Welcome to this week’s edition of Cookin’ Up the Competition! The end of the 2016 season is rapidly approaching and I’m not sure how I feel about it. November is just a little too early for basketball to me, ya know?
This week the University of Arkansas Razorbacks are coming to town for Davis Wade’s second night game of the year! This game is YUGE for State. First of all, it’s Senior Night, so there will be some cloudy eyes in the stadium as we say farewell to guys like Fred Ross, Richie Brown, Justin Senior and a bevy of other Bulldogs that have graced our program with some of the best seasons any of us have seen. So thank you, seniors, for everything you have given this university over the last four years.
But in the grand scheme of the 2016 season, this game is massive in determining how the rest of the season goes as well as the entire offseason. We win, we get to play Ole Miss for bowl eligibility. We lose, we get to play Ole Miss for our dignity. Now you tell me, which one sounds more fun?
This week we have Doc Harper from Arkansas Fight here to answer some questions for us and give some insight on this week’s match-up. Check out their site for more coverage, with a slightly redder tint.
Here we gooooooooo
1) Coming off of an 8-5 year in 2015 with a big bowl win over Kansas State, how do you think Bret Bielema has continued that momentum into this 2016 campaign? And if you think he hasn't, what do you see as the problem?
That's nice of you to refer to our Liberty Bowl victory as "a big bowl win." We appreciate that.
It's such a different team offensively. Our starting quarterback, running back, and tight end are in the NFL now, and we're starting three new offensive linemen. The system is the same, and there have been times this season when our offense has looked great, such as scoring 30 points against Alabama and 31 against Florida (well, 7 of those were a pick-6, but still). Then there have been times when it looks totally incompetent. So in consistency has been a big issue this season.
Defensively, almost everybody came back, but they somehow got worse. I'm not sure how many of the numbers you've seen, but Arkansas' run defense has been pretty horrific. Last year it was the pass defense that was dreadful, as Mississippi State exploited, but this year Arkansas' given up a ridiculous amount of yards on the ground to everybody except Florida (who doesn't really have an offense) and your friends in Oxford (who basically refuse to use running backs, fortunately for us). When the players get worse, that's a coaching issue, and it's something a lot of people are expecting Bielema to deal with after the season.
2) After putting up 3 points, 31 points and 10 points in each of the last three games, I have truly no idea what to expect from the Razorbacks this weekend. What is the current state of the Arkansas offense in your mind?
Like I said, it's inconsistent. Austin Allen has looked like a future pro for much of this season, but hasn't been as sharp over the last couple of weeks. When the running game is going Arkansas can be really dangerous because then the Hogs can be really balanced and unpredictable. The receivers are very good.
3) QB Austin Allen is third in the SEC in completions and yards, and currently has the fourth best passer rating in the league. Is he as good as he looks on paper and how do you think he matches up against MSU's secondary?
Last week wasn't a good week, but he has been very good for most of the season. He's not afraid to take a hit. There's been talk that he might not have been 100% since taking a hit to the legs against Auburn, but there hasn't been anything official from the university on that. But if you're game-planning against him, you have to be prepared for him to play well, because for most of the season, he has.
4) In a fairly diverse offense, Rawleigh Williams seems to be the only standout on paper with 1038 yards on the season with an average 5.4 yards per carry. Who else should State fans keep an eye out for on the Arkansas offense?
Don't overlook Devwah Whaley, the other running back. He's a true freshman who's gradually gotten more involved as the season's gone along. He's going to be a good one. In the passing game, there's not just one go-to receiver, any of them are capable of having a big day and they've all made big plays this season.
5) Prediction time: Despite a two game difference in the win column between the two teams this weekend, State is currently listed as a 1.5 point favorite. Do you think Arkansas will pull of the "upset" at night in Davis Wade?
Arkansas' biggest wins have all come when I expected them to lose this season, so I'll continue doing that. I'll say Mississippi State 31, Arkansas 27.
Bonus: Personally, I have always thought that "Calling the Hogs" is by far one of the most obnoxious college football chants, second only to the worst eight bars in college sports, "Boomer Sooner." Now that I've hopefully ruffled a few of your feathers, give me your honest thoughts on the cowbell.
I love all the wacky college football traditions. Ring those bells, CLANGA.