This week’s game: Arkansas (4-6, 2-4 SEC) at MSU (7-3, 3-3), Saturday, 11:21 a.m., SEC Network
With MSU’s final home game of 2012 looming, a three-game losing streak hangs over this team. In today’s Journal, you can read my MSU-LSU rewind. And you can read Parrish Alford‘s table-setter, in which he looks at the likelihood of Ole Miss entering the Egg Bowl still searching for that sixth win and the bowl eligibility that comes with it.
Dan Mullen will hold his weekly press conference at 1 p.m. today, so check me out on Twitter for updates. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at this week’s opponent, the Arkansas Razorbacks.
• Last meeting: Arkansas, 44-17 (Nov. 19, 2011, in Little Rock)
• Series: Arkansas leads 15-6-1
• Arkansas on the Web: arkansasrazorbacks.com
• Arkansas coach: John L. Smith (4-6, first year)
• Three Arkansas players to watch: QB Tyler Wilson, WR Cobi Hamilton, DE Chris Smith
• Premature review: In our Premature Preview of Arkansas, I expressed some reservations about this team due to the departure of coach Bobby Petrino. But the Razorbacks were ranked 10th in the AP preseason poll, and then UL-Monroe happened in Week 2. Since then, there have been blowout losses (to Alabama and Texas A&M by a combined score of 110-10) and plain old bad losses to Rutgers (at home) and Ole Miss (in Little Rock). Arkansas lost to South Carolina this past weekend, 38-20, and made plenty of mistakes in the process.
So there have been issues on both sides of the ball, and yet Arkansas ranks third in the SEC in passing offense (302.6 ypg) and fifth in total offense (422.1 ypg). Wilson is still a fine-looking pro prospect, having completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 2,803 yards (second in the SEC), 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He just doesn’t have the weapons he had last season, with top target Hamilton (league-leading 1,149 yards) the only ball-catcher defenses have had to worry much about. Last season, Arkansas had four players with 500-plus yards receiving; this year, only Hamilton has more than 300 yards (three have 200-plus).
MSU hasn’t been great at defending Arkansas quarterbacks in recent years. Wilson passed for 365 yards and three touchdowns last season. In the last three meetings, all Arkansas wins, Hog QBs completed 68 of 105 passes (64.8%) for 991 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. And MSU hasn’t been so hot on pass defense the last three games, with Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU combining to complete 68 of 93 (73.1%) for 840 yards, five TDs and no interceptions.
“Issue No. 1 is their quarterback always seems to light it up and have his career games against us. Three years they’ve been able to do that,” Mullen said Sunday.
The return of tailback Knile Davis was highly anticipated. He missed 2011 with a knee injury, and he’s not even the leading rusher this year, totaling 340 yards and two touchdowns on 100 carries. He missed two games with injury, and Dennis Johnson paces the rushing attack with 639 yards and eight TDs. He’s had two 100-yard rushing games this year, in consecutive weeks versus Ole Miss (career-high 161) and Tulsa (109).
Arkansas scored 40 or more points six times last season; it’s done so only twice this season.
Defensively, it’s not been great. The Hogs do rank fifth in the SEC against the run, giving up 119.7 yards per game, and have 25 sacks. Smith has 6.5 of those sacks and could give MSU’s offensive tackles a tough time of it. But Arkansas can’t defend the pass, giving up league-worst 291.1 yards per game through the air.
Vegas has made MSU an early 6.5-point favorite.