How can Mississippi State football attack the Arkansas defense?
Arkansas is much improved defensively. They’ve made the plays to keep their team in games even when their offense has failed to produce, and more than anything, their style is one that fans appreciate.
But they are by no means dominant. Over the last four games, they’ve allowed an average of 423 yards per game. They’ve limited scoring, getting timely sacks and holding in the redzone to give themselves a chance. But offenses have begun to figure out how to better attack them.
Specifically, their run defense has fallen off considerably compared to the first few weeks of the season. In Arkansas’ first three games, they allowed just 167 rushing yards total. Over each of the last four weeks, they’ve allowed a minimum of 177 rushing yards and an average of 191.5.
For a Mississippi State offense that wants much of its identity built around the run game, this game is a chance for them to lean on that aspect of the offense. That will certainly be the case if it is indeed Mike Wright under center. Not only will MSU not want their backup throwing frequently, but Wright’s strength is as a runner. When he’s in the game, the Bulldogs’ offensive approach is built around a spread option run game and heavier use of RPOs.
And offenses have found some success attacking the Razorback defense in that manner lately. A play both Ole Miss and Alabama used successfully was GT Counter Bash. I talked about Counter Bash before the season in a piece discussing how Mike Wright could be used by State. In short, it’s an option play off of GT Counter with the QB acting as the primary ball carrier, following the pullers between the tackles, while the RB stresses the perimeter with a sweep. And it’s a play we’ve seen MSU run with Wright in the game.
Here’s Ole Miss QB Jaxson Dart keeping the ball on Counter Bash for a big gain against the Hogs. Arkansas is in a 5-1 look with a pair of stand-up edge rushers. Dart is reading the strong-side edge. The TE arc releases around the edge, leaving him unblocked. Dart sees the edge stay wide with the threat of a RB sweep to his side, so Dart keeps the ball up the gut behind the pulling guard and tackle.
The rushing success offenses have seen lately against Arkansas has created plenty of opportunities in the play-action game. Arkansas already likes to send pressure and play man, so one-on-one chances have been present downfield regardless. But with teams getting after them in the run game, they’ve played more single-high coverage to bring an extra defender into the box to help stop the run.
This allows for more open space downfield. Here Ole Miss gets them for a big gain off of play-action. The Hogs are in a Cover 3 look with a safety walked down into the box. Both LBs and the safety bite hard on the play-action fake (seeing a pulling guard after you’ve been getting gashed on the ground will do that to you) leaving no one in coverage in the intermediate area in the middle of the field. Dart has a WR on a crossing route left wide open, and he gets the chance to big up big yardage on the run after catch.
We saw State have success taking downfield shots off play-action against single high looks at South Carolina. And we’ve saw Mike Wright’s legs open up some passing opportunities in his extended action against Western Michigan. Those chances should be there for Mississippi State against Arkansas.