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Arkansas vs. Mississippi State Advanced Stats Recap: Wild Wild West

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The Hogs toppled the Bulldogs in a shootout that resembled last season’s game.

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Mississippi State Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was fun.

For the second straight year, Arkansas and Mississippi State got into a wild shootout. This time, though, Arkansas did everything right on offense on a 58-42 win. The Hogs’ 663 yards and 58 points are school records for SEC games in regulation.

An interesting statistic comes with the win: in its last 15 SEC games as an underdog (dating to November 2014), Arkansas is 9-6 straight-up. Take that, Vegas.

There are, obviously, still major questions about the defense, which surrendered 533 yards and 42 points to a team that will likely finish last in the SEC West (which isn’t really that bad, given how loaded the West is).

Still, the Hogs not only won, they got good practice for Friday’s game against Missouri, which is also likely to be a track meet. Missouri put up 743 yards of offense (!) and 42 first downs (!!) in Knoxville, but lost 63-37 because they are basically 1990 Loyola Marymount, but for football.

Anyway, here are the game splits:

A few observations:

  • Arkansas erupted out of the gate, but remained efficient throughout the game. Those first and second-quarter numbers are ridiculous. But check out the success rate column through all four quarters. The Hogs started efficient and explosive, but when the big plays went away, the efficiency stayed. Arkansas grinded it out in the second half, reducing the number of possessions with good, old-fashioned Bielema ball-control offense.
  • Arkansas’ offense is nearly impossible to stop when it generates explosive plays on first down. We’ve talked about it all season: for offensive coordinator Dan Enos, first down is the “set up” down, where the Hogs are usually conservative and 70-80% run, and 42-45% is a reasonable success rate target. Second down is the money down. It’s 50-60% pass and Austin Allen usually takes his shots here. When Arkansas’ offense ends up one-dimensional — which happened against Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU, and parts of Louisiana Tech and TCU — the Hogs get nothing on first down and are totally reliant on Allen’s second-down passing. When the first-down run game gets going, the Hogs become extremely balanced and extremely dangerous.
  • The run game got gashed again, but didn’t give up too many big plays. Arkansas’ defense is basically a lost cause this season. The coaching staff made some personnel moves it clearly regrets now, something went wrong with teaching run fits and gap integrity, key players like Brooks Ellis regressed (or, at least, didn’t take the big step forward we hoped for), and several young players we thought might step up didn’t. Whether it will cost Robb Smith his job remains to be seen. Arkansas surrendered 60.6% success on the ground to Mississippi State, which is unacceptable. However, after a 58-yard touchdown run by Nick Fitzgerald on State’s opening drive, the Hogs managed to limit big run plays. Notice Mississippi State’s success rate on first (63.3%) and second down (61.9%), and compare it to third down (38.5%). That’s Smith’s bend-don’t-break scheme showing signs of life. It worked in the second quarter, holding State scoreless despite giving up 57.9% success (that’s hard to do, actually). Ultimately, the plan got kneecapped because State recouped four of those failed third downs by going 4 for 4 on fourth down, but hey, baby steps.

A couple things to note here as well:

  • Both offenses played well, but Arkansas’ was slightly better. We knew this already, but those are some big Offense EV numbers.
  • Arkansas won the field position battle. The Hogs entered the game 119th in the offense’s average starting field position, and 87th in the defense’s average starting field position. But for the second time in three games, Arkansas pulled out a win here. There were a few reasons for this. First, Mississippi State’s punter isn’t very good. Of four punts, his first two failed to net 40 yards, and his final punt was returned 21 yards by Jared Cornelius. Overall, three of his four punts cost State Special Teams EV and field position. Also, Arkansas has made underrated progress on kickoff coverage as the season has progressed. The Hogs still aren’t getting enough touchbacks, but the coverage unit has really stepped up. Six of State’s ten kickoff returns failed to reach the 25, and three of them failed to reach the 20. Credit to the gunners, namely Cody Hollister and Duwop Mitchell, for their hard work. On the other side, Arkansas still isn’t getting good value on kickoff returns, although Deon Stewart did have a nice on in the third quarter. MSU finished with negative Kickoff EV due to two failed onside kicks.