About the Razorbacks: A lot things can be said, and are being said, about Arkansas events of 2007. But nobody can claim it's been a boring year. For good, ill, and sometimes both, these Razorbacks have taken one wild ride both on and off the field and nobody dares yet predict how and where it will end. Nor should this turbulent team be taken lightly, and not just because it features the most explosive offensive player in the land. Over their years in the league no team plays with more passion or is harder to knock-out of a game, and whatever the swirl of off-field circumstances that hasn't changed. Especially not for a team still in contention for a good bowl and end-of-season ranking. Or, a struggling finish and renewed off-season furor. Either way it won't be boring.
Offense: A few numbers summarize this story. No SEC offense has made more rushes and thrown fewer passes. The Hogs are one good haul from breaking 3,000 running yards (LSU is a distant number-two at 2,202), and so potent is the ground game that even with an 11th-ranked passing attack Arkansas is still second in overall SEC yardage. But then why toss the ball around when it can be handed to, or directly snapped to, Darren McFadden? The junior halfback is laps ahead in the SEC rushing race at 143 yards per game and gets almost six each time he totes. McFadden is now the #4 all-time runner in SEC history, and tied the game record with 321 yards against South Carolina. His resume doesn't stop there as McFadden is second in team catches with 17, and he's even thrown two completed passes…both for touchdowns. He might not win the Heisman but this ought to be the first named called by the NFL next spring. It takes a McFadden to keep Felix Jones off the field; that or a thigh bruise that has the SEC's #3 runner (103 per game, 9.1 per carry, 11 TDs) questionable this week. If Jones can't go soph Michael Smith (302 yards, 7.8 per carry) is the listed backup. Two years ago Casey Dick had his coming-out party at State's expense in Little Rock. After the convolutions of '06 he's now the sole #1 quarterback and putting up the numbers. The junior is a 55% passer with 13 scores, against nine picks, and rates 7th in SEC efficiency ratings. A reason Arkansas hasn't thrown a lot was the five-game absence of Marcus Monk with injury. He's #8 in SEC career touchdowns at 26. The senior SE is back, reasonably healthy, and while his four games have seen just seven catches for 52 yards two grabs counted for touchdowns. Robert Johnson starts at flanker, while TE Andrew Davie and SE Lucas Miller both have a trio of touchdowns too as Dick spreads the work around, and whoever catches them the completed passes are averaging a dozen yards of profit. The most consistent target has been FB Peyton Hillis with 37 receptions, 409 yards and three scores. Big line? Oh, yeah, as 300-pound LG Mitch Petrus is the lightweight of the bunch. The right side features excellent seniors G Robert Felton and T Nate Garner. Only Tennessee has allowed fewer sacks than Arkansas' 10.
Defense: They don't get the attention of their high-profile offensive counterparts and most personnel isn't so well-known beyond campus. But don't take this Arkansas defense for granted. It's competitive in any SEC category and excellent in some…including third-down defense where they lead the league at 29.3% allowed. And only LSU is more efficient defending the pass, though the ‘backs don't get a lot of sacks and a shoulder injury has FS Kevin Woods in question. Rashad Johnson (41, two) would start in his place. Woods' move from strong to free has worked well, allowing Michael Grant (69 tackles, two INTs) to move and lock-down the left corner while fellow senior Matterral Richardson has three picks on the right side. Yet the pick-lead belongs to the nickel and dime back Jerrell Norton with five, and ten more break-ups. He's #2 in SEC and #13 in NCAA pass-defense stats. Oh, and SS Matt Hewitt only leads the whole team in tackles at 91. That's five in front of MLB Weston Dacus who has double-digit stops in four SEC games. SLB Freddie Fairchild is back from a '06 knee injury and has 7.5 tackles for losses, while either Elston Forte or Ryan Powers will open on the weak-side. Soph Malcolm Sheppard spends lots of time behind-the-line with 10.5 tackles for losses and a team-best 16 quarterback ‘hurries' credited. The tackles are a matched pair of 305-pounders, but Marcus Harrison belies that bulk with good moves and passer-pressures. He's been on a tackle-tear the last month, too. Again, while Arkansas doesn't often bag the passer pre-throw, they've piled up no less than 96 hurries and then broken up 72 of the tossed balls. Not many of these names ring bells, but the hits surely do.
Specialists: Explosive, as always. Jones has been the top return man, as MSU knows too well, with a 33-yard average and two scores. McFadden is an adequate replacement of course. Jerell Norton gets 10.2 yards on punt returns with a long of 45 yards. Alex Tejada is money on field goals, 16-of-20 with a 47-yarder on the books. And punter Jeremy Davis (40.6 yards) has had 16 balls downed inside the twenty with seven fair-catches. Kickoff coverage is even better.
The Series: Arkansas holds a 11-5-1 lead in a series that essentially began in 1992. The only games played before then were in 1916 and '39 in Memphis, both won by State. The Bulldogs also won two of the first three meetings after Arkansas joined the SEC's Western Division with a tie. But it's been all-Hog since then with Arkansas winning 11 of 12 games, the lone interruption in 1998 at Scott Field. State is 0-3-1 in War Memorial Stadium. Sylvester Croom is 0-3 against Arkansas, Houston Nutt is 8-1 against State.
The Last Time (November 18, 2006): It was many—make that two—unhappy returns that sent #5-ranked Arkansas on their way to a 28-14 victory at Scott Field. Both came in the opening quarter, as explosive a stretch played out on Mississippi State's home field in many a day. As the quarter-clock wound inside three minutes, MSU quarterback Mike Henig was picked by Chris Houston for a 87-yard touchdown return and the first points of the afternoon. The Bulldogs did answer that offensively as Anthony Dixon broke a 65-yard run to tie things up…but only for as long as it took to kick the ball off to Darren McFadden, who went 92 yards for a 14-7 lead. State still wasn't through as after a UA turnover Henig found Tony Burks for a 22-yard touchdown that re-knotted the scoreboard at 8:41 of the second quarter. It took eight minutes, and a poor MSU punt and 15-yard penalty, to set the Razorbacks up for a 29-yard touchdown pass from Casey Dick to Damian Williams. The only points of the last half came on another Dick throw, of 35 yards to Marcus Monk at 2:13 of the third period. The Bulldogs had two good last-quarter chances to score, only to be held on fourth-and-short and then throw another interception, that by Omarr Conner. Worse than the loss itself were injuries to both MSU quarterbacks; Henig's season ended a game early by his second collarbone-break of '06; and Conner tore a groin muscle that would cripple him, and the whole team, in the next weekend's finale at Oxford. Before their injuries Henig was 9-of-26 for 123 yards and a score and Conner 6-of-9 for 78 yards. Dixon ran for 24 yards on his other 16 carries besides that long touchdown burst. McFadden was limited to 84 yards on 26 totes, while Dick was 8-of-17 for 112 yards.
Did You Know? Mississippi State has never won a football game played in the state of Arkansas.
Bulldog Player Notes: Mississippi State only got one sack against Alabama, but it sealed the victory on the day's last play. And fittingly it was scored by DE Titus Brown, his team-topping eighth bagging of this senior year. Brown has a tackle-for-loss or sack in 16 of his last 18 games and leads the defense at 12.0 this year.
*Brown now has 18.5 sacks in his career, just behind the 19.0 by Greg Favors (1994-97) for 6th place on the MSU list. Brown also needs one more sack to move into the MSU career top-ten.
*Between them, Brown and fellow senior DE Avery Hannibal have 10.0 of the team's 15.0 sacks; 23 of the 42 quarterback ‘hurries.' In fact these starting ends have more hurries than ten MSU opponents combined this year, 18.
*In ten games this Dog defense has already surpassed the 2006 squad for season interceptions, 14 to 12. And five of these picks have been returned for a touchdown, which ties State with Hawaii and Wake Forest for the NCAA lead.
*Sophomore CB Anthony Johnson's 100-yard ‘pick-six' (the NCAA only counts yards between the goal lines, not in the end zone) against Alabama broke the school record. The mark had been 97 yards by Jack Nix in a 1937 win over Ole Miss. Along with his touchdown return against UAB, Johnson now ties for the season record of two. He caught teammate Derek Pegues (2006), Harper Davis (1948), Walt Harris (1994), and Conner Stephens (2000) for the season record.
*Johnson now leads the secondary with three picks in 2007. Pegues (Auburn, South Carolina) and S De'Mon Glanton (GW, Kentucky) have two each this year.
*The other interception touchdowns for State this year are by LB Gabe O'Neal (Tulane), Pegues (Auburn), Glanton (GW). Every game that a Bulldog has pick-sixed, State has won.
*Johnson is still just one pass-broken-up ahead of Glanton, 8 to 7. The pair have 15 PBUs and the rest of the squad 20.
*Pegues still holds the career record for interception touchdowns with three. He also now has eight picks for his career, one shy of making the MSU top-ten list. He averages nearly 22 yards on every interception return.
*Now back on kickoff return duty Pegues is closing in on career records after just three seasons. His 73 returns are second all-time to 78 for Tony James (1989-92); as are his 1,604 yards to James' 1,862.
*Pegues had just one punt to return in the Alabama game, for four yards. He's 7th in career yardage there at 462, and 50 yards behind Glen Young (1979-82).
*WLB Dominic Douglas stretched his team-lead in tackles over the weekend on his linebacker partners. The junior had eight stops in the win, giving him 65 for the year (32 solo, 33 assists). MLB Jamar Chaney is second but did move one tackle ahead of SLB Gabe O'Neal, 59 to 58. O'Neal still tops the trio in solo stops at 37. Douglas is better in tackles-for-losses at 7.0, behind only Brown and Hannibal on the entire defense.
*Mississippi State leads the SEC this week in ‘red zone' defense, allowing points 72% of the time opponents get inside the 20-yard line. If that seems high, LSU's fabled unit actually allows points in 96% of such situations.
*P Blake McAdams had an ‘average' day at 39.5 yards against Alabama, leaving his season average at 40.3 yards. But the junior did notch another 50-yarder in the win, with a 53-yard effort. And one of his punts was downed on the Tide one-yard line, giving him 15 ‘red zone' kicks on the season against only one punt that's rolled into the end zone.
*McAadams is 5th in career punts at 191, closing in on the 198 of Jared Cook (2001-04). His 7,665 yards, or 4.4 miles, is also fifth-best in MSU history.
*Senior WR Tony Burks ran his string of games with at least one reception to 18, making a pair of grabs against Alabama for 29 yards. He is getting 13.8 yards per-catch this season, compared to the SEC-best 24.3-avearge of his junior year. Burks has yet to post a 100-yard game this season after getting a record-tying five in 2006. He still leads the team in receptions with 26.
*Junior Jamayel Smith has cut into Burks' chances by grabbing 18 balls this year, and his 13.7-yard average is right behind the senior too. Burks, Smith, and Aubrey Bell (10, 160 yards) account for four of the team's seven touchdown receptions.
*Senior TE Jason Husband joined the touchdown list for '07 with his 11-yard scoring catch at Kentucky. It was the first touchdown for a State tight end this season.
*And senior TE Dezmond Sherrod made his first catch of 2007 with a grab in the fourth quarter for 10 yards to move the chains on State's time-grinding last possession. Fellow senior TE Eric Butler has eight receptions but only one in the last four games.
*State doesn't have to look for the tight end as often in ‘possession' plays this year. Not with the emergence of FB Eric Hoskins. In his five starts the walk-on has made nine catches for 70 yards, and five of his grabs have produced first downs.
*Fellow fullbacks Jeremy Jones and Brandon Hart have five catches and 21 yards between them. But, Jones has the only touchdown for either a fullback or tight end this year, on a eight-yard catch at Tulane.
*Each week finds HB Anthony Dixon moving up some career-records list in only his second varsity season. The sophomore's 84-yard afternoon against Alabama makes him 16th in career rushing yards at 1,582 after passing Lewis Grubbs (1970-72) by a pair. Next-up is the 1,582 by Keffer McGee (1994-96) for 15th.
*At 914 net yards this year Dixon is about to post only the ninth 1,000-yard year by a Bulldog back. He has six 100-yard games for his career, four this season.
*And Dixon needs just one more tote to match the most carries by a Bulldog in one season. He has 935 through ten games; in 1998 James Johnson had 936 carries in 13 games.
*Dixon is making even faster progress in season and career rushing touchdowns. His six-point burst against Alabama gives the soph 13 touchdowns this year, tying John Bond (1983) and Keffer McGee (1995) for third-best season. The record is 16 rushing touchdowns by Jackie Parker in 1952.
*With 22 career touchdowns on the ground Dixon is tied for 5th at MSU with Dontae Walker (1999-02). The all-time standard is 27 by Michael Davis (1991-94).
*Though his forte is running the ball, Dixon got his first touchdown catch on a two-yard toss in the Kentucky game. He now has 84 points for the 2007 season, tying him for the third-best year in MSU annals. The record is 120 points by Parker in 1952.
*HB Christian Ducre has been a productive counterpart to Dixon. He has scored three rushing touchdowns this sophomore season, two of them in SEC games including the winning points at Auburn. He has 440 rushing yards this year and his average gain of 4.7 yards is better than Dixon's 3.9.
*QB Wesley Carroll's bid for a NCAA record, for most consecutive un-intercepted passes to begin a career, ended when his first toss against Alabama was picked off. Carroll's streak of 137 passes without a turnover to start his career fell one short of tying Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy with 138 in 1986.
*But Carroll does own the MSU records for non-intercepted balls, both career and single-season. The old marks were 96 and 122.
*Carroll is 84-of-158 for this season, 53.2%. His completed passes are netting a 9.5 yard average gain. His four touchdown tosses have been spread around to two wideouts (Burks and Smith against Tennessee), and a tight end (Husband) and halfback (Dixon) in the Kentucky game.
*Carroll has run the ball 27 times, intentionally or not. And his gains of 89 yards match the same amount of losses giving him a net of zero yards on the season.
*State quarterbacks have been sacked just 16 times this year, compared to 29 last season.
*PK Adam Carlson made good on his only field goal opportunity against Alabama and is 7-of-10 for the year, 15-of-26 career. And after his 47-consecutive PAT streak ended in the UAB game Carlson has been good on the last 13 tries.
*Two Bulldog seniors hold the team lead in career games played. Both TE Dezmond Sherrod and DE Avery Hannibal have gotten on the field in 44 contests through four seasons. The consecutive-start lead belongs to P Blake McAdams at 33. C Royce Blackledge is first among the non-specialists in starts with 28-straight.
*A total of 42 Bulldogs have started at least one game this season. Only 11 players have started every game of 2007, including the two specialists.
*This year six true freshmen have played: LB K.J. Wright, QB Wesley Carroll, ST Karlin Brown, S Zach Smith, DT Lamarcus Williams, and OT Derek Sherrod.
*True freshmen who have not played are QB Chris Relf, S Wade Bonner, HB Robert Elliott, HB Marcus Green, LB Jamie Jones, CB Damein Anderson, LB Terrell Johnson, OL Addison Lawrence, OL/SN D.J. Looney, OL Dakota Merritt, PK Eric Richards (injured), DL Quentin Saulsberry, and FB Ethan Stockett.