davis wade stadium
Saturday's game between Mississippi State and Arkansas features two teams headed in different directions. Mississippi State remained undefeated last week with a 45-31 win over Kentucky. While Arkansas looked good in a win vs UAB last week, they are still searching for their first conference win in two seasons.
Don't be fooled by that 0-4 conference record. The Hogs have given three of those SEC teams all they wanted. They had a 14 point lead over Texas A&M in the fourth quarter and only lost by one point to the mighty Crimson Tide. Arkansas is bound to break through sooner or later, but who knows when that will be. Could it be this weekend in Starkville? Let's see how the teams match up.
If Arkansas has anything going for them, it's their ginormous offensive line. Everyone knows their bread and butter is running the football. However, when you look at the numbers, their rushing stats have a pretty big drop off from non conference to SEC games. Against four non SEC foes, the Razorbacks are averaging 354 rushing yards per game. Against the four SEC teams they've played, that number drops to 163. Granted, three of those games were against top 10 opponents.
The duo of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins has been phenomenal. Williams ranks third in the league with 104 rushing ypg, and Collins is not far behind at 93 rushing ypg. The top two rushers from both teams actually lead the SEC in rushing touchdowns. Williams ties with Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson for first with 10 touchdowns, and Collins is second with nine.
The bad news for Arkansas is the Mississippi State defense has been pretty solid stopping the run. They give up only 118 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. The only teams that have had success running on MSU are teams that have running quarterbacks. Brandon Allen is not a major threat to burn you on the ground, so the Dogs should be able to shut down this rushing attack.
With the way Patrick Towles torched the Bulldog secondary last week, Arkansas may test their luck throwing the ball. They've only gained right at 200 yards through the air all season, but they've proved they're not afraid to throw it in SEC games. Something I found interesting was the fact that they only averaged 18 passing attempts in non conference games, and 35 passing attempts in SEC games.
Arkansas has been impressive overall on offense this year. This game just doesn't set up well for them with their strength being what the MSU defense defends best. The biggest obstacle they will have to overcome is the depth of the Bulldog defensive line. Geoff Collins plays 8-10 guys every game so it's hard to wear them down. Arkansas has proved they don't have the depth yet to finish a game in the fourth quarter, and the last thing they want is Mississippi State's defense living in their backfield late in the game.
If Mississippi State can get off to an early lead and force Arkansas to have to throw the ball, it will be a long day for the Hogs. They're not capable of winning a shootout against an offense like Mississippi State's. It just won't happen.
As much as the Arkansas run game is hyped up, Mississippi State's has been a lot better. They average 273 rushing yards per game. Yes, that's only 15 more yards a game than Arkansas, but the difference comes in conference play. MSU is averaging 283 yards as compared to the Razorback's 163.
Running back Josh Robinson leads all SEC players with 127 yards a game, and Dak is not far behind with 95 yards a game. As we mentioned above, they both share the SEC lead with 10 rushing touchdowns.
As good as the running game has been, the story of the season continues to be balance. Only 15 yards a game separate the difference from pass and run for Mississippi State. It was even more balanced than that before that Kentucky game last week when Mississippi State ran wild. Mississippi State ranks first in the conference in total yards per game with 531.
Don't think for a second that Arkansas doesn't have a chance to come to Starkville and slow down the SEC's best offense, though. Their defense is so much improved from last year, as evidenced by the 14 points given up to Alabama. That game was at home, but that's still very impressive no matter where the game was played.
Arkansas hasn't had a clear weakness on defense, but the secondary has struggled some in SEC games. It will be interesting to see what gameplan MSU will bring offensively. Even with the amount of yardage, they got away from the run too much at times last week against Kentucky.
The passing game hasn't been as sharp the last two times out against Auburn and Kentucky. Dak and the receivers need a game to get back on track. Another thing to keep an eye on is the return of Jameon Lewis. He was more of a decoy against Kentucky and wasn't at 100 percent. If he is back healthy this week, that will be huge for the offense.
All in all, I'm just glad this is a home game for Mississippi State. With the way Arkansas is playing good teams close this year, going to their place would be dangerous. As long as MSU can limit the turnovers and slow down the Arkansas run game, they should win by two touchdowns. They match up better with Arkansas than any SEC team they've faced up to this point. But we all know this is the SEC and any team can win on any given Saturday. At the end of the day, coming out with a W is all that matters. Whether it's by one point or 30, keep grinding out victories and keep the hopes of an SEC West Championship alive.
Numbers to Know
Average weight of Arkansas' offensive line. These guys are huge --they outweigh every NFL offensive line by at least four pounds across the board--, and they have been paving the way for a really, really good rushing offense for the Razorbacks. That offense produced two 1,000-yard rushers (well, almost. one had 900) last year, and both guys returned this year and are on pace for even more yardage. The Hogs will live and die by the run, so MSU will have to rotate in plenty of big men to deal with the mammoth Ozarkian front and to hopefully shut down that vaunted rushing offense.
Josh Robinson's yards per game average, which is tops in the SEC. He also leads the conference in total rushing yards (887) and is tied for the lead for touchdowns (10). Josh is second in the conference in yards per rush average at 7.33, although the only person in front of him has 91 less carries. Needless to say that his numbers are nearly video game-like, and needless to say the Bulldogs need to continue to focus first on the ground game --and Josh specifically-- to hopefully find success against the Hogs on Saturday.
The number of upcoming games that matter right now. We talked about this earlier in the week, but for now, the only game to focus in on and worry about is against Arkansas. When you're new to a higher ranking like we are, there can be a tendency to start looking ahead to what big roadblocks lie in wait between us and the ultimate goal. For MSU, though, the focus needs to be on the only game that matters right now: Arkansas.