Croom, who chased one official to midfield after a bizarre ending to the first half, said angrily, “There was no officiating out there. I’ll probably get fined. I’ll pay it -- whatever it is.”
He was upset because he thought Bulldogs receiver McKinley Scott got out of bounds after a 49-yard reception to the UA 1-yard line late in the first half; because MSU received a delay-of-game penalty afterwards; because the clock ran out before quarterback Omarr Conner could spike the ball; and because of other items he cited.
“We’ve been fighting uphill all year and we haven’t gotten a break,” Croom said. “I don’t know why we can’t be given a fumble right there in front of us when the ball comes out. I want to know why (defensive lineman) Willie Evans’ jersey is being pulled all day and we don’t get holding calls. And then we get called for a push-off. Maybe we need to teach that technique.”
Some Bulldogs fans thought Scott got into the end zone on his long reception.
“All I saw was the orange pylon,” Scott said. “(MSU receiver) Will Prosser said I got it, but I don’t really know.”
Croom, noting a number of prospects who visited Starkville on Saturday, said, “I think a bunch of them will be wearing our jersey next year. The officials can do any kind of way they want and we’ll beat them, too. We want to find guys who want to come to Mississippi State. Those that don’t -- we’ll see them down the road and we’ll beat them.”
Croom said the 25-second clock has been administered inconsistently this season.
But Conner admitted, “I was (celebrating and) fired up, because I thought McKinley had made a touchdown. Then our snapper ran on the field and we didn’t have time to put everyone in the right place.”
Croom said the officials wouldn’t let Conner take a final snap before the first half expired, but Conner said, “I saw the coaches signaling me to kill the clock, but when I said, ‘Hut,’ (with three seconds left), our center couldn’t hear me.”
Croom did credit Arkansas, its coach Houston Nutt and, in particular, quarterback Matt Jones.
“Matt Jones is a bona fide winner,” Croom said. “Not taking anything away from Arkansas, but Matt converted a lot of third downs. I’m glad I didn’t see him full-speed. He’ll play quarterback in pro ball, because this guy is a warrior and he knows how to win. I told our young players that someday they’ll be playmakers like that.”
Bulldogs nose tackle Ronald Fields said, “We worked on the option all week, but Arkansas kinda caught us off guard. Jones didn’t run much. We expected him to run.”
Fields also noted, “Arkansas went for it on fourth down a lot. That caught us off guard, because we weren’t ready.”
MSU receiver Tee Milons, who caught a 26-yard touchdown pass, said Arkansas’ blocked field goal that turned into a 76-yard TD return by Pierre Brown was a back-breaker for the Bulldogs.
“We had kept fighting and kept fighting, but that blocked kick took us two steps back,” Milons said.
Croom said, “That was a critical deal. There’s no excuse for getting a field goal blocked. It was poor blocking, poor kicking, everything.”
Jerious Norwood, who gained 109 yards on 23 carries for Mississippi State, said, “It seemed like Arkansas had the ball the whole second quarter.”
Asked about being stopped from the UA 1-yard line late in the first half, Norwood said, “It was crazy down there. Things happened so fast. I thought Scott scored. We didn’t have enough time. Arkansas stacked the left side of the line. It just happens like that sometimes.”
Bulldogs tailback Fred Reid said Croom told the team at halftime, ‘Keep playing, no matter what the calls are.’ Coach Croom knows we’re going to fight until the last seconds.”
Conner said, “We’re getting good and gooder. Today we tried to establish the passing game. It’s going to be fun around here next year, and I just want to be a part of it.”
Croom ordered his players back on the field after the game, apparently so they would have to watch Arkansas celebrate.
MSU director of operations Rockey Felker, a former UA assistant, praised Jones, saying, “He really passed the ball well.”