State of the Hogs: Arkansas Must Stay Hungry with Mississippi State coming to town

The Arkansas approach must stay the same with Mississippi State coming to town. Armed with Dak Prescott at quarterback, the Bulldogs are a real challenge. The Hogs must stay humble even after back-to-back road victories at Oxford and Baton Rouge.

This is a twist on the favorite line from the most interesting man in the world as he pumps something that he doesn't always drink.

The man with all of the pretty women says, "Stay thirsty, my friend."

That's not exactly what the most interesting man in Razorback Nation said Monday when he visited with the media, but Bret Bielema did mean exactly that when he said his job is to make sure his football team stays "humble" as they prepare for Mississippi State and perhaps the best quarterback in the SEC. He was clear on that message in his Monday media briefing. He said his job this week is to assure the Hogs are humble as everyone they know tells them how good they are.

No one should have to remind the Hogs that they were one play away from a loss at several points in the Auburn game, then againt at Ole Miss. Bielema reminded that they are just a 6-4 team and not far removed from 2-4.

Dak Prescott represents just the kind of challenge that was missing from a talented LSU team last week in Baton Rouge. The Hogs could concentrate on the nation's best player, running back Leonard Fournette, because LSU did not have an outstanding threat at quarterback with Brandon Harris.

All you have to do is think back to one week when the Arkansas defense was reeling from start to finish because of the run-pass threat from Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly. Prescott is every bit as good as Kelly. In fact, he is closer to Fournette as any running back the Hogs have faced and he can throw, too.

Surely the Hogs can remember the bad times earlier this year when they were looking squarely in the face of a losing season after losses to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. And, they weren't much better at the open date when they stood 2-4.

But they've shown some high powered offense since then, with the maturation of Dominique Reed and the return to good health for both Jared Cornelius and Kody Walker. The Hogs would not be bowl eligible with a 6-4 record without those three players.

Offensive coordinator Dan Enos is having fun moving all of the big-play pieces around the field, knowing fifth-year senior Brandon Allen is going to keep them out of bad plays with the correct pre-snap reads. And, Allen is making plays with his feet when linebackers and safeties exit chasing all of those elite offensive players.

Elite? Yes, the Hogs now have some elite playmakers. I look at the way the ball is being distributed compared to the lat two years when Keon Hatcher was the only reliable option. Those who thought Allen could not find another player see him going through his options because he knows all will catch the ball. It sounds so simple, but that's as key to what the Hogs have done the last month as anything.

The key is for the Hogs to stay hungry and humble. Mississippi State and Missouri are dangerous. The Hogs must play with the same emotion as they took to the field in each of the last four games since the bye week. They played hard and played well, especially on offense. The defense joined the party last week at Baton Rouge, finding the handle on Harris with five sacks.

The wild card in all of that has to be the development of defensive end Deatrich Wise. He's always had the look of a big-time SEC pass rusher. But he's starting to understand the reads and keys for the big calls that Robb Smith has had for him this season. The twists that seemed to free Trey Flowers were doing the same with Wise, but he was not finishing the deal. He did last week.

I asked Enos if he's seeing a different look from SEC safeties than at the start of the season with the arrival of the passing game. He didn't really answer the question the way I had anticipated. Instead of talking about where defensive coordinators are playing their safeties against Allen -- and giving Alex Collins one less defender to beat -- there was talk about Allen's ball handling and fakes.

"What I see is Brandon effecting the eyes of the safeties," Enos said. "He's really good with his ball handling. He takes pride in it. You see him move the safeties because he carries out his fakes on pass plays exactly the same way he does when he's handing the ball off. He dips his knees the same way. He puts the ball on the hip of the runner on play fakes. It looks exactly the same. He is as good as anyone I've worked with, really good."

I saw LSU widen their ends to take care of Allen's boot legs that were so effective at Ole Miss. They stepped to the outside instead of up the field. It helped both Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, the two UA offensive tackles, in the way they set their feet for pass protection. It was Skipper's best game against a very good defensive end.

I also notice that Smith has added some wrinkles to help Dre Greenlaw in the defensive scheme. One thing that most don't realize is that middle linebacker has fewer keys than weakside linebacker. Greenlaw was in the middle for a good number of snaps against LSU, tracking Fournette.

Brooks Ellis was at weakside linebacker and made the right reads when LSU went to a bubble screen early. He was better in the cat and mouse game with Harris than Greenlaw. It showed in the way Harris was frustrated and held the ball too long, allowing for the sacks. You see, some of those sacks were the result of coverage. The Hogs are alright in getting pressure on a dropback team, not as good against the quick throws in a spread scheme.

Prescott likes to hold the ball, too. They'll have some time to apply some pressure. But he's a load to get on the ground. The Hogs will probably have to get to him with two defenders to get sacks. And, he's so much better in those cat and mouse games than Harris showed last week. He'll play games and win some of the times with Greenlaw and Ellis.

That's why the Hogs will have to stay hungry, thirsty and humble this week. That's the challenge this week.

The good news is that Bielema's 1-0 mantra is just as good after a series of wins as a series of losses. The focus is on daily tasks, keeping the routine the same. It's about preparation and practice. The Hogs knew they were going to play well these last four weeks because the practices were outstanding. They were getting better every day.

"If you aren't getting better every day, you are going nowhere," Bielema said.

None of the Hogs have been surprised that they played well these last few games. It's exactly how they've practiced. Keep that moving forward, most everything falls in place.

I remember the words of former captain Trey Flowers last year when he talked about the need for hunger. He said the Hogs should attack an all-you-can-eat buffet like a stray dog. I get that picture. It's clear and concise.

After four straight victories and hearing fans sing their praise and talk about some sweet bowl trips, the Hogs must approach Mississippi State like they haven't tasted victory. No one is immune from losing at home. If Arkansas can win at Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU, a Mississippi State team with Prescott leading the charge can surely give the Razorbacks all they want.

Stay hungry is the only option.

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