touchdown came on their second possession of the game. Wilson was perfect on his first seven passes of the game and connected with five different receivers before getting inside the five-yard line. From there, sophomore quarterback Brandon Mitchell rushed in the remaining four yards for the score, his third of the season and first on the ground. It was a 12-play drive that went 88 yards and tied the game at 7-7 with 4:02 left to play in the first quarter.
Vanderbilt scored 14 straight points on two of its three next possessions as the game went into the second quarter, but the Razorbacks came up big before halftime, once again, as Wilson stood tall in the pocket and drove his team 62 yards in 1:34 to tally seven more points. Wilson attempted eight straight passes on the scoring drive and completed four of them with the final one going to Wright from 11 yards out. The reception by Wright was his seventh of the year. Hocker added the extra point to cut the Commodore lead to 21-14 as the two teams headed into the locker room.
With the momentum in its favor, Arkansas' defense made a huge stop at the start of the second half. On the second play from scrimmage from the Vanderbilt 46 yard line, the Commodores tried a pass over the middle from its running back, Zac Stacy, but Razorback safety Eric Bennett made a leaping interception at the 32-yard line to give UA possession. The pick by Bennett was his third of the season and third straight game with an interception.
Looking to capitalize on the big defensive play, Arkansas inched closer to the Vanderbilt lead as Hocker kicked his ninth field goal of the season from 36 yards out and the Commodores lead was cut to 21-17 with 11:55 to play in the third quarter.
Possessions were traded for the next four drives before Vanderbilt scored again off a Stacy 62-yard rushing touchdown, but the Razorbacks responded with an 11-play 58-yard drive that was, again, finished off by Hocker. The sophomore kicker booted a 50-yard field goal to give Arkansas three more points. The kick was Hocker's second longest of his career. However, the Commodores still led 28-20 with 1:05 to play in the third quarter.
The game-changer came on Vanderbilt's next possession. After the Commodores had marched down the field to the Razorback 5-yard line, Stacy fumbled the handoff from quarterback Jordan Rodgers and the ball was then scooped up by UA linebacker Jerry Franklin and returned it 94 yards for the score. The last time Arkansas returned a fumble for a touchdown was in 2009 when Franklin did the same thing against Texas A&M for 86 yards. Arkansas went for two after the score and Wilson found Wright in the end zone, once again to tie the game at 28-28 with 12:09 to play in the game.
The Razorbacks nearly returned another fumble for a touchdown on Vandy's next possession as Jerico Nelson picked the ball up from the Commodore 27-yard line and tried to dive in for the score. As Nelson's ball hand hit the ground, the football came loose in the end zone and Vanderbilt recovered, starting their next drive on the 20. Even though the defense was back out on the field, the Razorbacks stood tall on the ensuing possession and forced the three-and-out.
The next UA drive started on its own 35-yard line and the team looked to take its first lead of the day. Wilson completed three passes and running back Ronnie Wingo Jr. rushed for 19 yards on three carries to get the team within striking distance for Hocker. From the Vanderbilt 25-yard line, Hocker kicked his third field goal of the game to give Arkansas the 31-28 lead with 6:53 to play. The Commodores had a chance to tie the game on a field goal from 27 yards out, but missed it in the final seconds to give the Razorbacks the win.
The UA football team returns to Fayetteville next week to face South Carolina at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.