Here we go with another round of Know Your Opponent. This time we are talking to fellow SBN bloggers Arkansas Expats. Here is what they had to say about the game this weekend. You can check out my answers to their questions as well.
1. Arkansas seems to be a Jekyll and Hyde team this year. They are near the top of the conference offensively, but rank near the bottom (or at the bottom) when it comes to defense. Why is there such a big difference between the two sides of the ball this year?
That's easy: talent.
Obviously everyone knows about Ryan Mallett at QB by now, but even beyond that Arkansas has really good players at every one of the skill positions on offense. Our eight TDs last week against Troy were scored by seven different people, and that's pretty much how it's been all season...lots of points of attack.
Unfortunately for us Hog fans, we don't have the talent on the defensive side to match. There are probably a lot of reasons for this, but the bottom line is that we just aren't as good on that side of the ball.
Also, that talent disparity includes our coaching staff, too. Bobby Petrino is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the game even by his many detractors, and he's lived up to that reputation during his time at Arkansas. Although I'm sure defensive coordinator Willy Robinson generally knows what he's doing, my guess is that he's not in that league.
2. I have seen very little of Arkansas this year. I think the only games I watched was the loss to Alabama and the Georgia game, which I swear was really a couple of PAC-10 teams dressing up as SEC teams. Aside from QB Ryan Mallet, who are the playmakers on offense and defense that Bulldog fans should keep an eye on?
Well, as I was saying in the above answer, we have a lot of threats on offense. You never really know who's going to be the star in any particular game, but I'll start by calling out the receiving corps - WRs Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs and TE D.J. Williams are all really good, and you can count on some big plays by those guys. Our running game struggled in the earlier part of the season, but has improved lately. The starter is Michael Smith, but he's backed up by big back Broderick Green, sophomore Dennis Johnson (who also returns kicks), and freshmen Knile Davis and Ronnie Wingo, Jr.
Also as noted above, we don't have as many playmakers on defense. Malcolm Sheppard anchors our defensive line and will be a key part of our effort to stop Anthony Dixon. LB Jerrico Nelson is also usually in the middle of the action.
3. Mississippi State has never beaten Arkansas on the road (Fayetteville or Little Rock). Why do you think coming to Arkansas is such a tough road game for most teams in the SEC? Is it the travel? The atmosphere? The annoying pig calls?
Hard to say, exactly. Arkansas is pretty unusual this day and age in that we have two home fields. Most games are in Fayetteville, but the general feeling is that Little Rock actually offers more of a home field advantage - it's a louder stadium and the fans tend to be a little rowdier there. (Note: I'm from Little Rock, so there might be some bias in that statement.)
I have no idea what you're referring to by "annoying pig calls". If by some chance you're referring to the mighty "Woo Pig Sooie" Hog call - the greatest fan chant in all of sports - then yes, I'm sure that usually intimidates opponents into submission as well.
4. Give me some of the key matchups that you are looking for this Saturday on offense and defense.
The most important matchup for me will be the Hogs defensive line against Anthony Dixon. I expect Dixon to have a big day, but if he has a huge day Arkansas will be in trouble. Our nightmare scenario is a game where he cranks out about 220 yards and 3 TDs, and leads a bunch of clock-killing drives to keep the ball away from Ryan Mallett and the offense, while also opening up some possibilities in your passing game. If that happens, we're legitimately in trouble.
Next after that will be Ryan Mallett versus your defensive line. If they can constantly get in his face and force him out of his comfort zone then it will be hard to get on track offensively. If he has time to stand back there and find his receivers, then watch out.
5. How do you see this game playing out? Mississippi State is a run-based spread offense, with flashes of a passing game. Arkansas is allowing 132 yards on the ground and is ranked near the bottom in pass defense and total defense. Will the offense just rack up enough points to put the Bulldogs out of reach or will it be a close game that comes down to the last few minutes?
I think this will be a tough game for the Hogs. You guys have just missed out on beating some good teams, and will be fired up to get a step closer to bowl eligibility. I expect a tough, physical game that's close for most of the time. Mallett and the offense are playing really well right now, so they'll put up some points - but I also think Dixon will counter with a big game of his own (at least one 50+ yard TD run is pretty much guaranteed). In the end, though, I think the Hogs' "bend but don't break" defense will keep the Bulldogs out of the end zone enough times to pull out the win.