Today’s game: Arkansas (4-6, 2-4 SEC) at MSU (7-3, 3-3), 11:21 a.m., SEC Network (Dave Neal play-by-play, Andre Ware analyst, Cara Capuano analyst), XM 202, Sirius 117.
MSU will recognize 25 seniors today, and many of them were part of the 2009 signing class, Dan Mullen‘s first. And many of those players were forced into action as soon as they stepped on campus. I wrote about two of those guys, cornerback Johnthan Banks and receiver Chad Bumphis, for today’s GameDay section.
Bumphis came from a large school, Tupelo, while Banks was a product of tiny East Webster in Maben. Both have gone on to have illustrious careers and are finishing strong this season. Goes to show that great talent can come from anywhere.
“You look at 1A ball and say, they don’t play a lot of competition,” Bumphis said. “But then you look at them and see that they’re all over the field because they don’t have many students. I think some of the best athletes come from 1A ball because they have to do so much.”
One of the players being recognized today is Nick Bell, the former MSU defensive end who died two years ago of skin cancer. His name and jersey number (36) are painted in the north end zone. While it’s been two years since his death, Bell’s teammates have kept him at the front of their minds and hearts.
“Every time we go in the weightroom, we see his jersey up there,” said senior safety Corey Broomfield. “So he’s never forgotten. He’s gone but not forgotten.”
This senior class is one of the most successful in program history. The Bulldogs are 28-20 since the 2009 class showed up, and it’s only the fourth class since World War II to win at least 28 games. MSU is trying to snap a three-game losing streak, the first such skid it’s experienced since 2009, when most of these guys were freshmen.
• Remember to follow me on Twitter today for updates during and after the game, and be sure you check out the Journal’s college football page for updates from around the SEC and the country. It’s time now to take a look at MSU’s three keys for victory.
1. Communicate. MSU’s secondary has been burned a few times in recent weeks, and the culprit – according to players and coaches – has been miscommunication. That is somewhat surprising for a group with so many veterans, like Banks, Broomfield and Nickoe Whitley.
Any such issues today could lead to big plays for Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who’s averaging 311.4 passing yards per game. Arkansas has 44 passing plays of 20 or more yards, which ranks 13th in the country, and MSU has given up 13 such passing plays over the last three games.
Cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith said earlier in the week he thought the communication problem was “fixable” in practice.
2. Regain the run game. State has struggled running the ball the last three weeks, averaging just 64 yards in losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU. Falling behind early has been a problem, so it’s not all the offense’s fault.
Having starting tailback LaDarius Perkins back from a quad injury should give the run game a boost, but MSU needs to get more out of backups Nick Griffin, Derrick Milton and Josh Robinson.
Arkansas isn’t easy to run on, as it ranks fifth in the SEC in rushing defense at 119.7 yards per game.
3. Pressure Wilson. MSU’s pass rush hasn’t been great this season (16 sacks), and the Razorbacks have protected Wilson well, giving up only 15 sacks. However, Arkansas has allowed 7.0 sacks over its last three games, while MSU’s defense has recorded that many over its last four games.
State can’t afford to let Wilson sit back in the pocket and do his thing. Last season, he shredded the Bulldogs to the tune of 365 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-17 Arkansas win.
• Notable stat: MSU is minus-4 in turnover margin during its three-game losing streak.
• Weather: Lots of sunshine today, with temperatures in the mid-50s by kickoff. It’ll warm up to 63 by the second half.