Mississippi State is a mediocre 5-5 overall and needs one more win to earn bowl eligibility. After this weekend's affair, the Bulldogs will face rival Ole Miss in Starkville, and there is no doubt that MSU will be favored in that affair. Head coach Dan Mullen saw his Bulldogs outplayed by Alabama as expected last weekend, as that tilt ended in a 24-7 defeat.
"If you're going to beat one of the top teams in the country, you've got to make all the plays," Mullen said after the Alabama tilt.
The lone loss for Arkansas came way back in September against Alabama on the road. Since then, the Razorbacks have reeled off six consecutive victories, the most recent of which was a 49-7 romp over Tennessee last weekend. The lone remaining game on the regular season schedule after this weekend's affair is a road clash with top-ranked LSU, and that showdown may very well decide the SEC West title.
"We've certainly played well in our last three games at home," said Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino after last week's win. "We were really concerned about our effort and performance and the scoreboard would take care of itself."
Arkansas owns a 14-6-1 series lead over Mississippi State, and that includes wins in each of the last two seasons.
Mississippi State had its modest two-game win streak snapped last week by Alabama, as the Bulldogs amassed the fewest offensive yards (131) of the Mullen era. The club finished with a mere 12 rushing yards on 29 carries, embarrassing to say the least. Sure, 33 lost yards on five sacks contributed to that lowly total, but the Bulldogs didn't find much room to roam on traditional running plays. Tyler Russell completed 13-of-25 passes without an interception, and he was able to throw a TD pass to Chris Smith. Still, most passes went for modest gains.
It came as no surprise that Alabama pounded the ball on the ground against MSU, which permitted 223 rushing yards on 44 attempts. The Bulldogs yielded three rushing TDs and simply didn't make enough impact plays on defense.
Overall this season, MSU is generating 25.8 ppg and 373.3 total ypg while yielding 19.2 ppg and 353.0 total ypg. Chris Relf, who has taken the majority of the snaps for the Bulldogs, may return from a head injury this week, but it remains to be seen if Mullen will stick with Russell. Vick Ballard has run for 811 yards and seven TDs to pace the squad, but he simply doesn't touch the ball enough.
The Razorbacks turned the ball over twice against Tennessee last week and kept possession for fewer than 23 minutes. Still, Petrino's troops were able to score six offensive touchdowns, split evenly between the run and the pass. Arkansas racked up 254 rushing yards on 30 attempts, a stellar average of 8.5 ypc, and Dennis Johnson led the attack with 97 yards and two scores. QB Tyler Wilson was impressive as well, passing for 224 yards and three scores. Jarius Wright finished with five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown, becoming the program's all-time receptions leader, while Joe Adams moved into second place on that list.
Arkansas is posting 38.8 ppg and 455.7 total ypg, impressive numbers for a team that has already notched 43 offensive scores. Wilson has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 2,850 yards and 18 TDs against five interceptions. Wright has scored 10 times on his 53 receptions and has 906 yards to his credit.
Give Arkansas plenty of credit for its defensive effort against Tennessee last time out. The Razorbacks yielded 376 total yards, as the Vols completed just over half of their 35 passes. Also worth noting is that Tennessee managed a mere 3.3 yards per rushing attempt.
"Our defense is playing well and playing fast," said Petrino after the game.
Foes are gaining 375.2 total ypg against the Razorbacks, who are giving up 21.5 ppg. They have been rather mediocre against the run, permitting 172.2 ypg at a clip of 4.4 ypc with 16 TDs permitted. The pass defense has been better in many ways, especially when considering that opposing QBs have more INTs (10) than TDs (nine) when facing Arkansas.