When Arkansas Runs
What else is new? The Razorbacks will face another statistically good run defense this weekend in Starkville. The Bulldogs rank 2nd in the SEC against the run and allow 121 yards on the ground per game and 3.56 yards per carry. That is good for 20th nationally, by the way. However, in their last two games against ranked teams (Alabama & Florida), the Bulldogs allowed an average of 4.6 yards per carry. Neither Florida nor Alabama are dominant running the ball either, ranking 37th and 69th in the nation, respectively.
Arkansas, by comparison, ranks an ever-rising 67th. No one has been able to stop Knile Davis in the last month and a half, including three run defenses ranked better than the Bulldogs. The Hogs’ bell-cow tailback went for 8.2 per carry against Texas A&M’s #13 run defense, 6.5 per carry versus Auburn’s #12 ranked squad, and compiled 110 yards and 3 TDs on 22 carries against South Carolina’s #8 ranked defense. I’ll bet on Davis.
When Arkansas Passes
Arkansas is 3rd in the country and 1st in the SEC, passing the ball for 343 yards per game. Ryan Mallett has really turned it on over the last few weeks after a not-so-great game against Ole Miss. Cobi Hamilton has filled in for Greg Childs dare I say seamlessly, and DJ Williams has become more of a focal point in the offense. Mississippi State really stands no chance in this match-up. They rank 8th in the SEC and 79th nationally – allowing 227 yards per game through the air. The only thing that will stop Mallett from doing whatever he wants in this game is Mallett. It’s happened before, but he was nearly flawless against South Carolina two weeks ago in a night game on the road. I have to expect the same here.
EDGE: Arkansas (big time)
When Mississippi State Runs
This is clearly the strength of this Bulldog team. They rank 3rd in the SEC and 18th nationally with 211 yards per game on the ground. However, it should be noted that they’ve rushed for well below their 4.8 yards per carry average when facing the SEC defenses like the ones listed above that Knile Davis glided past with ease. So how dominant is the Bulldogs’ running game really? I mean their best runner, Vick Ballard, averages almost an entire yard per carry less (6.3) than Knile Davis (7.2).
The problem for Arkansas is that their run defense is not the equal of those other SEC teams, but they are still a respectable 63rd nationally giving up 4.1 yards per carry and 152 yards per game. So it’s fair to expect Mississippi State to come close to their season average, but given the strength of the Arkansas pass defense and the futility of the Bulldog’s aerial attack (see below), I would expect to see a lot of 8-man fronts by the Razorback defense which should ensure that the Hogs don’t get pushed around too badly.
EDGE: Mississippi State (slight)
When Mississippi State Passes
…they are unlikely to succeed. The Bulldogs rank 10th in the SEC and 104th nationally, passing for 161 yards per game. Just pitiful. They’ve employed two quarterbacks of late, neither of whom complete 60% of their passes, and collectively they combine for 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season. Tyler Russell’s 6 picks on 67 pass attempts is particularly impressive…
Arkansas ranks 15th nationally against the pass, allowing 177 yards per game through the air and averaging more than one interception in each contest. I think at least one interception should be anticipated here (and more if the Bulldogs actually try to pass more than a few times). Word on the street is that Darius Winston will be starting in Ramon Broadway’s vacated corner spot, providing a big body to help in the run game. It’d be nice to see him excel in coverage as well and re-stake his claim as a future starter at the position.
EDGE: Arkansas (big time)
The game is in Starkville, and it’s on ESPN in primetime. That worried me two weeks ago when the Hogs visited Columbia in the exact same fashion, but after watching that one unfold – color me unconcerned. This team has played in big games and played well in them. They’ve beaten two good teams on the road this season in Georgia and South Carolina, and if we’re being honest they played Auburn away from home as well as anyone else in the country.
The Razorbacks have won 13 of their last 15 against the Bulldogs, and straight blew them out last year after losing narrowly in Starkville during Petrino’s maiden season. It would also seem as though the Hogs have more to play for at this point with a BCS at-large berth still in their sights. And finally, while Bobby Petrino’s team got to hang out in Fayetteville and rest up against over-matched UTEP last week, Dan Mullen’s group had to go on the road to Tuscaloosa where they suffered a 20 point beatdown.
By my tally, the only edge the Bulldogs have in this one is when they run the ball, which they will probably try to do for the vast majority of the time they possess the ball on Saturday. But even that advantage seems tenuous given the fact that Arkansas should be able to stack the box without making themselves vulnerable to the pass. I think balance is the word of the week when it comes to this game. Arkansas is with Mallett & Co. through the air and Davis on the ground. Mississippi State isn’t.
The Hogs average over 100 yards and 11 points more per game on offense than do the Bulldogs. Arkansas also allow less yards per game on defense, while conceding a field goal more in terms of points. I don’t know, maybe those cowbells will really distract Mallett? As you can see I’m struggling to find a reason to call anything but a comfortable Razorback win.
Arkansas 34 – 20
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