Bulldog Scouting Report – Arkansas

The Game: Mississippi State (4-6, 1-5 SEC) crosses the River one more time this fall, taking on Arkansas (3-7, 0-6) in Little Rock. Game time at War Memorial Stadium is 11:21am central for SEC TV. The MSU Network broadcast begins two hours earlier.

*Mississippi State has two remaining games, and needs wins in both to secure bowl eligibility for a record fourth-straight season. These are also opportunities for the Bulldogs to get a Western Division win against Arkansas and Ole Miss.

*Coach Dan Mullen is 5-20 against West opponents in five seasons, though 4-4 against Division foes who were not ranked at time of the game. Mullen is 9-4 against the SEC East including this season's lone league victory so far, over Kentucky.

*No Bulldog team has ever won a football game played at an Arkansas site. The 1993 team came closest with a tie in Little Rock, where otherwise State is 0-6. Arkansas has won all three meetings in Fayetteville, and leads 6-5 even in Starkville.

*Last year's victory at Scott Field was the first for State since 2008, also on campus; and only the second win since 1998. Arkansas leads the series 15-7-1, having gotten their first win over MSU in 1995.

*State has never had consecutive-year wins in this series.

*Arkansas is the only SEC team State plays away from the home campus/town.

*Mississippi State goes on the road not knowing if either veteran quarterback is available, as Tyler Russell (shoulder) and Dak Prescott (nerve) are both questionable with injuries. True freshman QB Damian Williams is the lone healthy scholarship quarterback left. Mullen expects a game-time decision on whether either of the veterans can even play, and then if they should start.

*Mullen is 1-1 against first-year SEC coaches this season, losing to Auburn and defeating Kentucky.

*Last year's 45 points against Arkansas was a SEC-game best for a Mullen Bulldog team so far.

The Opponent: Not all fresh starts play out the same, and Arkansas is one of the flip-side cases to debut success stories elsewhere. Then again few programs have taken this near-total course change, going from years of high-flying offense and an aborted season in-between to pure power and ball control. True, these Razorbacks are perilously close to a record losing streak. But all defeats have been winning and usually ranked opponents, something State can relate to right now. What matters more to Brett Bielema is the obvious progress made in recent weeks, with an open date to consolidate, and a real chance to springboard year-two with a fast finish to this first one.

Offense: To absolutely no surprise the Razorbacks have tried rebuilding around the run, and this is the squad strength. They're grinding out 210 yards a week rushing at 5.3 yards-per, and their net gain in SEC play is actually a bit better at 5.5 yards. This between-the-20s prowess devours clock, too, putting pressure on opponents to try quick strikes. Arkansas' issue though has been completing those long drives, with just five rushing scores in league games. Alex Collins leads the charge, looking to crack 1,000 yards for his freshman season this weekend and netting almost 95 per game with four scores. Or it will be soph Jonathan Williams, with an even better 6.1-yard average and 783 yards. And Bielema bucks the spread-trend with a true fullback in the offense; a good one in 242-pounder Kiero Small who produces first downs and touchdowns nigh-automatically in short situations. Only the Hog front line would make Small look, well, small, with 315-pound senior C Travis Swanson the lightweight of the bunch. The big beef, or pork, is on the right side behind 345-guard Denver Kirkland and 330-pound tackle Brey Cook. QB Brandon Allen might've been signed for one system but he's making the best of a different one, and in the last two games is over 50% throwing for over 300 yards and three scores as the passing game develops. None should be shocked in this offense that a tight end, Hunter Henry, is a go-to target with 354 yards and two scores. A rare senior, Javontee Henderson, leads the receivers with 28 grabs and four touchdowns. The general youth has made changing offenses a bit more problematic at times but their growing-up in a set system should pay off in future seasons.

Defense: Something easily overlooked in the natural focus on offense is simply that this coaching staff will actually respect its own defense. And that matters to players. The Razorbacks are still struggling on this side, 13th in SEC scoring defense, 10th in yardage and 11th in rushing. But it isn't lack of effort or emphasis. Or talent in the case of DE Chris Smith, who has become a sack-master (7.5) as a senior in the four-front. If blockers double on him, DT Darius Philon (3.0 sacks) comes through on his side; or from the other side DE Trey Flowers (4.0 sacks). Arkansas has bagged 24 passers, though just ten in league play. And this approach has left the unit vulnerable to big hitters because when they don't get the passer down he completes 73% of SEC-game throws. Linebackers Jarrett Lake and Braylon Mitchell seem to have been in the league forever, but only the former is a senior. Together they have 132 tackles, and they've been joined the last two games by freshman MLB Brooks Ellis which says something about the rookie's talents. As opponents prefer to run the ball first and usually second, the safeties stay busy. SS Alan Turner tops the team with 70 tackles while FS Eric Bennett is close behind at 61, and both have an interception to their credit. So does veteran CB Tevin Mitchell and he scored six on his pick. In SEC action the Razorbacks are seeing 62% rushing plays and have allowed 15 touchdowns. Though the air game has been more frustrating with 16 such scores allowed. But if Arkansas corrects the big-play flaws in execution, look for fast improvement.

Specialists: Yeah, you've heard Zach Hocker's name a lot for four years. Because he is the active SEC-leader in field goals and PATs both made and kicked with 340 career points. Oh, he's only missed two PATs in 168 chances. Junior Sam Irwin-Hill aids the defense with 44.0 yard punting and kickoff coverage is stout.

Bulldog Notebook: Alabama held the Bulldog offense under 200 yards (197) for the first time this season. State is still averaging 433.0 for the campaign, 11 better than the program record set in 1982.

*The best quarter for Bulldogs is the second, with a 103 to 54 edge in scoring despite not putting up points last week.

*The 556 yards of offense at Texas A&M is the most ever by a Mullen Bulldog team in SEC play.

*Take away one bad day, at South Carolina, and State is setting the SEC pace in turnover margin. In the last two games the Dog defense has come up with seven balls, five interceptions and two fumbles. They'd totaled just four turnovers in the previous four SEC games.

*State has lost three fumbles all season. Only Vanderbilt, two, has fewer.

*None of MSU's four fumbles against Alabama fell into wrong hands. All were safely recovered including one in the end zone for a touchdown, by RT Charles Siddoway. He is the first Dog lineman to score points since teammate LG Gabe Jackson did so against Auburn in 2010.

*Speaking of blockers, the offensive line has allowed four sacks in the last three games; the same as was totaled in the Kentucky game.

*Siddoway's score, off a fumble by Russell at the goal line, still counts towards MSU red zone efficiency. The offense has 26 touchdowns in 39 such opportunities, with five missed field goals out of 11 tries. That is only 12th in this week's SEC standings.

*And from all ranges, the two placekickers are just 7-of-15 on field goals, the only SEC squad under 50%.

*MSU is the only conference club to have allowed two safeties this season. In fact the other 13 teams have just two safeties combined (Ole Miss, Georgia one each). Both Bulldog safeties have come on punting plays in the end zone with a drop and a block.

*His nerve injury has interrupted a literal run at history for QB Dak Prescott. With 722 rushing yards in nine games this season so far, the sophomore is just 18 short of Don Smith's 1986 record of 740 rushing yards by a quarterback in 11 games.

*By-average though Prescott remains fifth in SEC player scoring average, and third when only touchdowns are counted (i.e. no kickers). And Prescott has done his damage as much in rotation as starting roles.

*Before his fourth-quarter injury at College Station, Prescott was on a three game roll completing 65 of 103 passes for four scores. And in his last two games he averaged 7.5 yards per rush.

*Whether a starter, alternate, or substitute the sophomore has produced 25 touchdowns rushing and passing in his still-short career. And that doesn't include the two touchdowns he has scored as a receiver, both this season. He's also run for a two-point conversion.

*In two seasons Prescott has accounted for 27 total touchdowns on 393 plays running, throwing, and receiving. That comes out to a touchdown every 14.6 times he has the ball.

*Not counting his two receiving scores, Prescott's 25 career TDs-responsible for are ten away from making the MSU top-ten. And he's almost half-way now to the career record of 52 set by Don Smith (1983-86).

*QB Tyler Russell's own oft-interrupted season did have him play three-plus quarters against Alabama, having returned just the week before. Before getting sidelined, for the third time now this year, in the A&M and Alabama games he was 23-of-38 passing for a touchdown and interception. In the two-plus games played before spraining an ankle against Kentucky he was 20-of-27 for two touchdowns and no turnovers.

*Impressively then, Russell's injury issues have come in his most efficient throwing year as a Bulldog, completing 65.4% of all passes. He was 58.6 as the full-time 2012 starter.

*Russell is the only Bulldog quarterback ever with 40 touchdown passes. And his 58.4% career average is barely behind Tyson Lee's (2008-09) record of 58.8%. With two regular season games left Russell is #3 in career completions, #5 in yardage, and 2nd-best in interception percentage.

*He needs just 51 yards on a catch or catches to move up to #4 in career yardage.

*Because he had the ball stripped from him at the goal for Siddoway to score it, Russell remains at 43 career TD-responsible for. That's third-most by a Bulldog and three behind Anthony Dixon (46, 2006-09).

*Each of Prescott's touchdown catches were thrown by WR Jameon Lewis (Troy, Kentucky). At South Carolina, the junior wideout added a third touchdown toss, this time to WR Joe Morrow. So the former high school quarterback isn't just 3-of-3 completing throws, all have gone for six points.

*For those who track such stuff, Lewis has a ‘quarterback rating' of 665.20. Russell's is 136.18 for context.

*Lewis really is the all-purpose Dog this season. He leads the receiver corps with 43 catches, 541 yards, and four touchdowns.

*He's also rushed for three scores on 13 carries and nets 9.0 yards each attempt, best on the team.

*So Lewis has had a hand now in ten total touchdowns though he gets ‘scoring' credit for just seven of them.

*Lewis and Prescott made SEC history as they both ran, caught, and threw a touchdown, against Troy. It was the first time in conference records a team had two players score the touchdown trifecta in the same game. The last time one Dog did so was in 1978, James Jones against Florida State.

*Counting a touchdown kickoff return last season, Lewis is the only active Bulldog to have scored four ways.

*Lewis now has 1,096 all-purpose yards for the season, which also doesn't include his 84 passing yards. In his previous two seasons combined he had 1,282 yards total.

*Lewis is now the only Dog with a reception in every game.

*Senior RB LaDarius Perkins has had double-digit carries the last six games, 77 total for 349 yards which is a 4.5 average.

*What gets overlooked is the 16 passes caught since returning from an ankle injury, for 115 yards. This is the best receiving season of his four-year career.

*Despite all his setbacks this season, Perkins is only the third Bulldog to reach 4,000 all-purpose yards. He now has 4,111 and 58 yards away from tying Walter Packer (1973-76) for second place.

*Freshman WR De'Runnya Wilson is second in receiving touchdowns with three, all in SEC play.

*WR Robert Johnson had his receiving games-streak snapped by Alabama with no catches. In the preceding three games Johnson had 14 balls.

*TE Malcolm Johnson had a career-best six catches last Saturday, for 84 yards. This was a week after having his 12-game receiving streak snapped by A&M.

*MLB Benardrick McKinney has extended his team-lead in tackles with 58; as OLB Deontae Skinner has missed the last two games with injury and been stuck on 50.

*McKinney has had a tackle for loss in the last five games, the longest such streak by any Dog this season.

*Both of McKinney's sacks have been in SEC road games, at South Carolina and A&M.

*The Dog defender making a run at the leaders is SS Kendrick Market, with 17 tackles in the last three games to give him 47. *Freshman Chris Jones has played every defensive line position this season; both ends, both tackles, and nose tackle as well. Jones has two sacks and a team-best eight quarterback hurries.

*DE Preston Smith still holds the team lead in TFLs at 6.5.

*CB Taveze Calhoun became the third Bulldog defensive back with a two-interception game this season, when he picked a pair of Alabama passes. He netted 53 yards in returns on the two turnovers. They were the first picks of his career.

*This was a week after CB Jamerson Love intercepted two Texas A&M passes. And earlier in the season it was FS Nickoe Whitley picking off Auburn twice.

*Whitley is one of five SEC players with four interceptions this season, and Love is in a seven-way tie for 6th with three total picks.

*Whitley now has 14 career interceptions and needs two more to tie the program record of 16 shared by former teammate Johnthan Banks (2009-12) and Walt Harris (1992-95).

*Whitley now has 214 career tackles.

*After not kicking a ball for two games, P Baker Swedenburg returned to action Saturday with five punts for a 41.4-yard average. This included a season-long 53-yarder. The senior is 26th in NCAA average this week.

*Swedenburg's 43.2 yard average is a career-best season.

*He has 150 career kicks, ninth-most in program history. But his average of 41.74 is fifth-best by a Bulldog punter.

*P/KO Devon Bell punted once against Alabama for 47 yards.

*Bell has 23 touchback kickoffs out of 52 tries this season, and only one kickoff that has gone out of bounds for penalty.

*In five seasons, Mullen defenses have scored 11 touchdowns on either interceptions or fumble returns; and three safeties.

*If the trend holds some Dog must run back a kick of some sort to score before the season is over. Mullen teams have scored on kickoffs once each in 2009, '10, and '12; and twice on punts in 2011.

*State special teams have blocked one field goal (Whitley) and one punt (DT Nelson Adams) this season.

*Senior OG Gabe Jackson has started all 49 games of his Bulldog career, the most ever for a Mullen player. He surpassed Johnthan Banks' 44 starts in 2009-12. And this year only Georgia's Aaron Murray has more active-player starts in the NCAA, at 50.

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