This is as important a game as has been played in the Houston Nutt era. Of course, when you lose your first three conference games, as was the case this year, you put yourself in position of having a lot of big games. As the winning streak has grown, each game takes on more importance.
That the Hogs win against Mississippi State is important for a lot of reasons. Much momentum has been put in the Hogs' tank (for recruiting, for the bowls and for the confidence of this team) and that will be maintained with a victory.
The Hogs are a slight favorites for one of the few times this season in SEC play. They should be favored. They are better than the Bulldogs ... but not by much.
Mississippi State has great athletes, probably more than Arkansas. However, the Hogs are playing better football, making fewer mistakes and also making the key plays in crunch time. That's focus, concentration and coaching. That's why Arkansas should win today.
The biggest key for the Hogs is to start in smart fashion. If they can put some early points on the board, this could be a cruise. When teams have pounded the Bulldogs early, they have gone quietly.
But, it will be hard for the Hogs to do that. They have not shown an ability to score early this season. Usually, the Hogs have scored no more than 10 to 7 points in the first half.
The biggest key ... for both teams ... will be the way the quarterbacks read the defenses. Both teams will try to confuse the quarterback with moving defenses. Joe Lee Dunn for MSU and John Thompson for Arkansas will show blitz on almost every play in hopes of tricking the quarterbacks into changing plays, then drop into coverages that are designed to take advantage of ill-advised checks. Of course, there will be some blitzes. How effective these blitzes might be will determine the outcome of the game.
Arkansas should have a slight advantage at quarterback with Zak Clark and Matt Jones. A big key will be how Clark is able to pass against MSU's man coverage. Also, another key will be whether or not Jones come back from a sluggish performance against UCF and play with the same antiseptic poise that he displayed against the previous three foes. Can Jones beat State's eight-man fronts with his running? If he can, he will have some big plays running free in State's secondary.
Conversely, can the Hogs confuse first-time starter Kevin Fant, a 6-2, 212-pound sophomore quarterback. Wayne Madkin is out with a broken toe. Usually, inexperienced QBs have trouble with Thompson's defensive schemes. If Fant can't find the range in the passing game, Arkansas will eventually shut down the run and MSU will be hardpressed to score.
The Hogs must account for Pig Prather, State's leading tackler. Dunn will blitz Prather from the strong safety position that he calls the Dog. Prather is as fine a player as there is in the SEC. If the Hogs can neutralize Prather, they have a good chance to score some points.
This is a game the Hogs should win, which makes it a dangerous situation. The Hogs have been the hunter most of the season. They become the hunted in the eyes of spoiler Mississippi State. That's a different mindset and sometimes hard for a young team to handle. The emotion of the game is another key. Will the Hogs be ready?
It appears they are ready. They have had their best practices of the season this week. The contact has been decreased to bring back the legs that were dead last week against UCF. Will the Hogs be fresh? I think they will be fresh and quick. Look for a fun game.
Keys to Victory: MSU
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