Welcoming Arkansas to town this weekend, Mississippi State will be seeing a familiar and dangerous foe. Certainly, the Bulldogs and Razorbacks know each other well and have had some fun games against each other both in recent years and seasons past.
But Saturday’s contest will be reminiscent not just of last year, but of last month when MSU beat the Tennessee Volunteers.
“Very similar,” MSU’s defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said.
Then, both have seen struggles on defense and both are in the midst of seasons falling short of the summer-time hopes and expectations. Even the quarterbacks, despite their successes, have been a touch interception-prone.
The plan MSU employed against UT, both offensively and defensively, will likely be similar to what the Bulldogs do against the Razorbacks in Starkville this weekend.
“You look at two premier quarterbacks. Big-time backs with Knile Davis back there. They’ve got skill guys across the board. When you can combine that with the receiver, No. 11, they’ve got a three-headed monster back there. You’ve gotta have a plan in place for all of those guys.”
Tyler Bray for the Vols and Tyler Wilson for Arkansas are the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks, respectively, in the SEC as far as passing yards go.
Speedster Cobi Hamilton is Wilson’s favorite target and the top receiver in the conference, already surpassing 1,100 yards in only 10 games. In the eastern division, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson are two of the most dangerous weapons not only in Bray’s arsenal, but across the country, both in the Top 10 in the conference in receiving.
Before playing the Vols back in October, Wilson talked about making opponents “play left-handed.” The assumption of the metaphor being that someone is right-handed and you force them to do work with the opposite.
Wilson decided the passing game was UT’s right hand, and he forced the Vols to try and beat MSU on the ground. The running backs did rack up some yards, but it wasn’t enough to win.
“You gotta decide, what do you have to take away to win the football game?” Wilson said. “That’s really big.”
Against Arkansas, the answer is likely the same as it was over a month ago. If you stop Arkansas from passing, you likely stop them from winning.
Of course, not all passes are bad, if you’re Wilson, or especially if you’re Johnthan Banks or Darius Slay.
While Bray and Wilson have amassed over 6,000 yards between them this season, they’ve also racked up 20 interceptions as a pair, 10 each, and have shown a bad habit of getting flustered and making bad decisions.
MSU recognized it against Tennessee, and the plan, yet again, will likely be the same against Arkansas.
Offensively the blue print looks similar, too.
Conventional wisdom suggests MSU should run the ball frequently to eat up clock and keep the high-flying offenses off the field. But UT’s weakness on defense was in the secondary, not on the line. Naturally, the Bulldogs took advantage,
The third Tyler of this conversation – Russell – may be in for a similar treat on Saturday.
While MSU wants to get its ground game going again after three poor showings, it will be hard to pass up throwing the ball against the No. 14 pass defense in the SEC. Dead last.
Again, the onus will be on the offense to keep up, stay ahead and take advantage when mistakes are made by the opponent.
And just like Tennessee, the record does not indicate how dangerous a team Arkansas still is.
“They’re absolutely that way. I mean, they didn’t trade away all those players away mid-season. They didn’t pull a Red Sox and dump the roster halfway through the season. They’re all still there. They still have a guy that’s projected to be one of the top picks in the NFL Draft at quarterback,” Mullen said. “They are very dangerous. Now, I think they’re back to the wall right now. They’ve gotta win out to get to a bowl game, so they’re kind of backed into a corner and I imagine they’re gonna come out fighting.”
If the similarities hold to the letter, MSU may again find itself on the right side of a matchup against a pass-heavy team, but just like against Tennessee, it won’t be easy for the Bulldogs.