*The Bulldogs are 1-3 against ranked opponents; Arkansas is 1-2.
*These teams have played three common opponents, both beating Georgia and losing to Alabama and Auburn.
*State and Arkansas last met as ranked opponents in 1999, at Little Rock.
*The Bulldogs returned to rankings five polls ago, the longest stretch since the 2000 season. State is one of the eight SEC clubs to be ranked so far this season.
*But State's six-game win streak, longest since 1999, was snapped this past weekend at Alabama. In program history Bulldog teams have six-win streaks only eight times, and only twice since 1955.
*This is only the second time in program history that Mississippi State has reached Halloween with seven victories and assured of a bowl bid.
*Dan Mullen has won six SEC games as Bulldog head coach. Five of these have been against Eastern Division opponents. The lone West win to date is over Ole Miss.
The Opponent: Coming back to a college job after a short NFL stint has worked out rather well in the SEC West lately. And if Bobby Petrino hasn't scored quite the same success as his Alabama counterpart, it isn't for lack of Fayetteville fireworks. His Razorback attack puts up remarkable numbers, and if the defensive side lags behind, well, the best defense and all that. The only letdown through a fast three years has been failure to reach Atlanta, and those who watched know it was a whole lot closer this time around than the record can show. For that matter Arkansas still holds a strong hand in settling how the SEC bowl process plays out. Oh, and just because a few of the biggest names will move on don't expect a fall-off in 2011, based on how some backups have already performed under pressure this year.
Offense: Not that the forward pass is entirely new at Arkansas, understand. But this staff has taken the tool to unprecedented program heights with 17 games of 300 or more yards; there were just 16 in all previous UA annals. These Razorbacks currently rank #3 in NCAA throw-and-catch and SEC-wise the numbers are rather absurd. But what else to expect with a Ryan Mallett chunking all over the yard? The undisputed 2010 league leader in downfield passing is a quick toss shy of 3,000 yards after ten games with a 67% completion rate and 24 touchdowns vs. eight picks. Not too proud to unload and live for another throw, he's maybe more dangerous on the roll and observing from a 6-6 or so vantage point. And the fellow in relief is no mere backup as Tyler Wilson is almost as accurate while training for 2011. It says something about injured WR Greg Childs connection with the quarterback that he's been gone two games and still leads the team in catches. But UA has hardly struggled without him, having other of equivalent talents on hand. Then again they've always made great use of D.J. Williams; he's not just the most offensive tight end in the SEC but leads his position nationally in career catches and yards. This year's totals to-date are 42, 491, and three scores. Almost as impressive is how the ground game has improved from afterthought to genuine threat. In fact had the Hogs rushed this well back in September the SEC West might look very different today. Knile Davis has come to the fore with 844 yards and an average 7.2 gain for ten of the team's 19 rushing scores; while 248-pound Broderick Green brings the power. The blocking is both big, averaging 315 pounds across, and experienced with three seniors. It's also avoided injury with the same fivesome starting every game so far. Weaknesses? Well, Arkansas is last in the league in penalties per game by a sizable margin. And turnovers have been an occasional issue. But honestly, if one must delve as deep as 4th down conversions to find a weakness, there really aren't any. Oh, and this is also the best bunch in the league at red zone offense with touchdowns in 30 of 40 chances.
Defense: No, they're not up to the standard of the West's best…but it is also a better unit than most want to think. Arkansas is 5th in SEC yardage defense and 30th nationally, and a respectable mid-league pack in scoring defense. They've been willing to adjust the lineup along the season-way, too, and with eight underclassmen listed to start tomorrow there is certainly potential for continuing improvement. The four-front set lines up on the ball with NG Bryan Jones, all 310 pounds of him, with a 290-pound tackle Lavunce Askew clogging up an adjoining gap. Not surprisingly it frees the ends up to attack; Jake Bequette and Demario Ambrose thus have almost 13 combined tackles for losses including over eight sacks. But the master bagman is MLB Jerry Franklin with 5.5 sacks among his team-topping 70 tackles. Outside backer Jerico Nelson is safety sized and has run into 63 stops of his own with one interception and a fumble recovery. For his part Tramain Thomas really is a safety and an active one at that as four interceptions proves; but he's also credited with 52 tackles. Safety partner and converted corner Rudell Crim has three picks of his own. There's been a late change at one corner, Greg Gatson taking over with eight-game starter Ramon Broadway out. Overall coverage is aided by opposing tendencies to rush the ball and Arkansas has given up four yards per ground play. But nobody is close in SEC third-down defense (under 31%) and the Hogs are tied for second in sacks. And really, how good must they be when the offense puts up such points?
Specialists: Freshman Zach Hocker might not get lots of field goal chances but is money when he does, 11-of-12 with a 51-yarder on his rookie resume. Dylan Breeding is good for almost 43 yards per punt. For as much practice as they get the kickoff coverage should be better than 42 yards, but they do have 15 touchbacks. WR Joe Adams leads the SEC in returning punts and is 4th NCAA this week. The Series: Though they did play a couple of pre-War times, the programs only became rivals with the 1992 SEC addition of Arkansas to the Western Division. After State went 2-0-1 the first three years Arkansas has owned the series since to build a 13-6-1 advantage. That included a nine-year run until the 2008 Dogs took a 31-28 home field win. Arkansas still leads 5-4 in Starkville games.
Bulldog Notebook: During the winning streak, the Bulldog defense was by far the SEC's stingiest as far as protecting the goal line with a touchdown allowed only every 44 opposing snaps. Even with Alabama hanging three touchdowns on State last week, the rate remains 1-to-37 snaps, still solidly among the league's best defenses.
*And how good are SEC defenses? For the season as a whole State is third-best in the league in scoring defense…yet #16 this week in the NCAA standings behind #4 Alabama and #6 LSU.
*But the Bulldogs are clearly better holding their ground than covering in the air; they are #18 nationally in rush defense, #79 in pass defense.
*State has score 11 SEC game touchdowns; seven rushing and four passing, though one of those was an option-forward flip against Georgia counted as a ‘pass' play. Still, each of the last two SEC contests has produced a passing score, of 21 and 27 yards thrown by different Dog quarterbacks.
*The MSU offense has a distinct bias to rushing, with good reason. In all SEC games the breakdown is 68% rushing, though that includes sacks. But in MSU's three league wins, over 75% of plays have been rushes.
*Talk about coincidence; in all three conference wins this year the MSU offense has snapped the ball 58 times. Additionally, in all wins they have snapped the ball fewer times than the opponent; and in losses more times, such as this past week when State had 72 snaps, Alabama 59.
*But Alabama also snapped State's streak of 200-yard rushing games, at five. The Bulldogs are still #3 in SEC all-season rushing and #18 in the NCAA.
*Last Saturday was the first time MSU failed to score a rushing touchdown this season, and only the third time since Dan Mullen has been in charge.
*Oddly, the Bulldogs were 50% on third-down conversions at Alabama; the first break-even or better game since going 8-of-15 at Houston.
*State's last eleven offensive touchdowns have come on drives of 61 yards or more.
*The Bulldog and Alabama knocked each other out of first place in SEC turnover margin; they're tied for second this week (and 20th nationally). State still has just one fumble, and that by a defensive player after an interception, in the last seven D-I games.
*TB Vick Ballard managed 80 rushing yards at Alabama, but that was still a bit better than his season average of 77 yards which has him #9 in the SEC this week. In his last five games played (he missed the UAB contest) Ballard has averaged 107 yards.
*But Ballard has only one touchdown in the last four game dates, so he is tied for #5 in SEC scoring (#27 NCAA) this week at 8.7 points per game. He does have the fourth-most SEC touchdowns though, 13.
*Which means Ballard is still three-shy, with two games left in the regular season and a bowl game, of tying or passing the MSU season record of 16 scores (Jackie Parker 1952, Anthony Dixon 2007).
*TB LaDarius Perkins stepped in for Ballard in the UAB game to run for 131 yards. In the last two games he's carried 11 times for 55 yards in the tailback rotation.
*Ballard nets 6.3 yards per rush, Perkins 5.5.
*QB Chris Relf was a 50% passer at Alabama, 8-of-16. But that was his first break-even throwing game since Houston. At Tuscaloosa, he had his first interception since the LSU game.
*Though he's only started ten games and played in 22, Relf is tied for the 9th-most accurate passer in program history at 51.8% with Jackie Parker.
*His first completion this week should put Relf over 1,000 passing yards as he goes in with 996. And Relf is still in plus-territory with seven touchdowns against four interceptions.
*After seeing minimal duty in the previous three games, QB Tyler Russell finished out the Alabama game with 80 passing yards and State's only touchdown. That came on a 27-yard strike in the fourth quarter.
*Russell's completed passes net 16.3 yards; Relf averages 12.8 per completion.
*Russell has five touchdowns against six interceptions this freshman season off the bench.
*And Russell is a plus-runner with a 4.9 yard gain when he keeps the ball.
*For most of a month WR Chad Bumphis was doing more carrying than catching. But in the last two games the soph has gotten back on the receiving track with five catches and 84 yards.
*He also caught Russell's touchdown throw last Saturday. It was his fifth score of the season, but his first SEC touchdown of any sort in 2010. Bumphis has nine career TDs and is already #10 on the program career touchdown catch list.
*Bumphis has more receptions this year than the next two Dogs combined with 38 for 545 yards.
*As a freshman he averaged 11.7 yards per catch; this year he's up to 14.3 yards.
*And he'll still carry the ball out of the backfield. Bumphis is netting 6.9 yards per rush.
*Bumphis may be the first receiver choice but a couple of cohorts are getting their chances now, too. WR Brandon Heavens has pulled in six balls good for 98 yards in the last three games, and his 15.8 yard per-catch rate is best of the first rotation receivers.
*And WR Arceto Clark has been consistent with two catches each of the last three games, for 99 yards. Both his touchdowns have come in SEC games, too, against Georgia and Kentucky.
*TE Brandon Henderson has seven catches this senior season; he had six grabs in his previous three years.
*Freshman WR Michael Carr has not caught a pass so far this season, but has rushed four times in the last three games for an average 10.5 yard gain.
*OT Derek Sherrod has been named SEC Lineman of the Week twice this season.
*Redshirt freshman OG Gabe Jackson has Mississippi State's other offensive touchdown for the season. He fell on a Relf goal-line fumble that rolled into the end zone. It was the first touchdown for a Bulldog blocker since guard Derrick Dean also recovered an offensive fumble in the end zone against Louisiana Tech in 1988.
*But after allowing just five sacks in the previous six games, State gave up five against Alabama. MSU is still 3rd-best in all-season SEC stats for sacks.
*For their part the Bulldog defense has had a frustrating season on sacks, with 21 through ten games. But that is three more than all last season.
*DE Pernell McPhee is still in search of his first senior sack after leading the team with 5.0 as a junior. But he has ten official ‘hurries' credited, more than twice the next-best teammate.
*Though not a sack, a hard rush by McPhee produced a holding call in the end zone at Houston and thus State's sole safety of the season so far. And had a back judge seen things a little differently, McPhee would have scored a safety-sack in the first half at Alabama.
*MLB Chris White had a brilliant October, with four-straight games of double-digit tackles including a career best 15 stops against Kentucky. He began the last month of the season with only three tackles credited at Alabama.
*He's still fourth-best in SEC tackles this week at 89 for the season. White is also fourth in tackles-for-losses and ninth in sacks at 5.0.
*All his sacks came in two games, though; 2.5 against Alcorn State and 2.5 at Florida.
*White has picked off passes in each of the last two SEC games.
*White has raced away with the team tackle lead, leaving WLB K.J. Wright back in second place at 70 stops. And S Charles Mitchell is coming on fast with 22 tackles the last three games.
*Wright has 231 career tackles in four seasons.
*And Wright leads this defense in passes deflected with eight. But he has yet to intercept a pass at State.
*The ten team interceptions are shared by five Dogs with two each.
*CB Corey Broomfield has a pair of picks, giving him eight in his two State seasons. That puts him half-way to the career record of 16. Broomfield also has three pick-sixes in two years, tying the career mark of Derek Pegues (2005-08).
*It took seven games before CB Johnthan Banks got his first 2010 interception, at Florida. He came back to pick a Kentucky pass for six career interceptions. Half of those have come on Gator throws.
*DT Fletcher Cox has blocked one field goal (Auburn) this year, to go with his rejection against Houston as a true 2009 freshman. Classmate and DT partner Josh Boyd has joined the block party, rejecting a field goal by Alcorn State.
*Nine different Dogs have forced a fumble this year. Starting S Nickoe Whitley has two of those, and so does someone who only participates on kicking plays. DS Aaron Feld has rattled two fumbles loose, on punt coverage.
*Bulldog punt coverage has been the best in the league this year, with only 52 yards of returns on the 47 kicks by P Heath Hutchins. Of those punts, 15 have been fair-caught and 21 put inside the 20-yard line.
*Kickoff coverage has gradually improved to the point State is now 10th in SEC average. For most of the year the Dogs were bringing up the rear here.
*PK Derek DePasquale has fixed State's field goal struggles, connecting on his last seven attempts. The longest though is 43 yards and four of his makes have been less than 30 yards. DePasquale is 17-of-22 in his two State seasons.
*Five of his field goals were against UAB, tying the program game record. *DePasquale and PK Sean Brauchle are a combined 67-of-67 on PATs over two years.
*Three true freshmen have played this season: DE/LB Corvell Harrison-Gay, ST/LB Chris Hughes, and Carr.
*Scholarship freshmen yet to play this year are: QB Dylan Favre, TE Brandon Hill, DB Matthew Wells, WR Jamerson Love, RB Nick Griffin, LB Jay Hughes, K Baker Swedenburg, LB Christian Holmes, LB Ferlando Bohanna, OL Archie Muniz, OL Dillon Day, OL Eric Lawson, OL Blaine Clausell, OL Damien Robinson, WR Malcolm Johnson, WR Robert Johnson, DL Kaleb Eulls, and DL Curtis Virges.
*The longest starting streak (not counting special teams) belongs to OG/C Quentin Saulsberry at 34. OT Derek Sherrod has the most career starts, 40.