Mississippi State’s young secondary, which starts a freshman, a sophomore, a junior college transfer and one senior, won’t make many quarterbacks nervous.
The man coaching those players, well, that’s another story.
“I’m nervous all the time anyway,” MSU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said, “so that really doesn’t matter.”
His nerves won’t be calmed any when the Bulldogs take the field Saturday in Little Rock. Arkansas is led by 6-foot-7, 238-pound Ryan Mallett and his missile-launching arm.
The sophomore transfer from Michigan is already rewriting the school record books. He’s passed for 2,882 yards this season, a record; is the only Arkansas QB to pass for 400 or more yards in a game, twice; has thrown 141 consecutive passes without an interception, a record; and is on track to set many more school marks.
“He’s a got a really strong arm – a really strong arm – and a quick release,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “It allows him to get the ball in places that some other guys maybe can’t get it into. I think his presence on field, that he stands there, doesn’t get flustered when you rush him, he can see over the rush, and that stuff really allows him to hang in the pocket until it’s time to get rid of the ball.”
Mallett’s the biggest reason Arkansas (6-4, 2-4 SEC) leads the SEC in several offensive categories, including scoring offense (37.6 points per game), total offense (450.1 yards per game), passing offense (310.0 ypg), and red zone conversions (38 of 39 with 29 touchdowns).
Arkansas has rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a team each of the last two years. It would have to average 200 yards a game over the next three games – including a bowl game – to reach that mark this season.
Senior tailback Michael Smith, who ran for 1,072 yards last year, has just 396 this year. That’s partly due to a heavier emphasis on the pass, partly to a deep backfield that includes Broderick Green (347 yards), Ronnie Wingo Jr. (266) and Dennis Johnson (193).
“They’ll run it when they’re not supposed to run it,” Torbush said. “It’ll be third down and four or five, and all of a sudden, boom, they’ll run a sweep or a power or a draw, that type of stuff.”
The big key for MSU (4-6, 2-4) won’t be how it handles the run, of course, but whether it can slow down Mallett. Over his last three games, Mallett has passed for 982 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception.
He’s got plenty of targets, including receiver Greg Childs (689 yards, six TDs) and tight end D.J. Williams (369 yards, 3 TDs).
“We’re just going to have to go out there and do our job, play assignment football and make sure we do what our coaches tell us to do, and not get out there freelancing, trying to do our own thing,” MSU linebacker Jamar Chaney said.
A few hits and sacks on Mallett might do the trick, but that’s easier said than done. While he’s not mobile, Mallett’s quick release and strong arm allow him to wait until the last possible second to throw.
“We’re going to blitz and get him out of the pocket and make him throw on the run and stuff like that,” defensive end Pernell McPhee said. “We’re going to call some coverage that’ll mess up his head, and we’re going to come from all different directions to try to get to him.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal