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November 22, 2013

Know the Foe: Arkansas

Mississippi State is coming off of a hard-fought loss to #1 Alabama and took an even harder loss when Tyler Russell went down with an injury joining Dak Prescott on the injured quarterback list. Neither quarterback is known to play and MSU might have to settle with true freshman Damian Williams to take the reins. The Bulldogs have to win each of their next two games to get bowl eligibility starting this weekend in Little Rock, Arkansas, against the Razorbacks.

Who: Arkansas (3-7, 0-6) vs. Mississippi State (4-6, 1-5)
Where: Little Rock, Arkansas ; War Memorial Stadium
When: Saturday, November 23, 2013; 11:21 on SEC Network (Check Local Listings)
Series Record: Arkansas leads, 15-7-1. The Last Time: MSU: 45-14, in Starkville 2012

About the Razorbacks

It's been one of those years for Arkansas where nothing seems to be going right. Arkansas is coming off of another one of those years a season ago when Bobby Petrino had things rolling before things began to crash down and crash down hard. Arkansas has talent on the roster but it's a very young program adjusting to a completely different style and they've gone through a rough patch since hitting the SEC schedule.

The Razorbacks began the season with a perfect 3-0 record and seemed to be on their way to getting to a bowl game before losing to Rutgers. Since their win against Southern Miss., the Rrazorbacks have lost seven-consecutive games by an average of 16 points per game.


The Coaching:

It's been a rollercoaster the last two years for Arkansas as they were on the way to big things under Petrino as he had gotten the team to a Sugar Bowl and was returning a lot of key players in his offense. Then, everything went downhill. Petrino was caught in a scandal and was dismissed as head coach where long-time college coach John L. Smith took over. After finishing the season towards the bottom of the SEC, Smith wasn't brought back and the Razorbacks made the hire of Brett Bielema who left his successful program at Wisconsin.

Bielema had the Badgers in three-consecutive Rose Bowls and produced four 10-win seasons in his seven years of coaching in Madison. Bielema's ground-and-pound approach on offense was seemingly unstoppable at times in the Big 10, but he's had trouble finding a whole lot of consistency in the SEC with it working mostly with young freshmen and athletes that were built for the spread before he came to UA.


The Offense: Arkansas had two incredibly productive quarterbacks during the last four years with Ryan Mallet and Tyler Wilson who put up video game numbers through the air under Petrino's high-powering offense. Now, the Razorbacks don't have quite the threat that they did but they don't need it in this style offense. Brandon Allen is the starter for the Razorbacks throwing for just 1,260 yards this season with 11 touchdowns. He's only completed 47% of his passes this season so the passing game isn't the main threat for Arkansas.

Javontee Herndon is the big threat at wide receiver. Gone are the days where Arkansas would spread teams out and burn them with the speedy receivers. Herndon is a capable playmaker however. This season, he's hauled in a career-high 28 passes for 411 yards and four touchdown. He had his career-high game last year with six catches in Starkville. Hunter Henry is the threat at tight end that Bielema wants. One of the first players Bielema really hit hard on the recruiting trail as one of the nation's top tight ends. He's right there as one of the top receivers as a true freshman pulling in 21 catches for 354 yards and two touchdowns. He's a valuable asset to the offense.

The running game is the area where Arkansas wants to control throughout the game. The Razorbacks are one of just four teams in the conference averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground and they're led by standout freshman Alex Collins. Collins was the first freshman in SEC history to rush for three-straight 100-yard games and he's been the clear-cut playmaker offensively this season. The young running back has carried 169 times for 946 yards and four touchdowns looking to break the 1,000-yard barrier this week. Collins leads the country among freshmen in rushing yards but is also around the top overall. He's top five in nearly every category in the conference.

He's backed up by another capable running back who isn't far behind as the two have been one of the more valuable one-two punches in the league. The sophomore provides a powerful game and is eighth in the conference in attempts at 129 and yards at 783.

Defense: The Arkansas defense has work to do in the future, but it hasn't been a depleted group this season. The defense gives up 400 yards per game and 31 points so there's some opportunities for MSU to move the ball much better than they did a week ago, obviously. One bright spot in the Arkansas defense is the defensive line. Chris Smith leads the way for the Razorbacks up front and is the leader on the team in sacks with 7.5 ranked third in the SEC in that category. Smith will be wearing number 98 on Saturday in honor of teammate Robert Thomas who was seriously injured against South Carolina earlier this season.

Trey Flowers anchors the other side of the line at defensive end and Byran Jones and Darius Philon are in the middle. Flowers has put up 10.0 tackles for loss with 4.0 sacks this season and has forced three fumbles which ranks second in the league.

At linebacker the Razorbacks are led by Braylon Mitchell who is top 10 in the league in tackles with 70. Jarrett Lake is not far behind with 62 tackles ranking third on the team and freshman Brooks Ellis has been forced into action coming strong at the end of the year totaling 11 tackles against Ole Miss two weeks ago.

Arkansas' secondary has given up big plays this season but they're also capable of making them as they intercepted Ole Miss twice last ball game. Tevin Mitchel is the leader of the secondary and has reeled in 47 tackles as a cornerback this season as well as an interception for touchdown. Safety Alan Turner is tied with Mitchell for the team lead with 70 tackles and his teammate Eric Bennett has 61 of his own at the other safety position. Look for Arkansas to try and force MSU's young freshman to throw the football on Saturday.


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