Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said that his team's challenge this week as it prepares to face Mississippi State Saturday at 11:21 a.m. in Little Rock.
The Bulldogs (4-6, 2-4) have one of the SEC's top running attacks – led by Anthony Dixon – and have rushed the ball 65 percent of the time this season going into the game the Razorbacks (6-4, 2-4).
"This will be a different game for us," Petrino said. "This will be a different game as far as you'll have to go in, we need to stop the run. Last week (in a 56-20 win over Troy) we knew it was pass, pass, pass."
Petrino thinks his team – which has laid out some big hits lately – will rise to the challenge.
"We're playing with a lot more courage," Petrino said. "A lot more courageous and flying around. Defensively i was happy with our effort and our energy and our speed. We still had a few mistakes in there, but we're continuing to pressure the quarterback."
Dixon, who had 33 carries for 252 yards against Kentucky two weeks ago, is averaging 120.2 yards per game this season.
The Bulldogs are averaging 208.7 rushing yards a game as a team - fourth in the SEC and 15th in the country.
"They're a very good running team," Petrino said. "They run the ball well. They have a big running back. We don't want to have them keep us on the sideline. if you can play a perfect game, you can come out and get a big lead and make them have to throw the ball."
Dixon has broken the school's all-time rushing record and is 11th in SEC history with 3,685 yards and is also Mississippi State's career leader in attempts, touchdowns and 100-yard games.
He rushed 23 times for 179 yards and two touchdowns last season in the Bulldogs' 31-28 win over the Razorbacks in Starkville – their first win in 10 tries against Arkansas.
"He's physical," Petrino said. "When you look at (Arkansas redshirt sophomore) Broderick Green and the size and how you run downhill and bounce off blocks - a lot how he runs. We did not do a good job of tackling him last year. We have to do a better job of tackling him this year."
"Tackling him one on one," Petrino said, "and also getting more bodies to the football and flying around and playing with more aggressiveness and more speed."
That's not to say that Mississippi State quarterback Tyson Lee can't hurt you through the air.
Lee actually completed 23-of-40 passes for 219 yards and 2 touchdowns against Arkansas last season and he is averaging 137 yards passing this season.
"He's very capable," Petrino said. "He can make good throws and he has a quick release. he scares me a little bit more in his ability to move around and run and make plays with his legs."
Arkansas defense has made improvements this season and has allowed just 36 point in its last two games.
It is a defense that has forced 23 turnovers this season – 12 more than opponents – and have have outscored their foes 104-10 off turnovers this season.
"That's been the key," Petrino said. "That's been the big deal - the turnovers we've been able to get. You get turnovers by playing fast, playing hard and playing physical, pressuring the quarterback. Two of those interceptions the other night, we had great pressure on the quarterback."
Arkansas leads the SEC in scoring (37.6), something Petrino thinks the defense - led by Jerico Nelson's 12 tackles last weekend - deserves some credit for as well.
"Our ability to get more series on offense and special teams set up touchdowns, has all contributed to our point total," Petrino said. "We haven't scored all the points just on offense. It's been defensive, either touchdowns or set ups, and special teams either touchdowns or set ups. That's something you really look at and know that contributes a lot to the win."
Arkansas should add back in injured linebacker Wendel Davis this week and will know soon if cornerback David Gordon and defensive tackle Zach Stadther should play.
|Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon is averaging 120.2 yards per game rushing this season.|
In addition to leading the league in scoring, Arkansas also is best in the SEC in total offense (450.1), passing offense (310.0), overall touchdowns (45), passing touchdowns (25), pass efficincy and red zone offense (97 percent).
Needless to say that Arkansas has plenty of playmakers on that side of the ball.
"We're getting closer to where we want to be," Petrino said. "Certainly i think when you look at our receiving corps, what D.J (Williams) can do at tight end, and what our running backs are developing into, a very positive and makes us hard to defend.
"And then you put it all on the o-line's shoulders. You say ‘ok offensive line, what will you allow us to do?' And if they allow us to run the ball like we have been lately and they allow us to have time throwing the ball, then we're going to be real good. We always tell the o-line they have to have big shoulders."