Mississippi State (7-3) vs. Arkansas (6-4) 7:00 pm
Mississippi State has won three straight over Arkansas by an average margin of victory of 15 points per game. However, the last two games have been decided by 7 points each.
The Bulldogs are coming off of a disappointing 31-6 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in Starkville last weekend. It was a game in which the offense outgained Alabama 393-379 total yards, but the team had costly breakdowns during critical junctures that allowed the momentum to swing in favor of the road team. On the year the Bulldogs are averaging 31.8 points per game and are rushing for 141 yards per game. Quarterback Dak Prescott has been the heart and soul of the offense this year, leading the team with 431 rushing yards with 7 scores along with completing 64.7% of his passes for 2,651 yards with 18 touchdowns through the air (2 interceptions this season). Mississippi State is averaging 297 passing yards per game and will look to take advantage of a mediocre Arkansas secondary that is giving up 282 passing yards per game. Wide receivers DeRuynna Wilson, Fred Ross and Fred Brown will be the key to victory on Saturday if they can stretch the Razorbacks’ secondary vertically to open up the running later in the contest. All three players have great hands and run very good routes. Wilson leads the team with 40 receptions for 664 yards with 8 scores while Ross and Brown have combined for 80 receptions for 994 yards with 4 touchdowns. In order for the Bulldogs to get the victory, the team must start fast and put the pressure on the Arkansas secondary. In last week’s win in Baton Rouge, Arkansas jumped out to a 14 point lead over LSU and put the pressure on the Tigers. Mississippi State has the type of offense to create problems for the Arkansas defense and if the Bulldogs can throw early on, it will allow Prescott to have success later in the game with running the read option.
The Bulldogs are allowing 18.6 points per game and are giving up 174 rushing yards per game and 195 passing yards per game this year. Mississippi State will have to take away the running game by Arkansas and force the Razorbacks to throw over the top of the defense. In last Saturday’s loss, the unit played will early on in taking away the deep ball from Alabama and containing the Crimson Tide rushing attack in the first half. Junior linebacker Richie Brown will be utilized in blitz packages on Saturday and leads the team in total tackles with 79 along with leading the unit in sacks with 5.5. On the year, the Bulldogs have recorded 25 sacks through the first 10 games and will need to force third down and long situations by Arkansas. The unit must do a better job in creating turnovers this Saturday as the team is even in turnover margin and -2 in turnover margin on the road this season. Look for the Bulldogs to come out and play very aggressive on the road. The Bulldogs must take chances early on and utilize run blitzes to put pressure on the Razorbacks heavy offensive line. Defensive back Kivon Coman has 61 total tackles on the season.
The Razorbacks have been hitting on all cylinders entering this game and have won four straight (Auburn, Tenn-Martin, Ole Miss and LSU). In those four games, the offense has exploded for 13 passing touchdowns with only 2 interceptions. The success has to do with the consistency of the Razorbacks offensive line that has allowed 11 sacks through the first ten games and has given quarterback Brandon Allen time to locate his receivers. Allen has come on as of late in new offensive coordinator’s Dan Enos’ offensive scheme (team averaging 266 passing yards per game this year). Allen has completed 64.4% of his passes for 2,617 yards with 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He has shown maturity and the ability to read coverage in locating open receivers this year as the season has progressed. Wide receiver Drew Morgan has been Allen’s main target and leads the team with 45 receptions for 639 yards with 9 touchdowns. Arkansas wants to run the football and is averaging 203 rushing yards per game. Even though the team has played three overtime games this season, the offensive line seems to be getting stronger down the stretch. In order to win this game, the team will need running back Alex Collins to carry the rock successfully. On the year, Collins is averaging 6.0 yards per carry while rushing for 1,209 yards with 14 touchdowns. Collins has been nicked up and might not be a 100% entering this game over the weekend. Last Saturday, he came off the field with bruised ribs against LSU and his health will be a concern against the Bulldogs this Saturday.
The Razorbacks have struggled this year when facing spread teams and will be challenged by the Bulldogs this weekend. Arkansas is allowing 27.9 points per game and has been very good at stopping the run giving up 122 yards per game. Arkansas has not faced a mobile quarterback like Dak Prescott this season and will need to force Prescott from “breaking contain”. Entering last week’s game against LSU the unit struggled to generate a consistent pass rush as the team only had 8 sacks before facing LSU. However, the unit exploded with a 5 sack performance on the road against LSU quarterback Brandon Harris. The success was due in part to the fact that the offense jumped out to a double digit lead and was able to make LSU predictable by forcing them to pass to come from behind. This weekend will be a little different because of the mobility of Prescott and the Razorbacks must be able to get pressure up the middle as opposed to off of the edge. That approach will keep Prescott inside the pocket and will not allow him to get outside the tackle box. In last week’s loss to Alabama, the Bulldogs allowed Prescott to be sacked a total of 9 times and look for the same type of game plan by Arkansas this Saturday. Linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Brooks Ellis are two players that will be instrumental in the defensive game plan for Arkansas. Both players are smart and very physical in reading the run. Greenlaw leads the team with 84 total tackles while Ellis is second on the team with 80 total tackles.
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Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor atwww.2FiveSports.com.He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson(www.sportsxradio.com).
Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2.
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