FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Arkansas Razorbacks currently sit at 5-3 on the season, and are set to face off against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who is playing their best football of the season.
Mississippi State is coming off of two high-energy wins, beating Vanderbilt two weeks ago by 42 points, and dismantling the #16 Kentucky Wildcats 31-17 just a week ago. They come into Fayetteville with an identical record to Arkansas, but the momentum belongs to Mike Leach’s team.
The Razorbacks, on the other hand, are looking for a spark to carry them through the rest of the season.
After a promising 4-0 start, their first since 2003, Hog fans were looking ahead and had aspirations that were anywhere from 10 wins to a playoff berth.
Unfortunately, the team backslid, and they have almost copied the same trajectory as the 2003 team by dropping the next three games against Georgia, Ole Miss, and Auburn.
They will look to right the ship after two weeks where they had a chance to rest up, beating the University of Arkansas - Pine Bluff 45-3, which was the first game against an in-state opponent since 1944, and a bye week last week.
The Hogs will need to establish the run if they want to have any chance of winning on Saturday. Arkansas currently ranks in the top 10 of rushing offenses in the country this season, and keeping that momentum will be imperative for a win.
Head Coach Sam Pittman said in a press conference that he intends to give Dominique Johnson more carries, after he has delivered all year when his number has been called.
“He’s a big back, he’s a guy that can wear you down,” Pittman said. “I think that 15 (carries) range is probably about right, knowing that we have three other backs, but he’s earned the right to start for us, and we’re anticipating him having a good game.”
On the other sideline, Mississippi State has not rushed the ball as much, and they aren’t expected to. Head Coach Mike Leach has made an entire career out of throwing the ball a lot. That doesn’t mean the running backs won’t get involved, though.
“Our running back position, when you add on the ground, in the air is pretty high,” Leach said. “And I think it’ll remain that way. But I think that the better you are on the o-line, the better your running backs are.”
The most important thing for Arkansas defensively is going to be the passing game. Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers completed 36/39 passes against Kentucky, the highest completion percentage in SEC history.
The secondary has been a weak point at times this season, and with safety Jalen Catalon done for the year, Pittman will need the younger guys like Miles Slusher to step up.
Slusher has shown flashes of success since he arrived in 2020, but has been hampered since arriving on the Hill.
“The problem was he had a lot of injuries his first year here, then he had a lot of injuries at the beginning of this year too.” Pittman said. “Or he would have played a lot more ball than what he has. Fortunately for us, he got healthy about the time (Jalen Catalon) had to have his shoulder surgery, and I think he’ll continue to get better and better. He’s very talented.”
The Arkansas Razorbacks will kick off against the Mississippi State Bulldogs inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday, November 6, at 3:00 p.m. That game will air on the SEC Network.