Trigger warning: This piece talks about topics some readers may find difficult to read. It may provoke unwanted emotion. I mean, the Arkansas rush defense is not an easy subject to undertake.
When you’re one of the four worst rushing defenses in the last nine seasons, such a warning seems advisable to readers, most of whom, I presume, are Arkansas fans. The numbers are hideous. No team in the country is allowing more than Arkansas’ 6.34 yards per carry. Only 2015 Idaho and Eastern Michigan, 2013 Nevada and New Mexico State, and 2009 Eastern Michigan have produced marks that bad over the course of a season.
Things are rough. Mississippi State might not make them any better, either.
Yes, Arkansas is more talented than the Bulldogs. At most positions, Arkansas has the superior athletes. Usually superior depth (not always, usually) wins out. That doesn’t really mean a whole heck of a lot. Florida was better than Arkansas at more than a few spots and the Gators came to Fayetteville and got stomped. Throw in some ancillary anecdotes and I suddenly don’t like Arkansas’ chances in Starkville this weekend.
- The Razorbacks have been awfully bad outside state lines: Arkansas did beat Texas Christian back in September in Fort Worth but had to fight a furious rally, rally themselves, get a timely and controversial penalty its way, convert a fourth down and score a two-point conversion to do it. Two weeks later, two quarters of decency was overshadowed by two more of abysmal play. Then, of course, there was Auburn. We don’t need to rehash that. Plainly, Arkansas has not been good away from the Natural State.
- This one is somewhat related to No. 3: The best running teams in the SEC have beaten Arkansas while the worst ones have fallen. Mississippi State is in the top half. Arkansas has SEC losses to Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn and LSU. Those teams are fifth, second, first and fourth in the SEC in rushing. The Razorbacks have wins over Ole Miss and Florida, the teams ranked 13th and 12th running the ball in the conference. Mississippi State checks in at sixth.
- Running quarterbacks destroy the Razorbacks defense: Trevor Knight’s season high in rushing yards is 157. He did it on 10 carries against Arkansas. Chad Kelly’s season high is 89 yards, coming on 14 carries against Arkansas. Kenny Hill had 93, a season high, on 15 carries against Arkansas. Sean White had 61 on four carries against, you guessed it, Arkansas. Knight, Kelly and Hill each ran for two touchdowns. White ran for one. Alabama’s Jalen Hurts was bottled yardage-wise (just 20), but he had two scores, too. If you’re wondering why we bring this up — Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is eighth in the SEC in rushing overall and tops among quarterbacks by more than 120 yards.
It has to fix for Arkansas to win. Has to. A loss to Mississippi State, currently tied for last in the West with the Razorbacks and Ole Miss, would be absolutely devastating for a season on the brink. If Fitzgerald gets free, Arkansas is doomed.
My bad. This one is on me.
Arkansas releases its depth chart every Monday around lunchtime. I almost always take in the changes on offense and defense and tend to scan the special teams. Because of that, I missed that quarterback Austin Allen is now listed as the team’s No. 2 punter.
Plain as day. Heck, it’s even highlighted in red. The question is why? What happened to redshirt freshman Blake Johnson? Arkansas coach Bret Bielema didn’t mention Johnson’s removal or Allen’s insertion into the spot on Monday during his press conference. No one has reported anything about it in these parts, either.
My guess is we’ll find out Wednesday evening when offensive players are made available to the media at the Fred W. Smith Football Center. Curious, though.
Goin’ on down to Starkville, gonna have ourselves a time
Listen, the city where Mississippi State is located is, well, it’s not great.
Starkville is the second-smallest city in the SEC, behind only Oxford, where Ole Miss is located just up the road. Oxford, however, holds Ole Miss, which is a supremely pretty campus full of greenery, lush and majestic. OK, I’m overstating with majestic, but it’s nice. Starkville is brown, drab and empty.
I suppose there is a certain small-town Mississippi charm to it, but if you’re seeking something to do before the game, go elsewhere.
What Starkville does have, though, is a slamming stadium. Really. If you haven’t been in ages, it’s worth it. Now, Davis Wade needs some updating on the interior. It’s rather old (rather is an understatement to make up for the overstatement before — it’s the second-oldest stadium in FBS) and pathways get jammed easily. But for atmosphere, there’s nothing like it in college football. The school sealed off the north end zone in 2014 and now the noise of those cowbells does not escape. I left that game two years ago with that sound stuck in my head for another few hours. It’s pretty wild.
If you go, take earplugs. For real. I’m a stand-next-to-the-speakers guy at metal and rock concerts, where I don’t take earplugs, but I promise, you’ll want them, especially if it’s a close game.
- Arkansas players and coaches know Fitzgerald will get plenty of quarterback runs, so they’re preparing for it, writes our Trent Shadid.
- How does Arkansas beat Mississippi State on Saturday? With these 5 things, writes our Jason Kersey.
- Those cowbells inside Davis Wade Stadium can be intense and it’s one of the most strangely loud environments in college football when it’s going at top end. Bielema, though, he says he doesn’t hear it, but he’s prepping his team for it, anyway.
- Randy Ramsey is the defensive end/linebacker hybrid from days of old. He started the last two games at linebacker, but everything before that, he was down on the line. Razorbacks coaches are mum on what’s next for him against Mississippi State, writes WholeHogSports’ Jimmy Carter.
- As good as Fitzgerald has been running, his passing has gotten worse in one regard, writes Mike Bonner at the Clarion-Ledger.
- Ninth-ranked Arkansas women and sixth-ranked Arkansas men stayed inside the cross country top-10 rankings ahead of this weekend’s 2016 NCAA Championships in Indiana. Both are counted among the favorites for the national title on Saturday at 10 a.m. in Terre Haute.
- Arkansas athletes — sorry, student-athletes — are doing better than ever in the classroom. Those enrolled at the school from 2006-09 garnered a 78 percent graduation success rate, the eighth straight time Arkansas has had a rate above 70 percent and the highest mark ever at the school.
— Jeff Long (@jefflongUA) November 15, 2016
- Preseason SEC Player of the Year Moses Kingsley keeps racking up the watch list honors. On Monday he was named to the Wooden Award watch list, the most highly respected National Player of the Year award in college basketball. Previously, Kingsley was named to the watch lists for the Naismith Trophy and the Lute Olsen Award.
Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas
I grew up poor. Like, well below poverty-type poor. My parents were in high school when I was born. We lived off commodities for the first several years of my life and lived with my grandparents until I was 3. It takes a lot to make it.
It doesn’t require hiding a corpse in your home for a year in order to collect Social Security, however. That’s just damn. … This woman in Paragould apparently did that, though, and now she’s headed to prison, per the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.