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Mississippi State vs. Arkansas Game Preview

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Can MSU go on the road and win against a red hot Arkansas team?

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Where

Donald w. reynolds razorback stadium

When

6:00 p.m.

TV

espn

Arkansas (6-4, 4-2) is playing its best football of the season as it welcomes Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3) to Fayetteville for a Saturday night showdown.

The Razorbacks have reeled off four straight wins after getting off to a sluggish 2-4 start. The last two games were the most impressive wins over that four-game stretch as they managed to take down Ole Miss and LSU in back-to-back road games.

It's the Arkansas team most experts expected to see from the start of the season. They were one of the preseason media darlings only to start the season with losses to Toledo and Texas Tech. The talent on offense was always there, and they're finally putting it all together. This is a dangerous team.

MSU, on the other hand, is on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to confidence coming into this one. They have to make sure the blowout loss to Alabama doesn't escalate into a second straight defeat. In other words, they can't let what happened to LSU last week happen to them. The Dogs have to be motivated and ready to play.

It's unknown territory for Dan Mullen. MSU has normally played Arkansas in Little Rock. The trip to Fayetteville will be the first one since 2003, when the Jackie Sherrill coached Bulldogs suffered a 52-6 defeat.

Where do they rank?

MSU offense                               Arkansas defense

Points per game- 31.8 (51st)          Points per game- 27.9 (73rd)

Total YPG- 438.4 (40th)                   Total YPG- 404.7 (77th)

Passing YPG- 297.1 (21st)                 Passing YPG- 282.3 (113th)

Rushing YPG- 143.1 (99th)              Rushing YPG- 122.4 (20th)

Arkansas Offense                    MSU defense

Points per game- 34.4 (34th)            Points per game- 18.6 (19th)

Total YPG- 469.3 (25th)                    Total YPG- 370.3 (48th)

Passing YPG- 266.3 (33rd)              Passing YPG- 195.9 (30th)

Rushing YPG- 203 (32nd)                Rushing YPG- 174.4 (77th)

Headlines to watch

Bielema's team can pass?

Yep I'm just as shocked as you are, believe me. Under Bret Bielema, Arkansas has been known for pounding their two stud running backs over and over and rarely using the passing game. But after Jonathan Williams went down with a season ending injury in August, that mindset changed. Quarterback Brandon Allen has played lights out and to the extent that he's placed himself among Dak Prescott and Chad Kelly as the best QB's in the league.

Aside from Prescott, Allen has the best touchdown to interception ratio in the SEC at 23 to 6. Arkansas only threw the ball 16 times last week in Baton Rouge, but Allen threw for 442 yards and six touchdowns at Ole Miss. Against LSU, Arkansas rushed 40 times for nearly 300 yards. Talk about a complete turn around from one week to the next. That's what makes the Razorbacks dangerous, as they can draw up two completely different game plans and still be successful.

Multiple weapons for Allen

Arkansas' passing attack reminds me a little bit of MSU's in that they have multiple receivers (and tight ends in their case) that are capable of dominating a game. Receiver Drew Morgan is one of the surprise players in the SEC even though he hasn't received much recognition. He leads his team with 639 yards and also leads the SEC with nine TD receptions. That's one more than MSU's De'Runnya Wilson. Dominique Reed poses the biggest down-field threat as he's hauled in six touchdowns and averages over 20 yards a catch.

And finally, MSU has to defend one of the best tight ends in the country in Hunter Henry. Henry was a thorn in MSU's side in last year's game when he caught seven passes for 110 yards. He has to be a top priority for Manny Diaz to shut down. When Arkansas gets their tight ends going, there's no slowing them down as they showed against Ole Miss.

Strength on weakness

One area MSU does own a big advantage is Dak Prescott against the Arkansas secondary. To put it lightly, they haven't been very good defending the pass. They have allowed 44 passing plays of 20 yards or more and 18 passing plays of 30 yards or more. They're pretty much exactly what State's secondary was last season. Mullen needs to take advantage of this and take some shots down the field. There's no excuse for Donald Gray not to have at least three balls thrown his way on fly routes this week.

Lack of sacks

Dak Prescott needs a break this week after he was sacked nine times and hit several other times against Alabama. He'll probably get that break assuming his offensive line plays a decent game. Arkansas has only sacked opposing QB's 13 times all season. Can MSU's line respond after an embarrassing performance? We'll find out.

At the same time, the Razorbacks have also limited hits on their own quarterback, allowing just 11 sacks. We'll have to see what game plan Manny Diaz dials up, but if I had to guess he's not going to be overly aggressive. It would be a killer to send blitzes that don't hit home and then you're stuck with less defenders covering the talented receivers and tight ends I discussed above. Diaz has to be smart and send blitzes at the perfect times, much like we saw against Auburn.

Lost in the hype

It's a mystery to me how Arkansas running back Alex Collins flies so under the radar. It could be because he's lost in the all the hype surrounding Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry, and it could be because we all just kind of forgot about Arkansas after their slow start. Either way, Collins has reeled off three straight seasons now with over 1,000 rushing yards. He's already up to 1,209 yards in 2015 with three games left to play. I wouldn't say Collins is on the level of Fournette and Henry, but he's darn close. MSU can't let him run wild like Henry did and expect to win.

Prediction

You would think all signs point to Arkansas winning this game. They're red hot and playing their best football of the season while MSU has to rebound from a physical beatdown by Alabama. I think Arkansas is going to score some points but I think MSU will do the same because of the horrible matchup for Arkansas' secondary against Prescott. I think it turns into a shootout, and I'll take the best quarterback on the field to prevail in a shootout every time.

MSU- 38 Arkansas- 31