"Absolutely, playing a team like that can be dangerous. They've got a little chip on their shoulder, kind of like us. We're trying to get back on our winning streak, and they're trying to get bowl eligible. So it will be a good matchup."
A very good one, potentially. Thumbing through this week's SEC statistics, for conference play only, the respective teams are listed right next to each other in scoring and total offense and nearly as close in rushing. The only real separation shows in passing offense where the Razorbacks put up 276 yards in league play to State's 254. Though, the Bulldogs offset this with much better protection of the ball in turnover terms.
Add it all up and linebacker Lawrence is correct. This matchup should be good for a Saturday show. Arkansas might not have quite the same quantity of big-play receivers as a year ago when they shredded Mississippi State for 539 yards in Little Rock. The quality? It's still there per Lawrence. "A lot of talent across the board," said this veteran of the 2011 rout. "Maybe not the big go-to guys they had last year. But they've still got some solid players that their quarterback can get the ball to."
Yes, the same quarterback who set a personal record of 32 completions at State's expense in the last season. A lot beyond his control has happened to Tyler Wilson since, costing the senior a deserved shot at post-season honors in the process. Nothing has changed about how Wilson can pick coverage apart.
"They still like to let Wilson control the game, let him do all the reads and get the ball to his open guys," said Lawrence. "And he doesn't need much space, he can thread the needle." Not just can but does as 309 yards per SEC game proves, with about one-third of that yardage going to classmate Cobi Hamilton. The sole weak point State can see is the occasional pass going to the wrong team…but only when Wilson is forced to fling ahead of schedule.
Of course rushing quarterbacks has not exactly been a house specialty for State, with only nine sacks in six SEC games. Sacks aren't absolutely necessary as the Bulldog defense proved against Tennessee's Tyler Bray, the type of passer Lawrence compares directly to Wilson. Coverage was key that night. And at least State won't have to go flailing after the same sort of quicksilver quarterback as two weeks ago when Texas A&M came to town.
"He's totally different, so we're going to try to get some pressure on him," Lawrence said. "He's kind of what makes their offense click. So getting to him, showing him some different looks, will be critical to the success of the game."
And trust this, Lawrence and his classmates are nigh-obsessed with making their Senior Day a success. The 25 Bulldogs to be recognized prior to the 11:21 kickoff already have made a successful mark on Mississippi State. Though many enrolled in 2008 and one, TE Marcus Green, first dressed-out back in 2007, they are being celebrated for what has been done under Coach Dan Mullen's management in 2009-present.
They already own 28 victories in four seasons, and tomorrow can tie the 2001 class' 29 wins as well as go for 30 before the regular season is over. These Bulldogs already have matched the 1998-2000 teams by securing three-straight bowl berths, for only the second time in all Mississippi State history. And Green is even more unique; having redshirted in 2007 he will be the first Bulldog on record to be part of four bowl teams…a mark guard Tobias Smith hopes to match in 2013 if granted a sixth season by the NCAA.
All of it merits a proud place for these Bulldogs already. Yet to Lawrence there is business to finish, because the last thing he wants to do tomorrow is leave Scott Field the last time with a losing score. He was part of the 2010 team which did have Senior Day, or night in that case, spoiled by Arkansas and in overtime at that. So this senior is aware of the risks and rewards involved.
Much better to take the home-field bow as did older brother Addison last year, with a 31-3 romp over Ole Miss. While Arkansas isn't quite the same sort of rival, a three-year losing streak to the Razorbacks brings extra incentive. Not that the younger Lawrence lacks for that after watching Addison's experience.
"It was really emotional. But it was kind of a special event, I was getting to play with him on his last home game. It was memorable for sure." There'll be just one Lawrence playing this one though Addison will be in the family seats…sans the black face-paint these brothers have sported.
There will be one other special Bulldog recognized Saturday. Actually he already is and has been for two-plus seasons, ever since the November 2010 passing of defensive lineman Nick Bell to a rare cancer. These commemorations have been low-key since the Gator Bowl; no #36 jersey worn though all Dogs have that number-patch on theirs; small black yard-markers at the 36s on Scott Field, and such. This week though is the climax of remembering Bell, with his name emblazoned in the north end zone.
"It's just awesome," Lawrence said. "You can't ever honor him enough. Nick was a great guy and I'm glad we're still keeping him in mind every time we take the field."
About the only thing this home-field finale lacks is the same all-encompassing emphasis provided by the Golden Egg. That comes next week as this senior class seeks to become the first since the 1940s to score a four-season sweep of the real rivalry. Lawrence will need no special motivation for his last meeting with the Rebels, of course.
But he's stinging just a little this week having ‘lost' one showdown. His alma mater, Magnolia Heights, fell in the state academy playoffs to Heritage Academy. Meaning, "I guess Baker got bragging rights," the linebacker said of punter Baker. "We didn't bet on it but we were kind of bumping and messing with each other all week."
Whoa, wait…a kicker claiming coup on a linebacker? Hard to believe, Lawrence agreed, but… "Ahhhh, I don't know, he punted there and we played against each other."