Arkansas' Mission: Stop MSU's Run

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas linebacker Jerry Franklin has butted helmets with offensive linemen from Alabama, Auburn and Florida.

He has to remember how big and strong Texas was earlier this season. And he can't forget how South Carolina pushed the Razorbacks around in the trenches two weeks ago.

But as Franklin studied Mississippi State's run game in preparation for Saturday's game in Starkville, the redshirt freshman drew one conclusion: Stopping it could be the biggest challenge the Razorbacks have faced.

"I'm thinking it's going to be one of the most physical games that we've played all season," Franklin said. "When you watch them on film, their offensive line gets south. They've got big backs and they run hard. They run downhill."

Arkansas' defense knows it will be facing a physical test when it plays at Mississippi State on Saturday. The Bulldogs' aren't flashy or high-scoring, but will try to control the game with a powerful ground game that features big running backs Anthony Dixon (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) and Christian Ducre (6-0, 215).

It's not an unusual recipe. In fact, Arkansas' returning defensive players said it's what they've always expected from the Bulldogs. And something the Hogs are determined to stuff.

"It's a Mississippi State classic football team," Arkansas safety Matt Harris said. "So we're going to go in there and stop the run and win the game hopefully."

But that sounds much easier than it has actually been for the Razorbacks this season.

Arkansas' struggles against the run are well known. The Hogs are last in the SEC in rushing defense (166.2 yards) a game. They're giving up even more (179.2) in six conference games.

On paper, it looked like Arkansas improved against South Carolina two weeks ago after giving up 145 rushing yards. But don't be fooled. The Gamecocks carried the league's worst ground attack into the game and manhandled the Hogs in the second half.

"I think our kids saw it and they're very embarrassed about it," defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said. "Talking about courage and toughness and we've got to display that.

"We've got to get back to believing in the fact that it's not just going to happen, we've got to go make it happen. We hope we get that thing done. We'll get it corrected."

It helps that the Razorbacks have two defensive linemen back after bouts with injuries.

Adrian Davis and Damario Ambrose were both sidelined with knee injuries against South Carolina, giving the Hogs little depth up front. Franklin described their returns as a "morale boost" for the defense and one that they hope will come in handy against the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State is 10th in the SEC in rushing (104.5 yards a game), but has played from behind much of the year. Dixon — who ran for 1,066 yards and 14 touchdowns last season — leads the way with 673 rushing yards in 2008.

The more success he has against the Razorbacks, the easier things will be for first-year starting quarterback Tyson Lee. So Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette said the Hogs know what they have to do to control MSU's offense Saturday: Stop the run.

"They've got a couple big backs, especially Dixon," Bequette said. "Some of the older guys can attest to that. But it's just like any other game. If we're able to control the line of scrimmage we're going to be successful."

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