Hogs trying to play spoiler for MSU

Bret Bielema's Arkansas team has struggled in his first season at the helm, but a win Saturday would ruin Mississippi State's chances at playing in a bowl game. (AP Photo/Beth Hall)

Bret Bielema’s Arkansas team has struggled in his first season at the helm, but a win Saturday would ruin Mississippi State’s chances at playing in a bowl game. (AP Photo/Beth Hall)

By Logan Lowery

Daily Journal

Mississippi State still has a chance to reach a bowl game but will have to win out to do so.

Bret Bielema knows what it is like to lead teams to postseason play.

Bielema guided Wisconsin to seven straight bowl appearances before taking the job at Arkansas this year. He understands the Bulldogs will be highly enthusiastic entering this weekend’s game to hand his Razorbacks their eighth straight loss and continue the postseason quest.

“(Bowl eligibility) is a tremendous motivation,” Bielema said. “Every coach is going to have a different tactic to every game. Ours is it’ll be our last chance to play in Arkansas and give our seniors a chance to go out with a win in front of their families.”

Bielema’s first season at Arkansas has not gone as planned. The Hogs won three straight to start the year but have lost every game since. Arkansas lost 34-24 at Ole Miss on Nov. 9 and had a bye week to prepare for the Bulldogs.

Scouting the opponent

The open date allowed Bielema to watch MSU hang with top-ranked Alabama live on television last weekend and he was impressed with the Bulldogs’ efforts.

“Mississippi State is a good football team that played very, very well on Saturday night,” Bielema said. “They’ve gotten some bad breaks but on the same account have done some really good things. It should be a very interesting game.”

State’s injury situation at quarterback has left Bielema and his staff unsure which signal caller to prepare for. Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott are both questionable with shoulder injuries, leaving true freshman Damian Williams as the only fully healthy quarterback available to start on Saturday.

“It could be anybody,” Bielema said. “Saturday night, (Russell) did a lot of really good things. The thing that jumped out to me is as that game hung closer, he seemed to believe more and more and the players did around him as well. Obviously some things fell apart in the fourth quarter, but he’s a very talented kid.

“(Prescott)’s status seems up in the air. Whoever they play is obviously going to be good, but I don’t think our plan will change in the execution of what we’re going to do.”

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has a resume full of first round NFL draft picks and Heisman Trophy winners to his credit at quarterback. Bielema comprehends just how vital the position is to Mullen’s spread offensive attack.

“Dan has had a history with quarterbacks and guys that have made a difference in ball games,” Bielema said. “You can see that position makes their offense go.”

Mullen stated a starting quarterback would not be named until after pregame warm-ups.

logan.lowery@journalinc.com