FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Mississippi State enters its SEC West matchup with Arkansas on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU) with a 4-6 record.
That would suggest a down season for the Bulldogs, who must win their final two games to become bowl eligible for a seventh consecutive season. But the Hogs (6-4, 2-4 SEC) have seen a more impressive team than 4-6 on film.
“Don’t let (the record) fool you,” said Arkansas linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves. “They’re a really good football team. There’s quite a few games that could’ve gone the other way and their season could be totally different. We’re not going in with the idea that they’re a 4-6 football team by any means.”
Three of Mississippi State’s losses have come on the final play of the game. Another was a 3-point loss at LSU. The Bulldogs also had an impressive 35-28 victory over Texas A&M two weeks ago.
“(Mississippi State coach) Dan Mullen is extremely talented,” said Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. “He’s obviously taken that program to heights it’s never been at before. It doesn’t happen by chance. They’re very well coached. They’ve got a good scheme. I think they lost a lot of really good players, and to come back this year, they’ve coached them well and gotten better as the year’s gone on. We’ll get their best effort on Saturday.”
No player taking the field Saturday for Arkansas has experienced a win over of Mississippi State, which has won the past four meetings. In 2015, the Bulldogs won 51-50, with a blocked 29-yard field goal in the final minute clinching the victory.
“Any time you get the chance to beat someone that we haven’t beat here, I think that means a lot,” said Arkansas senior offensive tackle Dan Skipper. “I think that means a lot to the seniors, to get off of last week and finish strong.”
The Hogs’ toughest task this time around may be containing quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound redshirt sophomore is seventh in the SEC and tops among quarterbacks with 854 rushing yards. He’ll be facing an Arkansas defense giving up an average of 287.5 yards per game against SEC opponents, worst in the conference.
“He’s a really good runner,” said Arkansas senior linebacker Brooks Ellis. “He’s probably one of the best runners we’ll see all year as a quarterback. That’s definitely a challenge for us.”
Forcing Mississippi State into obvious passing downs is where the Hogs are likely to have success, something they weren’t able to do with consistency in their four SEC West losses. Fitzgerald has completed just 53 percent of his passes, ranking 11th among SEC quarterbacks.
As for the Bulldogs defense, that’s where the Razorbacks have their biggest advantage, particularly if quarterback Austin Allen returns to form this week. Mississippi State’s pass defense is last in the conference in passing yards allowed per game (277), touchdowns (26) and completion percentage (61).