Looking For Answers

FAYETTEVILLE --Sylvester Croom summed up Mississippi State's passing woes Monday when he asked how the Bulldogs can improve through the air.



"You got any suggestions?" Croom said. "I could sure use them."

It has been that bad for Mississippi State, which sits 11th in the Southeastern Conference and 111th in the nation in passing (136.3 yards a game). The only conference team with less production in the passing game is Alabama (123 yards).

Quarterback Omarr Conner has struggled in his first season as a starter, completing 79 of 151 passes for 860 yards with 4 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Backup Kyle York, who started two games with Conner sidelined because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee, hasn't fared much better. The pair have completed 51.3 percent with 7 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

"We're going to continue some things we worked on, continue to work in that area," Croom said. "That's an area we have to improve in. He was into a rhythm against Florida. The last two weeks have been OK, but he had some problems early."

Mississippi State has struggled to find a go-to receiver, an area that Croom has labeled as the top priority in the 2004 recruiting class. Senior McKinley Scott, was projected to emerge in that role, but the senior sustained a hamstring injury against Auburn on Sept. 11, missed the next three games and has seven catches.

Will Prosser and Tee Milons are tied for the team lead in receptions (19), while tight end Eric Butler leads Mississippi State in touchdowns (3).

"I would like to think our passing game would've been a lot better," Croom said. "(Scott) could've been a go-to guy where we could've designed things around to get him the football to where he can step up and make plays. As it started out, we only had Will Prosser and that was it. That's sort of the way it's been most of the year."

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt believes Conner and the Bulldogs will test the SEC's 11th-ranked secondary, which is coming off its best performance of the season. Ole Miss completed 15 of 34 passes for 168 yards against the Hogs.

"When (Conner's) healthy, he's been the guy that gets them going," Nutt said. "He's athletic and very accurate with the ball. When he hands it to (tailback) Jerious Norwood, it makes things even better.

"To me, he's been their leader and difference maker on offense that made a lot of great plays against Florida. You see a quarterback that's getting better each game."



Jones Update

Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones was limited during Tuesday's practice because of a strained right hamstring he sustained during the Hogs' 35-3 win against Ole Miss last Saturday. Backup quarterback Robert Johnson handled the bulk of repetitions with the first-team offense during team drills, but coach Houston Nutt said the senior should be full speed for Saturday's game.

"He's doing good," Nutt said. "He went through the first part of practice and threw the ball today in pass (skeleton). He did the first part of team and did good."

In other injury news, running backs De'Arrius Howard and Brandon Kennedy (concussions) practiced and will be available Saturday. Backup linebacker Michael Robinson missed practice with a thigh injury and is doubtful for Saturday's game.



In Red's Zone

Arkansas cornerback Matterral "Red" Richardson's playing time has continued to grow the past few week because of a deep-thigh injury to starter Michael Coe. Richardson recorded 7 of his 10 tackles the past two games and the true freshman said he's continuing to learn his role.

"It took some time coming from high school, but I'm starting to get everything down," Richardson said. "I've just been getting into the flow and trying to find something I can do to get better every day."

Richardson is listed as the reserve at field corner behind Chris Houston, who continued to work with the first-team defense Monday. Coe returned to action last Saturday after missing two games and position coach Bobby Allen said the sophomore will be included in a five-cornerback rotation against the Bulldogs.

"Last week, all five got as many reps because of the offense we were facing and the personnel groupings," Allen said. "I fully expect to try to get all of them in there and play this week. How much, I can't tell you."



LS-Who?

Arkansas took a much-needed step toward becoming bowl eligible last Saturday when it beat Ole Miss. And with the rebuilding Bulldogs on the horizon, plenty have circled the Hogs' Nov. 26 date with LSU in Little Rock as the game that'll decide whether Arkansas reaches its seventh consecutive bowl.

But Arkansas safety Vickiel Vaughn said the Hogs won't fall into that trap.

"Can't look past Mississippi State," Vaughn said. "They have gotten better since the beginning of the season. To look past any team in the SEC could be murderous to your season, basically. I think we've got to take the first step, that's to concentrate on Mississippi State and to prepare to go out there and beat them."

Staff Writer Mike Capshaw contributed to this report.

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