Arkansas Razorback Football

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Not even nationally elite SEC West rivals  Alabama, Auburn and LSU, doubly routed the Razorbacks during their 2-year Chad Morris regime like the Mississippi State Bulldogs hosting Arkansas Saturday night.

New Coach Mike Leach’s Bulldogs, 1-0 and now ranked 16th and 14th in the Associated Press and Coaches polls after stunning reigning national champion LSU, 44-34 last Saturday  in Baton Rouge, La., and new Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks, 0-1 opening in a 37-10 home loss  last Saturday to nationally No.  4 Georgia, kick off at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network Alternate Channel at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.

Leading a not insurmountable 17-3 at half, the 2018 Bulldogs annihilated Arkansas, 52-6 in Starkville.

Last year in Fayetteville the Bulldogs reversed their bite.

Their 24-point second quarter built a 38-10 halftime bulge. The final was 52-24.

Asked if he addressed possible mental baggage the Bulldogs may have inflicted these last two years, Pittman implied that’s not his bag.  Nor his team’s.

We’ve  never mentioned it,” Pittman said.  “It doesn’t have anything to do with us. It’s a whole different new team.  New staff. A lot of new players. We’re trying to set our own goals in what we get done. So, no we never have mentioned it.”

The Razorbacks, now losers of 20 consecutive SEC games dating back to the final three league games in 2017 under Bret Bielema, through Pittman’s debut last week as a 4-touchdown underdog, inspired hope last week.  They led nationally No. 4 Georgia, 7-5 at half and 10-5 midway through the third quarter before falling in an avalanche of offensive miscues, special teams mistakes and Georgia’s superior size and talent.

Mississippi State defensively doesn’t sport Georgia talent, but the Bulldogs are talented enough to sack LSU quarterback Myles Brennan seven times.

Offensively the as of Thursday 18-point favored  Bulldogs present problems that Georgia couldn’t.

For Leach’s fabled “Air Raid” offense that he first established as Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma offensive coordinator then as head coach at Texas Tech and Washington State,  graduate transfer via Stanford to Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello debuted spectacularly.  Against LSU Costello attempting 60 passes. He completed 36 for a SEC record 623 yards and five touchdowns.

“Costello, he was incredible,” Pittman said. “Every throw was very poised.” 

Three receivers, wideouts Osirus Mitchell, and JaVonta Payton, sandwiching running back Kylin Hill, respectively netted 183, 158 and 126 reception yards from Costello.

They weren’t alone catching what LSU couldn’t defend.

“They’ve got a lot of receivers that can make plays,” Pittman said.

The Bulldogs only netted 49 yards rushing only because they didn’t need more.

Hill, 7 for 34 running  against LSU,  last year netted 231 yards rushing on Arkansas  in  former  Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead’s 2019 offense.

“Kylin Hill is the guy that the offense runs around,” Pittman said. “He’s a really, really exceptional football player.”

The Bulldogs’ offensive line, led by center Cole Smith, obviously did its job in Baton Rouge.

While poised with a different set of challenges vs. Mississippi State, Arkansas’ defense coordinated by former Missouri head coach Barry Odom gained confidence from doing its job against Georgia.

“ I feel like Coach Odom is going to have us in the right spots,” Arkansas safety Simeon Blair of Pine Bluff said.  “As long as we do our assignments and play as hard as we can, I feel like we’re going to have the result we want.”

Arkansas’  young offensive line, overmatched by Georgia’s huge, veteran defensive line, should be more in its league size and strength wise against Mississippi State but must be concerned with the Bulldogs, stunts and twists that helped their seven sacks.

Establishing Preseason All-SEC Second-Team running back Rakeem Boyd, which the line couldn’t do against Georgia, seems an Arkansas must.  With no running game the Hogs only stayed on the field 24:14 to  Georgia’s 36:16.  They can’t allow Costello that kind of time to pass it around.

Other than Treylon Burks, 7 catches for 102 yards, the Hogs couldn’t get receivers consistently open against Georgia  as targets for quarterback Feleipe Franks.

Pittman said the offense also must help Franks by getting correctly aligned quicker than they did against Georgia.

“ I know that’s part of the quarterback’s job,” Pittman said.  “But it’s hard to look downfield, see what’s going on, see pre-snap reads as a quarterback when you’re looking at your own team trying to get them lined up. And so that has been a big emphasis, paying attention to the signals, getting lined up fast.”

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