Mississippi State Football is facing a potential must-win on Saturday, and they could be without their starting QB. How can they attack the Arkansas defense?
Without trying to be overly hyperbolic, Mississippi State football’s trip to Fayetteville on Saturday could ultimately define their season. The Bulldogs are 3-3, and though the two toughest tests of the season – LSU and Alabama – are already past them, their matchup with Arkansas is still one of the more winnable opportunities remaining on the schedule. If they’re going to reach bowl eligibility, they really need to find a win.
The Razorbacks have been disappointing this season. They’re just 2-5, and as we discussed in the previous breakdown, their offense has been root of much of their problems. Despite the poor record and inability to score points, Hog fans have been able to take some pride in their defense this season.
While the schematic change on the offensive side of the ball has led to regression, a schematic change on defense has proven beneficial for the Arkansas defense. Under now-UNLV HC Barry Odom, the Hogs based out of a 3-2-6 defense. The regularly played with light boxes and dropped eight into coverage.
The goal was to force pass-happy spread attacks to have to put together long scoring drives and execute in the red zone where they have less space to operate. While this certainly created plenty of opportunities for opposing offenses to run the ball, they were fairly sound in swarming up to prevent long runs from breaking off, which again, means the offense has to consistently execute over long drives and be patient enough to take what’s available. Few college offenses will do that.
The strategy worked well in 2021, and Arkansas allowed less than 23 PPG. But in 2022, they faced seemingly countless injuries to their secondary, causing a defense meant to stifle passing attacks to allow big yardage through the air. Add in that offenses showed more of a willingness to play bully ball against the Hogs, and the defense declined to 30.6 PPG allowed.
Sam Pittman chose to make a change and brought in UCF DC and former Auburn-assistant Travis Williams to run the defense. Williams is a promising up-and-comer in the business. He runs a more traditional four-down front (though he’s plenty multiple as well) and tends to call things far more aggressively than Odom did. It’s worked well for Arkansas. They’re giving up just over 25 PPG and have improved their yards-per-play allowed by almost a full yard compared to last season.
The Razorback defense is coming off consecutive strong outings, albeit in losing efforts. Mississippi State’s offense has seemingly started to figure some things out, but it seems as though they’re going to be without starting QB Will Rogers on Saturday. What do they have to look out for from Arkansas, and how can they attack the Hogs?