*No Bulldog-Razorback game has been televised by any network since 1999, which was also the last time the teams played in Little Rock.
About the Razorbacks: After tormenting the rest of the SEC with six years of (perceived, anyway) overachieving, upsets, fast finishes and annual bowl bids, Arkansas finds itself in an unexpected downturn. Well, maybe not entirely unexpected because after the massive graduation/draft losses of 2003 even eternally-upbeat Houston Nutt anticipated some sort of rebuilding job. Still few thought the Razorbacks would drop below break-even last or this year and miss out on consecutive holiday seasons. As '05 winds down though the outlines of the coming resurgence are taking shape. Arkansas has shaken off some major emotional setbacks in the early season and, by plugging in young personnel, put a more competitive product on the field. More than that, by writing off the rest of this year the Razorbacks have for all intents and purposes gotten a head-start on 2006. How much better will next year be? This weekend's projected lineup has just two seniors on offense, two on defense, and 18 true freshmen have played so far in '05. We'll be seeing a lot more from these starters.
Offense: For two months Arkansas was effectively confined to the ground. But taking the redshirt off true freshman Casey Dick has allowed the Razorback offense to go airborne again and put some much-needed balance in the gameplan. Dick, activated only two games ago to take the place of seven-game starter Robert Johnson, already has tossed four touchdown passes, for 312 total yards at a 60% completion pace and with a 156.0 rating that would easily lead the SEC if he met the minimum-game standard. He's done much to correct the team's early turnover tendencies also. Now defenses have to prepare for more than just Darren McFadden…though the 210-pound freshman is headache enough. He's gained 891 yards with eight TDs and a 6.8 rushing average since taking over as the starter, and might well run away with SEC freshman of the year honors. If this kid gets tired freshman (yep, another one) Felix Jones is good for 61 yards a game with three scores himself. They are two good reasons Arkansas is tops in SEC rushing and 11th in NCAA stats at 233 yards per game. No question the happiest Hogs at Dick's emergence are those now getting to catch passes. SE Marcus Monk has snared six scoring throws in his 28 grabs, with 349 yards for the year. And FL Cedric Washington (19, 290 yards) is good for 15 yards a play. Yet it's the fullback, Peyton Hillis, who has been the primary target all year with a team-best 32 receptions, 300 yards, and 3 scores. That's another way to balance things out and keep defenses honest. The line's experience is more tilted towards the passer's blind side with matching 314-pound juniors Tony Ugoh and Stephen Parker having started every game to the left of senior center Kyle Roper, the only Hog blocker under 300 pounds. The group has done it's job in protection with just 16 sacks allowed to-date. Besides the team rushing stats—and even the ground game has been shut down occasionally—there isn't any one thing Arkansas is outstanding at offensively…or, not yet. Because now that Dick has emerged this group can only get better in everything. Maybe championships aren't won with freshmen, but these kids are growing up awfully fast.
Defense: First, forget anything seen or heard about that 70-17 lambasting Southern Cal laid on the Hogs in September. Or, the lowly rankings in most SEC statistical categories. This might not be the best Arkansas defense of recent years but neither is it the pushover the numbers seem to indicate. For much of the season the defense has had to deal with lack of support and put up a respectable fight in the process. Since the brutal start the unit has averaged 299 yards allowed in their last six games, and nobody has run for over 100 yards in the last three contests. Arkansas officially lines up in the standard 4-3 sort of set, but realistically the Hogs will come from all angles in new coordinator Reggie Herring's schemes. A couple of veterans linebackers and a versatile safety are the key figures in this gameplan. Junior WLB Sam Olajubutu is already over 100 tackles (105 to be exact) for the season, including 10.5 behind the line with 4.5 sacks, and is up for the Lombardi Award. After opening the year on the strong side for two games senior Pierre Brown has moved to the middle in place of Clarke Moore so freshman Freddie Fairchild could start, and the shuffling has paid off handsomely. There might be younger starting defensive fronts somewhere, but Arkansas doesn't list a single senior on the entire line two-deep. Yet there is experience here with 285-pound junior Keith Jackson and 300-pound soph Marcus Harrison clogging up the middle at tackles. Jackson is a load in the trenches and active enough to make stops in the backfield. The big guys free 228-pound end Desmond Sims to make plays all over, with 4.5 sacks to his credit. At the other end soph Jamaal Anderson has replaced the injured Anthony Brown and come on strong. Herring also made a mid-season move with his safeties, switching senior Vickiel Vaughn to free and inserting junior Randy Kelly at strong. Vaughn is second only to Olajubutu in team tackles at 71, and both safeties had a pick at Mississippi last week. Both starting corners are sophs, though Matterral Richardson is opening only his second game in place of eight-game starter Michael Coe. This group might only rank 10th in SEC sacks but has bagged 13 of those in the last three games. Again, there's not any single category where the UA defense stands out, but the key is to ignore season-long numbers and focus on recent trends to get the real picture. These pigs can play D.
Specialists: Junior punter Jacob Skinner has done his job setting field position with a 42.0-yard average, dropping 13 of 41 tries inside the 20-yard line with nothing blocked so far. Add in good coverage and UA ranks 8th nationally in net-punting at 38.3 yards. Chris Balseiro is one of the few Razorback seniors and has been good on 9-of-12 field goals with a long effort of 42 yards. Fullback Willis not only catches passes, he returns punts for just over ten yard every try. Jones and McFadden share kickoff return duties, with Jones averaging 29.0 yards to lead the SEC to-date.
The Series: Though from neighboring states the schools only met twice until the 1990s. Both games were played in neutral Memphis, in 1916 and '39, with State winning each meeting at old Crump Stadium. The series only became annual when Arkansas joined the SEC for the 1992 season. Since then the Razorbacks have had the better of things by winning nine of the 13 games, including the last six, to build a 9-5-1 overall margin. All three Bulldog wins in SEC play have been at Scott Field, the last in 1998, and Arkansas is 2-0-1 at War Memorial Stadium. Houston Nutt is 6-1 against State.
Connections: There are no players on either roster hailing from the other team's state.
*MSU line coach J.B. Grimes worked twice at Arkansas, in 1981-82 and again in 1989-92. Defensive line coach Brick Haley began his coaching career as a graduate aide at UA in 1990. And football operations coordinator Rockey Felker worked on the UA staff from 1993-96.
*MSU defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and UA defensive coordinator Reggie Herring were assistants at Clemson from 1994-96. MSU's Haley and Herring also were together at Clemson in 1998. And MSU linebacker coach Amos Jones and UA defensive line coach Tracy Rocker were aides at Cincinnati in 2002.
Did You Know? Mississippi State has never won a game played in the state of Arkansas. Of course the Bulldogs have only played six times in that state, all against UA with a 0-5-1 record. All other games against schools or teams from the neighboring state were played in Starkville: 16 against Arkansas State, one against Arkansas A&M in 1944, six against Ouchita from 1921-28, and one against a squad out of Payne Field in 1918.
*The Razorbacks are sporting new duds this season and, according to school historians, this is the first time that the name ‘Arkansas' has ever appeared on team uniforms.
Bulldog Record Watch: Senior halfback Jerious Norwood has two games left to build on his existing career rushing records. Already the school's ground-gaining champion with 2,927 yards in 44 games, Norwood's next goal is to become the first Bulldog to run for 3,000 yards.
*Alabama held Norwood to 39 yards on 18 rushes, snapping a three-game streak of 100-yard gains. Still Norwood's 12 career 100-yard games is tied with Walter Packer (1973-76) for the school record. He is only the third Bulldog to rush for over 200 yards in a game, joining James Johnson (1998) and Kevin Bouie (1994). Norwood set the MSU game record when he ran for 257 yards against Houston in October.
*Norwood now has shots at other records this season, such as the 578 career carries by Michael Davis (1991-94). He has 525 with two games left and ranks third on the chart behind Davis and John Bond (572), 1980-83). He is 294 yards shy of matching Johnson's single-season rushing record of 1,383 yards, and 23 rushes from Johnson's other season mark set in 1998. Johnson holds the season rushing average mark of 115.3 yards, while Norwood is averaging 93.4.
*Senior Willie Evans became the fifth Bulldog to record more than a score of sacks for his career. With two quarterback baggings against Alabama the defensive end now has 21.0 sacks since 2002, moving past Greg Favors (19.5, 1994-97) and drawing within one of tying Mike McEnany (1979-82) for fourth place. The career record of 49 by Billy Jackson (1980-83) is out of reach and likely always will be, though 25 years ago the statistic was judged very differently.
*Evans' 11.5 sacks through nine games this season leads the SEC and is the sixth-best season by a Bulldog so far. Evans also paces the conference in total tackles behind the line of scrimmage at 15.5, and in overall tackles he is second among SEC defensive linemen.
*Junior linebacker Quinton Culberson is starting to stretch out his team-tackles lead. He now has 65 credited stops in nine games, putting him farther ahead of safety Jeramie Johnson's 57. Evans and linebacker Clarence McDougal are tied for third at 47 tackles each. Culberson is tied for tenth in the latest SEC tackle stats.
*Freshman punter Blake McAdams bounced back from a bad night at Kentucky with a solid effort against Alabama, raising his season average back to 43.2 yards. McAdams has punted the ball away 59 times through nine games and at this pace will post the most punts for a Bulldog since Mike Riley had 75 kicks in 1989. Riley booted the ball for 3,078 yards that year; McAdams is at 2,546 so far.
*Tight end Eric Butler started this sophomore season strong with ten catches in the first four games. Since then he has snared only one pass in five games, a 27-yard grab at Kentucky for his lone catch of October. He did not get a ball in the Alabama game. Butler, who had 15 grabs as a freshman, now has 11 receptions for 152 yards and three touchdowns this season. Along with his four TD catches in 2004, Butler holds the tight end record with seven scoring passes already.
*Junior flanker Will Prosser had to miss the Alabama game with various injuries, but is still well in front on the team receiving list with 28 catches and 186 yards. That puts him ten balls and 72 yards ahead of Tee Milons in second place. Prosser will play this weekend.
*Placekicker Keith Andrews is probably out for this week after missing two games already with a groin strain. Andrews is stuck on 11-of-18 on field goals for two seasons; and his career PAT mark is 28-of-28, leaving him nine shy of the school record. Kinney Jordan set the standard in 1975-76 by making 37-of-37 points-after.