Mississippi State rolls into Fayetteville Saturday feeling good about itself coming off an impressive win over Kentucky.
The Bulldogs are 5-3 and ranked 17th. In other words, we’ve got ‘em exactly where we want ‘em.
Last week’s “mandated” exhibition aside, the Hogs haven’t had a real chance to feel good about themselves in a while, three straight SEC losses capped by that inexplicable outcome against Auburn.
As much as any this season, Saturday’s game will represent a true chess match as Arkansas DC Barry Odom tries to duplicate his success against Mike Leach’s “air raid” approach. Will Rogers is completing 75 percent of his passes. His system teaches receivers to “find the green,” and through a short- to medium-range attack, MSU is utilizing a ball control without much of an actual run game.
Can the Hogs simply drop eight and keep the game in front of them? Can they make crucial third down stops? UK dropped eight last week and gave up 31 to the Bulldogs. The swarming Hogs we saw in September need to return. After some time to rest and heal up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an energized D. (Although losing Jalen Catalon for the season is a devastating loss.)
Meanwhile, the MSU defense is playing well, giving up just 89 rushing yards a game. But outside of Alabama, I don’t think the Bulldogs have seen a run game as good as the Hogs. And the Dogs don’t generate a lot of pressure on opposing QBs. They didn’t have a sack last week and just one TFL.
I think we can score on ‘em. But how will Leach approach us after Odom’s now-template approach confounded his offense a year ago, holding it to 14 points?
MSU is a blown call away from 6-2. The box score may indicate a loss to Memphis earlier this year, but anyone who watched the game or has seen the clip of the controversial punt return knows the Bulldogs dominated that game. But the Hogs are rested and got back some confidence of their own playing UAPB.
Can we make those timely, crucial stops on D like we did last year? And can we run the ball? As for the latter, I think we will — we’ve done it all year. Arkansas is averaging 249 yards a game on the ground, second in the SEC to Ole Miss’ 250. That’s against what most considered the toughest schedule in the nation.
I think we’re the better team, but Mississippi State is really hot and we’ve lost our last three SEC games. We’re due to force some big turnovers and might need ‘em to pull this one out.
The Hogs remain ahead of schedule in Sam Pittman’s rebuild, but three of the final four are realistically winnable, and we don’t need to lose at home again. A win Saturday could propel the Hogs to a hot finish that matches the hot start.