Arkansas continued its preparation for Mississippi State, but finally took off the pads Wednesday after six workouts in full pads through the open date week. The Hogs worked for about two hours under the lights in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Hogs got some good news with the improving health of two defensive ends out for the last couple of weeks. Both Adrian Davis and Demario Ambrose practiced and are available for the trip to Starkville.
"Absolutely," defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said when asked if the return of Davis would help the front wall.
"He gives us some ability to rush the passer at end. He's athletic. He can slide and make himself skinny and get through holes. He can keep his focus on where the quarterback is in the pocket. He doesn't lose the quarterback."
Ambrose was listed as only probable when the week started, but Robinson liked what he saw the last two days, especially Wednesday.
"He did a great job today," Robinson said. "His timing was off yesterday, but he did extremely well today. He understood what we were trying to do today."
The Hogs will need extra help up front. Mississippi State's physical offensive line and big running backs will present a tough challenge for an Arkansas defense that caved to the run late in their last football game.
"They are awfully good up front," Robinson said. "They have good running backs. (Anthony Dixon) runs with his down and he can catch the football."
Robinson expects the Hogs to play better after focusing on physical play during the open week.
"We were embarrassed," he said. "We have talked about playing with courage and toughness. That's been the focus. It's what we've worked on."
Asked if the Hogs worked more in one-on-one tackling drills since the South Carolina game, Robinson said, "We work one-on-one every day. We haven't changed that. But we've tried to make sure they are challenged. We have to have some carry over from practice. We have to be the hammer and make sure we play tough."
Redshirt freshman defensive end Jake Bequette said the focus has been on toughness.
"That's what we've worked on," he said. "We took the pads off today, but I don't think today's practice was less than what we've done the last two weeks. It was very fast"
Weakside linebacker Jerry Franklin said the Hogs know what to expect from the Bulldogs.
"They will be one of the most physical teams we play all season," Franklin said. "The line gets out and plays hard and the backs run like big backs run, down hill.
"Our focus has been to play really hard. What happens definitely won't be because we don't expect a tough game from them. We know they are going to come out and play hard. Everyone on our team is aware of what kind of team they have.
"We have gotten a kinda morale boost this week with the return of a couple of defensive linemen. You need those guys and we are glad to get them back. Those are two good defensive ends."
Safety Matt Harris noted the return of Davis and Ambrose, too.
"If you play in the secondary, what you hope for is some errant passes because of the pressure from your defensive line," Harris said. "Maybe them coming back leads to that."
However, Harris knows the game plan starts with the way the safeties force the run.
"We know what they will want to do against us, run it up the gut and see if we can stop it, then run outside and see if we can stop that," Harris said. "We are going to be tested. They'll come out and tell us, 'We are running right at you.' It'll be up to us to stop it. They will tell us where they are running it and then come right at us."
Harris thinks the Hogs will be prepared.
"I think we've had really good practices this week," he said. "I thought our Sunday night practice was great. We were out here until about 9:30 (p.m.), but that's what we needed. I think the practices we've had this week have carried over from that.
"What we've done is stess courage and commitment. Coach (Bobby) Petrino is cool and collected. He's a mature coach and he knows exactly what we need right now. He understands our situation."
The situation is that the Hogs need a victory this week to stay in the hunt to become bowl eligible.
"The only game we can play is Mississippi State," Harris said. "We have to get win number five right now. Everyone knows the magic number is six, but we can only get to five this week. We want to go 1-0 this week. That's all we are talking about."
Franklin said the goal has always been to somehow become bowl eligible.
"No offense to my family, but I don't want to see them for the holidays," he said. "I don't want to be sitting around with my family for Christmas. I want to be playing in a bowl somewhere."
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