FAYETTEVILLE – Given they acceded to the NCAA mandate of taking Tuesday’s Election Day off to give their players ample opportunity to vote, the Razorbacks hope their Sunday practice and Monday’s hard practice carry over into Wednesday’s preparation resumption for their SEC game with Mississippi State.
Arkansas, 5-3, 1-3 in the SEC West, and Mississippi State’s Bulldogs, 5-3, 3-2 in the SEC West, collide at 3 p.m. Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium televised by the SEC Network.
With an open date week last week following their 45-3 nonconference victory Oct. 23 in Little Rock over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks have had ample time to prepare for Mississippi State’s Mike Leach coached “Air Raid” offense and a Mississippi State defense that while publicity overshadowed by its offense has excelled this season.
Last Saturday while the Razorbacks were off, the Bulldogs in Starkville, Miss. stifled then No. 12 Kentucky, 31-17.
“I’m not really surprised, but they’ve been really good,” Pittman said Monday of Mississippi State’s defense. “Very disruptive. They have a lot of playmakers on defense. (Fred) Peters back there, the safety, he’s really good. I think he’s third on the team in tackles, a couple interceptions. I like their linebackers a lot. I think they’re very active. Really what makes them go is schematics, a lot of movement. You have to be very athletic to catch hold of them when they’re moving.”
The Bulldogs netted four turnovers off Kentucky.
Leach’s Air Raid offense is content with short passes achieving the long haul.
State quarterback Will Rogers set a SEC record 92-percent completion percentage of 36 of 39 passes averaged just 9.5 yards per catch for its 344 yards.
For the Bulldogs, their passing game often equates to their running game.
Behind only wideout Makai Polk, 63 catches for 603 yards and six touchdowns, State running backs Jo’quavious Marks, 58 catches for 344 yards and two touchdowns, and Dillon Johnson, 42 catches for 261 yards, rank second and third in MSU receptions.
“He (Rogers) throws to his checkdowns,” Arkansas safety Joe Foucha said after Monday’s practice. “Most quarterbacks, it’s hard to do that. He does a good job of doing that. He goes through a lot of his progressions. The most important thing is just for us to stay in our defense and have good eyes and read the quarterback. When he checks it down we should have at least nine or 10 guys on the ball every time. That should help with the short passing game.”
Arkansas senior receiver and Helena native Tyson Morris said playing against Mississippi State’s defense reminds him of practicing against Arkansas’ defense.
“Very sound defense,” Morris said Monday night. “They’re kind of similar to the defense we play with the multiple high safeties and stuff. I feel like they can get very multiple with their looks so we’ve gotta make sure our eyes are locked in onto our task, paying a good amount of attention to detail and stuff with the corner blitzes and stuff like that. They like to drop their safeties down, swing the linebackers out and stuff like that so we’ve just gotta be sound all across.”
Given the Hogs started 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the SEC defeating the then nationally No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies that annually had beaten Arkansas from 2012-2020, Pittman said the 5-3 Hogs must resurge from losing three consecutive SEC games to Georgia, Ole Miss and Auburn going into this Remember November stretch of a final four SEC games vs. Mississippi State, at LSU at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 13 on the SEC Network, at Alabama, Nov. 20 and Nov. 26 against Missouri at 2:30 p.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium on CBS.
“You don’t want to go 4-0 and ranked eighth in the country and then let it all slide away from you,” Pittman said of his currently unranked Hogs. “This (if they achieve their sixth win Saturday) would get us bowl eligible, that would be a big thing for us.”