Mississippi State at Arkansas: Game Prediction

Photo: Sara Blancett, UA Athletics
The 6th-ranked Razorbacks play their final home game of 2011 against Mississippi State on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Final score: Arkansas 44, Mississippi State 17. At only two points off, EARL wins the t-shirt. Congrats!

And now it’s down to the final two games of the regular season. Last weekend the Razorbacks sent out Coach Bobby Petrino’s first senior class (17 seniors in all) in style by dismantling Tennessee 49-7 in front of 72,000 fans at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. It was another fairly complete game for the Hogs, who have now scored 93 points in their last two games. Things seem to be clicking well for Arkansas’ offense and defense, which couldn’t be happening at a better time of the season.

Even though the Hogs played extremely well and won the game in convincing fashion, Coach Robinson’s defense was definitely employing the “bend but don’t break” mentality against Tennessee. The Vols were only able to put seven points on the board, but did manage to have their top offensive yardage output of the SEC season after compiling 376 total yards.

Offensively the Hogs were on fire. Running backs Dennis Johnson (who was recently voted most underrated SEC player this season), Broderick Green and De’Anthony Curtis all saw action in the end zone. Tyler Wilson was slinging the ball all over the field. Jarius Wright and Joe Adams both broke, or tied, the Arkansas career receptions record (Wright is now the current leader with 155) and had the No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, Top Ten plays on ESPN’s SportsCenter last Saturday night. And speaking of Adams, well, I’ll just let his actions speak for themselves.

For teams having to play the Razorbacks at this point in the season, they know that they have to find a way to score and keep pace because it doesn’t look like the Hogs are going to lose their offensive touch right now. Over the last two games, the Hogs have averaged 195 yards on the ground, which is a great stat for the Razorbacks considering their early season running struggles (after the first two SEC games, that average was 96). Earlier this week, fans were excited to learn that injured running back Knile Davis has been practicing with the team and hoped that he might return to further spark the Arkansas offense. It appears that Davis won’t be back after all and could end up taking a medical redshirt for 2011.

The tough task of having to play the Hogs while they’re on fire will fall on Mississippi State this weekend in Little Rock. After finishing last year with a 9-4 record and a strong 52-14 win over Michigan in the Gator Bowl, the 2011 season hasn’t been as favorable for the Bulldogs. Coming into this weekend’s game, Coach Dan Mullen’s team has a 5-5 record (1-5 in SEC play) and the Bulldogs are fighting for their sixth win — to become bowl eligible.

With a gigantic battle looming against LSU next week, Arkansas could find themselves in the middle of a trap game. Let’s hope that our boys come out with some fire and put Mississippi State away early and maybe give the starters a bit more rest for next week’s game.

Offensively: This match-up is being billed as the Arkansas passing attack vs. Mississippi State secondary. And for all the press it’s getting, I think I’ve seen that article before. Realistically, the Bulldogs do have two talented corners and a loaded secondary — they’re currently ranked 14th in the country in pass defense and 26th in pass efficiency defense with 12 interceptions and only nine touchdowns allowed. Wilson has thrown well recently, but needs to regain his sharpness — with two interceptions over the past two games, tossing more INTs here could hurt the Hogs quickly. The running game should find some holes in the Bulldog defense as they’re allowing 167 yards on the ground per game. I think with some solid corner play, Cobi Hamilton and Joe Adams might not have their best day, but we could see a lot of Wright and perhaps Chris Gragg. DJ should rush for around 100 yards, if not 200 yards for the stable of Arkansas running backs overall. The key, once again, will be to establish the run quickly to open up the passing attack. If the Bulldogs can effectively stop the run, this could turn into a tough battle.

Defensively: If Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf plays a majority of the game, then the Bulldogs may have an edge as the Hogs have proven difficult at stopping running quarterbacks this season (though it sounds like Coach Mullen has used three different QBs on the same possession). The running doesn’t begin/end with Relf, running back Vick Ballard is on pace for a 1000-yard season and is an extremely strong runner. On the other side of the Bulldog offensive attack, the passing game is GREATLY lacking with no real threat at wide receiver. The Hogs’ defense, now with Tenarius Wright back and Jake Bequette starting to look like his pre-SEC First Team self, is the healthiest it’s been all season and has done a good job at pressuring the opposing team’s QB over the past few weeks. Run containment will be the key to stopping Mississippi State. The “bend but not break” philosophy, I’m sure, will be in full effect, so there could be a few big plays reeled off by the Bulldogs. If the Hogs can stop Relf from scrambling and keep Ballard from having a breakout game, the defense should have their way in the Rock.

Special Teams: If I were Mississippi State’s special teams coach, I wouldn’t put the ball near any of Arkansas’ returners all game. Based on what the Hogs have done over the past two weeks in the return game, don’t expect Adams or Johnson to really have their chances at breaking one open. But if they do get a chance, there’s always the possibility of taking one to the house. Zach Hocker missed his only FG chance last week, which would’ve been an easier kick had it not been so windy. Hocker has missed more FGs this season than last year, but he’s still a good kicker and very reliable. I don’t think special teams will be the key to this game if the Hogs come out and keep control of the ball when kicked to.

Last week the fans said their goodbyes in Fayetteville and this week they’ll say their goodbyes in Little Rock. Although this game could be a trap for the Hogs, I think Bobby Petrino will have his boys focused and ready to trounce the Bulldogs in the seniors’ home finale. My guess is Arkansas Razorbacks 34, Mississippi State 13.

Let us know what you think the final score will be. If you’re the closest (see rules below), you’ll get a free t-shirt from Bearstate Supply.

How to enter

Leave a comment with your game prediction. If you want to add anything else, please feel free.

What you’ll win

One t-shirt of your choice (design, color, size) from the Bearstate Supply online store. (Hoodies, ringers and tri-blend AA’s not included)

The rules

  • You only may enter this specific contest once.
  • Contests are open to anyone anywhere except staff of Fayetteville Flyer and their immediate family members.
  • The winning entry must pick the winning team and have the smallest combined difference from each team’s final score. Example: If the Razorbacks win by a score of 21-7, and your prediction was Razorbacks 20-10, your difference would be 1 + 3 = 4. In the event of a tie, a winner will be selected by a random drawing.
  • You must pick the score by 15 minutes before kickoff for each game.
  • Make sure you leave a valid e-mail address when filling out the comment form since that’s how we’ll contact you if you’ve won.

Good luck!

Mississippi State at Arkansas

Date: Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Location: War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock, Ark.

Bearstate Supply