Arkansas should have little trouble pointing up points, thanks to quarterback Tyler Wilson and hoards of talent around him. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Yes, there will be flair and fireworks. Mississippi State defensive coordinator Chris Wilson will have a few sleepless nights as he prepares for the Bulldogs' Nov. 19 game against Arkansas.
Razorbacks' coach Bobby Petrino will pull the strings and push the right buttons on offense. Despite limited playing time last season, quarterback Tyler Wilson made college football fans take notice in his talents. Led by Joe Adams and Gregg Childs, the receiving corps features a few NFL-caliber performers. Ronnie Wingo will still churn out plenty of yards even though Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson succumbed to injuries.
But for all the offensive pop, Arkansas decided to get a defense. And a rather good one, at that. The Hogs finished the year No. 36 in total defense and they could crack the top-30 as coordinator Willy Robinson's crew returns seven starters.
Quietly, the Razorbacks have assembled respectable depth across the defense, highlighted by good line. Ends Jake Bequette and Tank Wright make up one of the best pass rushing duos in the conference and will give the Bulldogs' tackles fits. Bequette, a third-generation Hog, and Wright combined for 13 sacks last year. Arkansas will rotate a bevy tackles (Bryan Jones, Robert Thomas, Alfred Davis, D.D. Jones, etc.) which will test the Mississippi State interior. Starters like Quintin Saulsberry and Tobias Smith are quality players but their backups are green and glaring question marks. Arkansas ' ability to field fresh legs through the game means Vick Ballard will have to work even harder for his yards.
The secondary, which is pushed daily by the Razorbacks' talented wide outs, is led by safety Tramain Thomas. Thomas, a ball-hawk with four interceptions last year, will assist Jerry Mitchell, Darius Winston and Isaac Madison in coverage. At 6-1, 214-pounds, Mitchell will provide some physicality at the corner position but he is average matching up one-on-one.
It should be a good chess match for Dan Mullen to see where he can position the Bulldogs' wide receivers in open space and let them make plays. Last season, Chris Relf "torched" Arkansas for 224 yards (hey, that's MSU-record book worthy), so it wouldn't surprise if Relf was able to pass for slightly better statistics this year. But he'll be on the move because of the Hogs' pass rush.
As stated earlier, it's a given the Razorbacks are going to put up points. But for the Bulldogs to have any success, they will have to disrupt Wilson in the pocket, allowing corners Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield to capitalize on mistakes. That "disruption" is going to fall on the shoulders of ends Sean Ferguson and Shane McCardell. Their talent level is lacking but they do catch a break that Arkansas is breaking in two new tackles with the graduation of DeMarcus Love and Ray Dominguez. The Hogs experimented with different combinations in the spring but nothing stuck. The production of defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd on the interior could make or break the game for the Bulldogs.