Bulldogs Face Razorback Offense on a Late-Season Roll

It’s a tall challenge, Manny Diaz agrees. Arkansas not only has amazing late-season balance as the SEC’s third-best offense both running and passing. The Razorbacks are among the nation’s best in the key metric of yards-per-play. “But we’re looking forward to locking-up with them.”

The Mississippi State defensive coordinator discussed this weekend’s matchup with Arkansas after practice.

What have you seen from Arkansas on film this week?
"The first thing you think about with Arkansas is the physical challenge of their running game. That doesn't disappoint when you watch them on film. But the more you watch them and the more you unpack you notice that they are a tremendously balanced offense I wa going through their numbers , and you know I am a big yards per play guy, and I was looking at their pass attempt, and it is 9.1 yards per pass attempt. That has to be up there in the tops in the country. They are top 10 in the country. They don't snap it as many times as other passing offenses do. But you are saying is this a passing offense that is on par with any of the great passing offenses in the country when you think of the wide open spread offenses. Their balance is what makes them hard to stop. And I think their quarterback is playing at a really high level, just really feeling comfortable back there, throwing the ball with a lot of confidence. And as the season has gone on, more and more weapons are emerging to spread the ball around to."

Do you think Arkansas is a team that has found its offensive identify over the past three or four games?
"Yeah, but to me the plays were there all year long. But, like any team, they are getting better as the year has gone on. They have had some guys emerge. But they have also had some games where they have played some extra innings. That is a factor as well. But I think they do a nice job. And their balance is remarkable with how they can run and throw it."

What does their offensive line do well besides just being big?
"They are very well coached. They have a pretty complex run scheme. They know what they are doing in their run scheme. They go to the line of scrimmage with two run plays and they will check off based on where you are lined up. And their linemen do a nice job, they get their hands on you, and they are so big - everybody thinks of height but it is not height, it is reach. The taller you are the longer you are. So, they have great reach. So, it is like they can swallow you up. It's like when you were a kid and someone puts their hand on your forehead. If your arms are longer than mine, then it is very difficult to get off your block. They do a good job of covering you up and not letting you go and just maintaining their blocks. And they have very good backs who can find the holes."

What have you seen from Will Coleman the last couple of weeks?
"The games is slowing down for him and he is getting more comfortable playing in the SEC. It is kind of the normal tale for guys like him who come through the ranks. He is getting more confident week in, week out. What you are seeing are his physical gifts starting to show on the field, the gifts that we saw in the spring and off-season that we were excited about. Then you get in the game and things are starting to go fast for him, then it starts slowing down for him. Now you see his ability to make a play."

What are some things that you are going to try to do with Hunter Henry?
"There is not a lot that you can do because they run him on a variety of routes. He lines up everywhere. He'll line up on one side of the field and cross to the other side of the field. But the first thing you have to do is stop the run, as crazy as that sounds. When you stop the run or limit the run, then you put them in obvious passing situations where you know where their pass receivers are. Henry does such a good job of finding the passing pockets because they are running run action passes. They are an outstanding play action team. As far as being aware of him at all times, you have to have great eye discipline. It is almost like watching a triple option team, it's run, run, run. Then, bang, here comes to the shock play, here comes the deep route. Then your guys are in the wrong place and that is where as lot of their explosive plays come from."

Is this the most balanced offense that you guys have faced this year?
"It is not going out on the limb to say this, but they are in the top of the country in offense both rushing and passing if you go by a certain metric of per play stuff and some of the advanced stats. Everything points to them being a great offense but we are excited about the challenge. I think our players are excited to lock up with them and see where we stand."

Coach Mullen said he was pretty pleased with the defense against Alabama except for about three plays. what happened on those three plays?
"The first thing was that we didn't tackle. Bad plays can be first downs, but not touchdowns. The way you keep them from being touchdowns is you tackle. It was a very unusual game because we tackled about as well as we have all year and we had the fewest missed plays that we have had all year. But the missed plays were catastrophic. There is no such thing as a good defensive game except for three plays. I would call it a bad defensive game. That being said, there are a lot of things from that game, I thought the level of physicality and domination that we played with were ... some of the things we did in that game was what we have been waiting on all year long. I don't think the calendar flips another page. We lost the game. The only thing to focus on, moreso than Arkansas, is improving. If we can find a way to look under the rubble of last Saturday's game and find the things that we liked about that and continue to work on the things that we don't like about that, then that will help us against whomever is on our schedule."

How important was it to you to have Will and Taveze here when you first got there and were trying to organize things?
"Anytime there is a coaching change the word that is thrown around by coaches is trust. There is no scheme, no technique, no anything that works if the players don't trust you. And anytime there is a coaching change, for good or bad reasons, the players trust has always being a little bit taken away. So, you have to earn that trust. The older guys have been around longer and they are the ones who are used to a certain voice. So, they are kind of looking at you trying to figure out what you are all about. Certainly, with the guys that you mentioned with Ryan, Will and Taveze, getting those guys onboard and understanding, as a coach all the players want to know is if you are there for their improvement. If they know that you are there to improve them, then they will follow you. And I think got through that time and those guys were the first, when those guys go the other guys follow along."

A guy like Brandon Bryant, a guy who seems to have a nose for the ball, how important is it to have a guy like that?
"As coaches, we always remember a guy who found a way to be around the ball. That is a very valuable skill that they pay a lot of money for on the next level. What is cool, like with the interception against Alabama last week, is if you just do your job the plays come to you. And he was in cover two, did a great job watching the quarterback's eyes and the ball presented itself to him. A lot of guys press trying to make that happen and wonder why they can't make plays. Brandon, being a young guy, a redshirt freshman, that maturity to try to get more discipline week in and week out and let his physical ability to make plays."

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