State of the Hogs: Miss. State

Mississippi State's defensive scheme is on the unorthodox style. But can the Bulldogs stick with it against Ryan Mallett?

Bobby Petrino may or may not have looked at the Mississippi State stat sheet when he said on Monday that it's important to get off to a quick start against the Bulldogs. But, as usual the numbers back the Arkansas coach.

Mississippi State is 4-2 when scoring first this season. The Bulldogs are 0-4 when they give up the first points of the game.

No doubt, Petrino's logic had to do with more than that simplistic fact.

He thinks the Bulldogs probably prefer a grind-it-out running game. They may not have the passing game to play from behind.

It's never this simple, but how the Hogs do on defense may come down to courage and technique. Specifically, can they tackle Anthony Dixon, the 235-pound MSU running back. Dixon ran over the Hogs last year, especially after middle linebacker Wendel Davis left with a knee injury.

Perhaps that was the reason Davis didn't play against Troy last week. He's been bothered by some nagging bumps and bruises the last few weeks. Maybe the Hogs wanted him fresh for Dixon.

Things are more complex when it comes to the State defense. Petrino called it "unorthodox." His reasoning, no one else in Division I plays a scheme quite like the Bulldogs.

They often play a nine-man front, daring the pass. But most teams have still been able to run.

Petrino didn't expand on why it's unorthodox, but our crack research team uncovered a couple of tendencies that make State's defense unique.

For starters, the cornerbacks play inside the two widest split receivers.

They release them wide in their version of the Tampa Two scheme with two safeties playing wide. The opening will be down the field in fades or sideline route short of the safety. And, they will ask a linebacker to cover the tight end down the middle of the field. Others play variations of that scheme, but few play it down after down like State. Will they stick with that against Arkansas with the strength and accuracy of Ryan Mallett on the outside? That might be suicide, but that's been their tendency.

The other big difference in the Bulldogs comes up front. They often play their linebackers into gaps. It will remind of some things Joe Lee Dunn favored. It appears they are going to blitz every play, but they often jump out of it and the linebackers move back into a traditional alignment.

Some teams have tried to catch those linebackers out of position by going on quick snaps, before they can change their depth. That might be a strategy the Hogs can use successfully.

What they try to do is move into places that confuse you, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. Sometimes you just have to go ahead and trust the play, run it. Just do what you do against this kind of stuff.

Will the Bulldogs abandon some of their favorite tricks for more conventional plans this week against Mallett's big arm? Perhaps.

Or, they may blitz more than they have this season, and they've blitzed plenty. The boundary cornerback has been one of their favorite blitz spots and that will probably continue. With that inside alignment, he's usually quick off the edge.

Can the Bulldogs play their safeties that wide against Mallett and those nifty, fast double moves down the middle by inside receiver Joe Adams? I'd doubt that, but Mallett is going to need some time to get that pass off.

I'd guess Mallett is going to see more blitzes instead of fewer these last two games. The conventional wisdom of defensive coordinators is to blitz the great quarterbacks, drop and defend against bad ones. Mallett has established himself as one of the SEC's best over the last month.

If the Bulldogs change their scheme, that's an admission they think Mallett is a rare talent. If they blitz more, even more proof.

They'll try to knock him around. Expect it to be a hardfought game, an every week happening in the SEC. Mallett is going to have to make plays in the fourth quarter. I suspect he can, especially if State sticks to their scheme.

Hopefully, Arkansas scores first and extends the trend numbers on the Mississippi State stat sheet.

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