*Arkansas opened their season with a trip to their other ‘home' field in Little Rock, defeating Missouri State.
*Both teams have faced a host of opponents either ranked on game-day or at some point this season. All six of State's losses have come to such opposition; while Arkansas is 1-4.
The Opponent: The changeover was abrupt and the transition nearly-total. But after the inevitable first-year sputters Arkansas' interesting choice of Bobby Petrino is showing dividends where it matters in today's go-go game. The Razorbacks are piling up yards and putting up points, and this year winning more of the close calls that got away in year-one. Who cares if Petrino brought pretty much the same defensive philosophy as shown during his successful tenure at Louisville? Not as long as these pigs can fly, because things should certainly never get boring as long as Arkansas keeps scoring.
Offense: Here's another SEC West program benefitting splendidly from the college quarterback waiver-wire. Certainly a change of address, and more to the point finding a more scheme more suited to his talents, has paid off for Ryan Mallet. After a rookie year at Michigan where he threw for seven touchdowns in 11 games (three starts) and sit-out season the 6-7 Texarkanana native has leaped to the fore among West triggermen. His 2,847 yards lead the whole league and he's tied for first in TD throws with 23; and while he doesn't care to run often he can move a little and doesn't throw reckless balls with just four intercepts in 294 tosses. Of course Petrino's passing-game credentials showed even w/o Mallet last year with the NCAA's #23 throwing team, making one naturally ponder what this attack will be capable of in years ahead. Especially as the receiver corps continues maturing. Oh, all for leading catchers of '08 returned, most notably Y-man (or tight end) D.J. Williams. But he won't reach the 61 grabs/723 yards of last season, for that matter most veterans reach their previous totals. Because a trio of sophomores have taken charge. X Greg Childs is setting the pace now at 37 catches, six TDs and a 18.6 per-catch average, with Z Jarius Wright right behind at 31, 3, and 16.7. And they aren't even the real big-play breakers; that's W Joe Adams with a routine 20.0-yard gain on his 25 catches with five scores. No less than eleven Hogs have caught a touchdown throw this year and 15 receivers average double-digit gains. That's quite a sty to keep content passing around the, umm, pigskin. Arkansas doesn't entirely ignore the ground game either, having improved from 113 yards-per last year to 140 this second season. Senior Michael Smith is giving 5.6 yards each tote with a couple of scores, but the guy who carries the ball over the goal most is 248-pounder Broderick Green with nine touchdowns. The former Southern Cal back also has the longest run in program history, a 99-yard burst against Eastern Michigan. The front returned three starters and two—329-pound T Ray Dominguez and G Wade Grayson—are in the same slots, while 315-pound DeMarcus Love has adapted nicely to tackle. It's an upgraded group too, as after giving up 45 sacks in 2008 the baggings are down to 20 through ten games. If there's an area of concern it is third-down conversions (35% and better only than State in the SEC standings). But Arkansas leads the league in both red-zone efficiency and turnover margin, so worries are few for the Razorback offense.
Defense: Well, it's not quite the same attitude as old SEC hands saw from, say, a Hal Mumme (whose path Petrino briefly crossed a decade ago). And with five NFL squad-stints on the resume coordinator Willy Robinson should know something about defense. In fact there has been some progress on this side of the line in year-two as Arkansas has gone from giving up 31.2 points to 25.5 this season. Yardage is another matter as this Hog defense allows 412.0-per. First- and third-down defense aren't much to brag about either so far. Yet this is not just some matador-D either as indicated by two league-leading stats: Arkansas is first in turnovers gained (23) and in fourth-down prevention. Thus this bunch can rise to opportunity if the opposition gets careless. The four-man front has shuffled for various reasons through the season, and in game-eleven is back to the original starting quartet. The constant has been DT Malcolm Sheppard of course, a 291-pounder with ten TFLs this year and 2.5 sacks (10.0 career) and four hurries. But even this senior has to make room, so to speak, for freshman standout DeQuinta Jones who has muscled his 307 pounds into the rotation. Soph Jake Bequette and junior Damario Ambrose have shared starting duties at one end, with Adrian Davis getting 39 tackles and 3.5 sacks at the other end. Look for lots of subbing at all these front slots. Despite missing a game MLB Wendell Davis held his team tackles lead with 62 stops, 7 for losses, and he's back this week listed first. The temporary replacement last week is back at his usual OLB slot and Jerry Franklin owns 60 tackles himself. Along with OLB Freddy Burton all three starting ‘backers have an interception to their credit. Depth is pretty young here but soph Jerico Nelson has gotten his licks in with 53 stops and 5.5 for losses. Arkansas recruited help on the corners and new faces are starting at both spots, juco Rudell Crim and freshman David Gordon; they've got 42 tackles between them already. Junior Ramon Broadway is back from a two-game injury absence too. Senior Matt Harris is solid in support with 57 tackles and a pick of his own, while three Hogs have started at the other safety spot. Soph Elton Ford was activated three games into the year and has started the last six. Veteran Jerrell Norton is back after missing '08 with injury and has a pair of picks.
Specialists: After taking care of all placekicking in '07, Alex Tejada had to share the job last season and was 4-of-9 with a long effort of 30 yards. He's got the job to himself now and is 11-of-14 with a 47-yard make. He's 5-of-13 career beyond 40 yards though. Punting has been a problem at a 33.7-yard net, as frosh Dylan Breeding averages 38.4. But he's produced 11 fair catches and dropped 11 in the red zone. Back Dennis Johnson gets 27.1 yards returning kickoffs with a 91-yard TD this season; and a variety of Hogs field punts with DB Norton getting the most chances so far and a 8.3 return rate.
The Series: Arkansas has a 12-6-1 advantage in a series that didn't really begin until 1992's SEC expansion. The programs did meet twice before, with Mississippi State winning in 1916 and '39 when those meetings were held in Memphis. The Dogs also took two of the first three SEC contests around a tie. But since then the Hogs have controlled things with a dozen wins in 13 years, before State finally snapped the string last fall. Arkansas is 4-0-1 playing State in Little Rock, having tied the 1993 game there.
The Last Time: November 22, 2008 There was no lack of offense in the afternoon but it was a goal-line stand that allowed Mississippi State to walk off the home field winners by a 31-28 final. The afternoon began badly for the home team though as Arkansas put up half their points in the opening quarter, on a 15-yard touchdown run by Michael Smith and a 81-yard touchdown throw from Nathan Dick to Lucas Miller. The Bulldogs survived that initial blitzing and got on the scoreboard before the period was done as Tyson Lee flipped to Anthony Dixon at the goal line at 2:41. Two minutes into the second quarter Arnil Stallworth evened the score with his 10-yard rush and by halftime State led 17-14 on a 32-yard field goal from Adam Carlson. That three-pointer proved the difference as the squads matched touchdowns from then on. Dixon scored on a 63-yard burst, and Arkansas responded with a Dick throw to at 0:02 of the third period. It was Lee and Dixon again combining in the fourth quarter on a nine-yard touchdown play, while the Razorbacks did not counter until 0:25 of the game as Dick threw a one-yard TD pass. Then Arkansas not only recovered the on-sides kick but got a pair of first downs an into field goal range…where Alex Tejada missed his 46-yard attempt to force overtime. Dixon rushed for 179 yards with one score and caught five more balls with the two TD receptions as Lee was 23-of-40 for 219 yards. Dick was 25-of-43 for 333 yards and one interception.
Bulldog Notebook: A season-low production in the Alabama game knocked State's average down. Yet the current 367.5-yard rate of gains this season is still the ninth-best in program history and the best since the 2000 season.
*After scoring just 183 points in all 2008, the '09 Bulldogs have put 245 points on the board this season already. The average scoring of 24.5 points compares to the 15.3-point rate of last season.
*State failed to score a touchdown of any sort for the first time this season, in the Alabama game. However the Dogs did not manage an offensive TD in the Florida game.
*However, State this week ranks last in the SEC in third-down conversion rate at 30.6%.
*The MSU offensive line has allowed just 14 sacks this season, compared to 36 last fall.
*While the overall turnover rate is still negative (19 takeaways, 26 giveaways), this year's defense has made significant progress in creating turnovers. State has 12 interceptions this season compared to eight all last year. And four of those have been turned into touchdowns, most for a Dog defense since 1994 (six).
*This State team has scored six non-offensive touchdowns and a kickoff return. These Dogs need two more such non-offense scores to match the 1998 record of eight.
*State's ground game is now 4th in rushing at 209 yards per game. That is more than double the 102 average of last season; in fact it far outruns the 137-yard rate of the 2007 squad that won eight games.
*With two games left RB Anthony Dixon seeks one remaining rushing record for his Bulldog career. The senior has 1,082 yards for this season, and needs 301 to catch the one-year standard of 1,383 set by James Johnson in 1998. Of course Johnson had 13 games to get his gains while Dixon gets just 11 regular-season shots here in 2009.
*This season's 1,082 tally is still the fourth-best year ever for a MSU runner and Dixon's second 1,000-yard campaign. He's one of just three Dog to have a pair of 1,000-seasons.
*Dixon already owns the career rushing record, now standing at 3,693 yards in four seasons. And at Kentucky three weeks ago he set the game rushing record of 252 yards.
*Dixon has used this senior season to expand career touchdown records he already held after just three years. He now has 39 rushing scores and 43 overall. But he needs two more running TDs to catch Jackie Parker's 1952 season mark of 16.
*Having claimed so many MSU records, Dixon is moving up the SEC career lists as well. He now ranks 4th in career carries (857); 11th in rushing yards (3,685); 10th in rushing touchdowns and 8th in total touchdowns.
*Dixon needs 146 yards to break into the SEC career top-ten.
*Senior QB Tyson Lee could end his two-year MSU career with both of the most-accurate passing seasons ever for a Bulldog quarterback. His 58.8% rate of 2008 is the all-time program standard; and this year he's completing 58.7%. And while he is not a gunslinger by any means, Lee's 206 attempts this year are fourth-most of any Dog on the season-completion percentage list.
*He needs 19 more completions for a top-ten State season in that category.
*In just two years Lee has thrown the 10th-most passes ever by a Bulldog; and his 274 completions rank 8th on the career list!
*But his 2,889 career yards are just outside the top-ten for the moment. Lee needs 51 yards this week to match #10 Matt Wyatt's career total.
*Also, Lee has gone from the least-intercepted (by percentage) MSU passer ever to just 5th on that career list, having been picked off seven times in the last three games against a single touchdown. For the year he has 13 picks and four scores.
*In a four-game stretch (Georgia Tech through Florida) Lee completed 66% of his throws; in the last two games he is 19-of-34, or 56%.
*Lee's typical completion averages 11.3 yards. But he has thrown touchdowns of 50, 69, and 67 yards.
*Counting his suspended status for Houston/Middle Tennessee, QB Chris Relf did not throw a pass for five-straight games. Against Alabama he was 0-for-3 with an interception, so he has not completed a pass since finding O'Neal Wilder for 46 yards on his one toss in the LSU game.
*But in the Florida and Kentucky games, Relf rushed for a combined 94 yards on 10 carries. Alabama held him to nine yards on six tries. Relf's 6.1-yard average gain per run is best of the regulars on this team.
*After being held to one catch and three yards by Florida, WR Chad Bumphis is getting back on track with four catches and 48 yards the last two games combined. The freshman leads this roster in receiving with 28 catches and 318 yards, as well as his three touchdowns.
*Bumphis has also rushed for one touchdown this rookie year, against Georgia Tech. He's yet to throw for a score but that will come in time. Bumphis is 1-of-2 passing for five yards.
*With opponents kicking away from Leon Berry, Bumphis has benefitted. He's returned five kickoffs the last two games, the same as Berry. But the junior has 162 yards in his five chances, Bumphis 124.
*Berry also continues to lead his younger cohort in all-purpose yardage with 1,138, 9th-most in the SEC. Dixon leads the team at 1,191 and is 6th in the league this week.
*A 78-yard run back against Alabama boosted Berry back into the SEC's top-five kickoff return men. He's now 4th with a 27.2-yard average. In fact Berry just blew past the State season record set only last year by Derek Pegues. Berry now has 899 yards for the year .
*Berry's KOR touchdown against Georgia Tech was the first by any Bulldog since 2003.
*But, Berry has not caught a pass in the last four games.
*Instead, WR O'Neal Wilder has been getting the grabs with eight in the last four games, for 124 yards and his first college touchdown (at Kentucky). His 17.2-yard average gain is best among MSU regulars.
*TE Marcus Green had been gaining ground on Bumphis for the catches-lead, before Alabama shut him out. The soph still has 22 grabs and 264 yards with a pair of scores. For the entire 2008 season Bulldog tight ends combined for just ten catches.
*RB Christian Ducre bruised his knee making a second catch at Kentucky and missed the Alabama game. He's iffy for this week as well. Ducre and Bumphis are the only Dogs to both catch a touchdown and run for a score. And Ducre's 5.8-average gain is better than Dixon's 5.3.
*Mississippi State still does not have a receiver ranked in the SEC's top ten for either catches or yards per game.
*MLB Jamar Chaney has been a beast these past three games with 12 total tackles against Florida, a career-best 15 at Kentucky, and eight against Alabama.
*Thus the senior has stretched his season-lead in team tackles to a dozen, out-stopping SLB K.J. Wright 81 to 69 through ten games. As a 2007 junior Chaney had 89 tackles, in 13 games. Chaney has 279 tackles for his four-plus season career.
*Chaney's second senior season also produced his first career interceptions, with pickoffs against Houston and Kentucky.
*WLB Chris White had 26 tackles in the first five games; he's had 38 stops in the last five.
*DE Pernell McPhee is making his own case for all-conference consideration. The junior transfer leads State in both sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (9.0).
*Chaney's 15-hit night at Kentucky matched the previous team best this season as S/CB Marcus Washington had that many tackles in the Florida game. Senior Washington just surpassed 100 career tackles, with 103 now.
*Last year the Bulldog defense had 19 sacks for the season; this year's unit is up to 16 with at least two games still to play.
*This '09 defense has a dozen interceptions, compared to just eight last year. One-third of this year's picks belong to freshman S Johnathan Banks, who got a pair of interceptions in consecutive games with Middle Tennessee and Florida.
*When Banks returned both his picks off Gator Tim Tebow into touchdowns, he matched both the MSU season and career records for pick-sixes in a single game. And he was the first to get a pair of intercept-scores in the same contest.
*Banks needs one more intercept for a top-ten season by a Bulldog.
*CB Corey Broomfield has three interceptions of his own this redshirt-rookie year, and one of those he ran back 43 yards against Jackson State for a touchdown.
*Adding a 71-yard TD return by SS Charles Mitchell against Houston, this Dog defense has four pick-sixes; that's two shy of the program record set in 1998.
*All 12 picks this season came by a Bulldog who had never intercepted a college pass before.
*Along with the four intercept-touchdowns, State has scored this year on a kickoff return (Berry vs. Ga. Tech) and a blocked (by FB Patrick Hanrahan) punt return (by RB Robert Elliot) at Auburn. So this Bulldog squad has scored six non-offensive touchdowns.
*DT Fletcher Cox is credited with a blocked field goal in the Houston game.
*PK Derek DePasquale had a six-make streak of field goals snapped when he missed a 36-yard try against Alabama. He came back to hit a 34-yarder that night, making him 8-of-10 on the year. His longest make is 43 yards against Florida.
*DePasquale has been kicking in place of PK Sean Brauchle who is 6-of-9 on the year with a 49-yarder at Vanderbilt. That matched the longest make by a Bulldog since 2001.
*Between them the two placekickers are perfect on 27 PATs.
*State has twice tried two-point conversions and failed at each; a pass against Vanderbilt and a called pass for a run against Florida.
*Mississippi State is the only SEC school without a kickoff-touchback this season.