Mississippi State Football Film Preview: Examining Arkansas’ Offense

Sep 30, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) passes against the Texas A&M Aggies during the first half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) passes against the Texas A&M Aggies during the first half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mississippi State football travels up to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas as they begin the back half of their schedule. The Arkansas offense has undergone plenty of changes since last season. What can be expected from the Razorback offense?

Mississippi State football returns to action this week after a much-needed bye in the middle of the season. The Bulldogs will make the long trek to the far northwest corner of the Natural State to face off with the Arkansas Razorbacks in what is a pivotal game for the season.

State enters the matchup at 3-3, winless in SEC play. The record itself isn’t particularly shocking as there were many that had that exact start to the season predicted. The concern is centered around how poor the Bulldogs have looked at times in Zach Arnett’s first year as head coach, and that has not inspired confidence for a strong finish over the back half of the schedule.

If there was ever a game they badly needed to win, it’s this one. Arkansas is one of the worst teams left on Mississippi State’s schedule. The Razorbacks are 2-5 on the season, having lost five-straight. There was an expectation around Fayetteville for the Hogs to take a step forward in their fourth season under Sam Pittman after a lackluster 7-6 campaign in 2022.

Instead, they’ve regressed, and it’s largely due to their offense. After some heavy flirtation with Mississippi State’s open offensive coordinator position, Arkansas play-caller Kendal Briles signed an extension to remain with the Hogs. Except, he didn’t end up staying in Fayetteville. Less than a month after being extended, Briles left to go take the open OC job with reigning national runners-up TCU in his home state of Texas.

Almost immediately after Briles made the move southwest, Sam Pittman hired Maryland OC Dan Enos as his new play-caller. The two had previously worked together in Fayetteville as assistants back in 2015, and this was a move that, at the time, greatly pleased Arkansas fans.

The Hog faithful have been very vocal over the last year with their displeasure in Kendal Briles. That may seem crazy to anyone outside of the Arkansas-bubble considering the strong overall offensive output that Briles’ Veer and Shoot attack produced during his three seasons. But while Briles’ offenses put up big numbers, Arkansas fans have been plenty critical of his situational play-calling, particularly in the redzone.

Meanwhile, Razorback fans have very fond memories of Enos. His 2015 offense was the most prolific at Arkansas since Bobby Petrino wrecked his motorcycle. Within their own frame of reference, it seemed like an upgrade. But while some of the gripes with Briles were justified, there was a pretty important factor they overlooked when coming to that conclusion: schematic fit relative to Arkansas’ offensive personnel.

Dan Enos is a pro-style coach, particularly a pass-happy one who runs an in-depth dropback passing game. That’s not a mold that suits the Hog lineup at all. QB KJ Jefferson doesn’t have the skillset of a pocket passer. Their receiving corps isn’t filled with the high-level talent often necessary to consistently beat coverage. And the offensive line hasn’t been good enough in protection to allow time for routes to develop.

Though Kendal Briles certainly has his flaws as a play-caller (and off the field, but I am absolutely not getting into that today…), his “super-spread” Veer and Shoot is built to make life as easy as possible for his players, particularly the QB, while being a nightmare for defenses to defend. The system is regularly called a cheat-code in college football, and KJ Jefferson thrived in it.

Last year, the Hogs averaged 32.5 PPG and over 471 YPG. This year? Those averages are at 29.9 and 321 respectively. The yardage differential is what stands out the most, but non-conference results are helping that scoring average quite a bit. When you look at scoring in SEC games, they’re averaging about a touchdown less per game than they were last season. Meanwhile, Kendal Briles’ new squad is putting up similar numbers to what the Razorbacks saw in 2022.

It’s fair to say Arkansas did not win the breakup.

With all that being said, Mississippi State certainly isn’t in a situation where they can expect a dominate defensive performance. The Bulldog defense has been, largely, terrible this season, and though you could argue this is a chance for them to turn things around, the inverse is typically what you see in these spots. The remedy for a bad offense is a bad defense. Arkansas already got a taste of that against LSU when they scored 31 and had 426 total yards.

Considering Western Michigan found paydirt four times against the MSU defense, you have to believe Arkansas could do the same. Let’s break down the Razorback offense.