Razorback fans are no doubt familiar with the work of Brandon Marcello, the former online sports editor for the Democrat-Gazette who crossed over to the dark side and became the Clarion-Ledger's Mississippi State beat writer earlier this year. Although he no longer has the pleasure of covering Arkansas (except this week), his work remains a consistently excellent read, and we're very happy to be able to present his insights on the Hogs-Dogs battle this weekend. Read below to get his expert take on this important game.
Many thanks to Brandon for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts here, and be sure to read more from him on the Clarion-Ledger's MSU website and his always enjoyable Twitter feed.
First off, an informal question: How are the new job and new city treating you?
I'm loving it here in Starkville. A lot of new faces and places, and I love the people. Already have a few favorite restaurants.
Give us a brief overview of the strengths and weaknesses of this Mississippi State team.
State loves to run the football and no one has really been able to stop them this season. Even teams that know what MSU is going to do on offense can't seem to stop 'em. Look at that Florida game, for example. The Bulldogs ran the ball 49 times and threw the ball just once in the second half and that was on a shovel pass near the goal line. The weakness on offense, obviously, is the passing game. Chris Relf gets plenty of time to throw the ball but he's sometimes a victim of his own prosperity back there in the pocket and he begins to hesitate and makes bad decisions with his throws. The offensive line is fantastic.
On defense, they're as fast as they come in the SEC. If there is a weakness there, it's the young secondary and teams (like Georgia) that have attacked deep down field have had some success moving the football. The key is MSU's red zone defense.
How much of a distraction, if any, has the Cam Newton saga been to Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs?
None. What's lost in all these headlines concerning Cam Newton is the death of Nick Bell. His passing in early November after a brief bout with cancer is affecting these players more than anything else off the field.
Speaking of Mullen: as an ink-stained wretch, how would you compare covering the Mississippi State head coach to Bobby Petrino?
Everyone wants to hear about comparisons and, really, there are none. Each has their own way of doing things but both do have one similarity: They have changed the culture at their respective programs.
Which Bulldogs and which Razorbacks are poised to have big games on Saturday?
Joe Adams. I've been on his bandwagon since the spring of his sophomore year. He could really hurt MSU in the middle of the field after the catch. I'll also go with D.J. Williams at tight end. MSU will hurt 'ya quick off the edge with LaDarius Perkins just as you're getting comfortable with handling Vick Ballard between the tackles. I do think MSU needs to score points so Chad Bumphis could be poised for a big game at receiver.
You covered the Razorbacks for several years: Have you been at all surprised at how their 2010 season has unfolded, or is their performance in line with your expectations?
That Alabama loss dropped Arkansas off a lot of folks' maps, honestly. Outside the state, people stopped talking about Arkansas. The Razorbacks had a shot there to be relevant and, as Arkansas fans have come to know over the years, they came THIS close but ultimately fell short. That can change, though, by winning out this season. If they can get to a BCS game, you have to consider that a fantastic success but it's going to be tough and there are some things out of their control. Ultimately, they should have taken care of business against Alabama.
It also hurt losing to Auburn and allowing 65 points. Once that happened, the respect level from those across the nation dropped off the map. This four-game winning streak sure is nice, but the Hogs need to prove they're for real. The South Carolina win was a nice start.
Final question: What's your prediction for Saturday's game?
MSU's offense has to score some points to stay in this game and the Bulldogs can not allow several early touchdowns. Simply put, MSU's offense is not equipped to play from behind. But Manny Diaz's defense is for real, guys. He's done wonders for the Bulldogs and, as you can read in the paper Thursday, they're ready for Arkansas.
That aside, you just can't deny Ryan Mallett. I'll go with Arkansas, 24-20. FYI: I'm awful at predictions.