MSU set to play another ranked SEC opponent
MSU running back Vick Ballard (28) gets wrapped up by the Arkansas defense during last season's game in Starkville. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
By LEE ADAMS
The Mississippi State Bulldogs face a top 10 ranked team for the second consecutive week.
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The Bulldogs (5-5 overall, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) were defeated 24-7 by No. 3 Alabama last week and things don't get an easier today as they travel to Little Rock to take on No. 6 Arkansas. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. on CBS and will be shown locally by WCBI.
The Razorbacks (9-1, 5-1) bring a six-game winning streak into the game. That winning streak can be credited to their offense which is ranked tops in the Southeastern Conference.
"They have a lot of explosive players on their offense," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "Very rarely do you see a team that has the combination that these guys have at receiver, not just the talent level but also the experience they have, with an experienced quarterback."
That experienced quarterback is Tyler Wilson, who leads the SEC in passing average per game and is nearing the 3,000-yard mark this season.
Wilson is having a very successful season and one of the reasons for that could be Jarius Wright. Wright is currently leading the SEC in receptions and receiving yards per game. In the nine games he has played this season, Wright has hauled in 10 touchdowns and compiled 906 yards on only 53 catches. The connection between Wright and Wilson is a recipe for big and quick plays, which presents a challenge for the Bulldogs.
"You can stop them and stop them and stop them, but they have quick strike capability," said Mullen. "You stop them for 45 consecutive plays then boom, boom, boom, they hit three long touchdown passes. We can't just play good defense most of the time against them, we have to play good all the time."
Those big plays had a big role in the Razorbacks 49-7 win over Tennessee last week.
"We played fast. We played physical. We made plays in all three phases of the game," said Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino. "The big plays were something that helped us tremendously."
To stop those big plays, the Bulldogs defense will have their hands full, but MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson is focused on the Razorbacks entire offensive ability.
"They have a great system," said Wilson. "When you combine that with great skill guys, it makes you cover the whole field. They're pretty good and they take what you give them."
MSU's defense, who has held No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Alabama to their lowest number of points scored outside of their head-to-head matchup, has caught the eye of Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee.
"They have multiple pressures," McGee said. "It's the same style and philosophy that they had last year. They're going to try to make it as confusing as possible on us. They give a lot of looks and pressures that aren't conventional."
Even though Arkansas is known for its offense, they have a strong defense as well.
"They are one of the more complex blitz teams," said Mullen. "They will blitz you from all over the field in every direction."
In the Razorbacks' win over Texas A&M earlier this season, they ran a defense they never practiced before, but that didn't surprise MSU offensive coordinator Les Keonning.
"They're going to come at you from all different angles," said Keonning. "They're blitzing getting off the bus. Last year when we played them, we saw every blitz imaginable and they even drew some up at halftime we hadn't practiced against."
MSU senior offensive lineman Quentin Saulsberry is very familiar with the Razorbacks defensive line and he and his other lineman have a plan for them.
"They are real physical and athletic guys," said Saulsberry. "We've got to come out and attack them from the beginning of the game. We can't sit back and wait on them."
Saulsberry and the rest of the MSU lineman will be blocking for multiple quarterbacks as always today and that rotation has caused Petrino to change his preparation.
"It makes preparing more difficult," said Petrino. "You have to prepare for their base schemes and what they believe in and then have that flavor for what they're doing when a certain quarterback is in the game."
All three of MSU's quarterbacks saw playing time last week, but senior Chris Relf could see limited playing time today as he is coming off a mild concussion. Relf did practice late this week, but it is unsure how much playing time he will see.
Today, the Bulldogs try to become bowl eligible and win their first SEC West game against someone other than Ole Miss under Mullen. However, the challenge of playing the No. 6 ranked team is made more difficult by playing on the road.
"To win a game on the road in the Southeastern Conference is a challenge," said Mullen. "To do it against one of the top teams in the nation, we're going to have to play well in all three phases."