Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Cobi Hamilton (11) was named as one of 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given to college football’s top receiver.
Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson (195 of 320, 2,803 yards, 18 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) has endured a season of hard knocks. His 311.4 passing yards per game rank second in the SEC, ninth nationally.
His efficiency rating of 146.83 is No. 6 in the SEC, No. 31 nationally. Wilson had a 4-to-1 TD-tointerception ratio last year and a 1.8-to-1 this year.
Wilson’s 539 career completions surpassed Clint Stoerner (528) last week, and he’s 241 yards shy of Stoerner’s 7,422 career total for second place on UA’s charts. Arkansas has the nation’s No. 19 passing offense (302.6 ypg), but its 57.7 percent completion rate ranks 12th in the SEC. Mississippi State junior Tyler Russell (182 of 301, 2,249 yards, 17 TDs, 4 ints) leads a unit that is poised to break single-season school passing records.
Russell not only has a superb TD-to-interception ratio, he has the talent to scramble out of trouble.
Russell is coming off a career-best 295 passing yards against LSU last week. The Bulldogs are tied for ninth nationally with 10 team turnovers, the same as Wilson’s interception total. Mississippi State ranks No. 56 with 238 passing yards per game.
The momentum Arkansas’ running game had created through the middle of the year faded at South Carolina last week, when freshman Jonathan Williams (39 carries, 211 yards, 5.4 yards per carry) led the team for the first time.
Dennis Johnson (116-639, 8 TDs, 5.5 ypc) has been a tackle-breaking runner who has occasional fumbling issues, like last week’s at the South Carolina 5. Junior Knile Davis (100-340, 2 TDs, 3.4 ypc) has been battling a hamstring problem, but could be ready for a return this week. Fullback Morgan Linton (3 catches, 29 yards) is a walk-on who isn’t a lead-blocking force like injured Kiero Small
Arkansas has slipped to No. 104 in rushing (119.5 yards per game). Mississippi State’s lead back, Laderius Perkins, (153-804, 8 TDs, 5.3 ypc) is expected to return from a quad muscle injury after missing last week. The 5-10, 190-pounder, who is second in the SEC in all-purpose yards (135.2) and third in rushing (89.3), likes to tuck in behind pulling linemen and blow through gaps. Josh Robinson (33-218, 1), Derrick Milton (31-161, 2) and
Nick Griffin (27-145) all average 5.0 yards per carry or better. The Bulldogs rank No. 76 in rushing (145.5).
(73 receptions, 1,149 yards, 4 TDs) made the semifinal list last week for the Biletnikoff Award, given to college football’s top receiver. His average of 114.9 yards per game leads the SEC and is fifth nationally. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since his 303-yard, 3-TD effort vs. Rutgers. Mekale McKay (16-242, 1) had one of his best games last week, while Javontee Herndon (12-195, 3) slashed past several defenders and nearly scored at South Carolina. Newcomers Demetrius Wilson (8-113) and Keon Hatcher (3-21) caught their first career TD passes last week. Tight ends Austin Tate (12-101) and Alex Voelzke (2-28, 1) are trying to carry on in the absence of big playmaker Chris Gragg (22-289, 3).
Mississippi State is led by seniors Chad Bumphis (43-676, 8 TDs), Chris Smith (40-482, 2) and Arceto Clark (27-355), and sophomores Robert Johnson (13-127, 2) and Jameon Lewis (9-93) at the wideout spots.
Smith, 6-2, could present matchup problems for the Hogs’ young coverage personnel, as could Mississippi State’s quick-pass attack. The top tight end is Marcus Green (18-200, 6), who is a favored target in the red zone.
Center Travis Swanson and guard Alvin Baileywill make their 37th consecutive start together, easily the longest streak on the Arkansas roster. Those two have put together solid seasons, according to Coach John L. Smith, while guard Tyler Deacon has been OK. The problems have cropped up at the tackle spots, where junior David Hurd has started all 10 games, and senior Jason Peacock and sophomore Brey Cook have split 10 starts equally. The Razorbacks are No. 48 nationally with 1.7 sacks allowed per game. They are No. 45 in total offense (422.1 yards per game) and No. 82 in scoring (25.5 ppg).
Mississippi State’s front is not as massive as its predecessor, and right guard Tobias Smith (6-3, 305 pounds) is the only senior. Tackles Blaine Clausell and Charles Siddoway are both 6-7, 300-pounders with good reach. Sophomore Dillon Day (6-4, 285) is the center, while Gabe Jackson (6-4, 320), the heaviest starter, is a junior.
The Bulldogs are No. 14 in the country with 1 sack allowed per game and the team ranks No. 80 in total offense (383.5) and No. 60 in scoring (29.4).
Junior Byran Jones (42 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 hurries) leads the Arkansas defense with 27 career starts, one more than senior tackle D.D. Jones (14, 1.5 TFL, 4 pass breakups). Senior Jared Green (24, 7 TFL, 3.5 sacks) is having a big season, while captain Alfred Davis (35, 2.5 TFL, 1 hurry) is playing solid. Robert Thomas (15, 4.5, 2) hasn’t flashed in a while. Ends Chris Smith (41, 10, 6.5, 10 hurries) and Trey Flowers (34, 9.5, 4.5, 8) are playing a lot of snaps. Colton Miles-Nash (15, 1 hurry, 1 fumble recovery) has worked inside and out, and Austin Flynn (9, 1.5 TFL, 2 hurries) has played end and as a stand-up guy on the edge. The Razorbacks are No. 23 in run defense (119.7 yards per game) in the country, compared to No. 68 (163.3) for Mississippi State. Seniors
Josh Boyd (23, 6 hurries) and Dewayne Cherrington (15, 1 TFL), a pair of 300-plus pounders, hold down the middle for the Bulldogs, with backup from P.J. Jones (13) and Curtis Virges (9, 1.5 TFL). End Denico Autrey (32, 7.5 TFL, 3 sacks) has emerged in recent games to pair with Kaleb Eulls (22, 1 TFL). The Bulldogs rank just No. 88 nationally in sacks (1.5 per game).
Arkansas is likely to be without senior Terrell Williams (52, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack), who worked scout team during the week. Ross Rasner (74, 6.5 TFL, 3 interceptions, 6 pass breaksups), who plays the star spot and safety, appears on his way to leading the team in tackles. Freshmen A.J. Turner (36, 2, 1) and Otha Peters (22, 0.5 sacks, 1 hurry) are learning on the job in the inside spots. Jarrett Lake (9, 1.5 TFL) got backup snaps a week ago. The Razorbacks are No. 74 in total defense, allowing 410.8 yards per game.
Mississippi State has a blend of veterans like Cameron Lawrence (87, 7 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 PBU), who posted 15 tackles against LSU last week, and junior Deontae Skinner (51, 3 TFL, 3 PBU), and youngsters like Benardrick McKinney (79, 3.5 TFL, 3 PBU). The group gets strong protection from its big defensive front. McKinney, a 6-5, 235-pounder,ranks third nationally among freshmen with 79 tackles. Reserves Matthew Wells (31, 1.5 TFL, 3 hurries), Ferlando Bohanna (25, 2 fumble recoveries) and Chris Hughes (22, 2 fumble recoveries) rank among the Bulldogs’ top 13 tacklers. Mississippi State is No. 49 in total defense (379.3).
Senior Ross Rasner, junior Eric Bennett (31, 3 pass breakups) and freshman Rohan Gaines (63, 4 PBU, 1 hurry) have taken a huge chunk of Arkansas’ snaps in the safety rotation, with only minimal relief from Alan Turner (14, 1 int.) and Jerry Mitchel l (5, 1 PBU). Kaelon Kelleybrew (27, 1.5 tackles forloss, 5 PBU) is playing star, corner and punt returner now. Sophomore Tevin Mitchel (28, 1 int., 4 PBU) and true freshman Will Hines (20, 1 int., 3 PBU) are slated to make their fourth consecutive start together at corner.
The reserves are freshman Davyon McKinney (8), Kelleybrew and Darius Winston (5, 1 PBU). Arkansas is No. 114 in pass defense (291.1 yards per game). Bulldogs defensive backs have had big days against the Hogs. Safety Corey Broomfield (35, 3.5 TFL, 1 int.) picked off Ryan Mallett twice as a rookie in 2009, and cornerback Johnthan Banks (51, 6 PBU) forced a fumble from Tyler Wilson that led to a touchdown last year. Banks has 4 ints. with 124 return yards, and his 16 career interceptions rank third among active FBS players. At 6-2 with long arms, Banks is thought by many to be the best cover defender in the SEC and is a two-time semifinalist for the Thorpe Award, given to college football’s top defensive back.
Darius Slay (33, 4 ints., 5 PBU) is the other starting corner, while Nickoe Whitley (71, 2.5 TFL, 1 int.) starts at free safety. The Bulldogs have 301 interception return yards compared to 34 for the Razorbacks and rank No. 43 in pass defense (216 ypg).
Dylan Breeding has carried the Arkansas kicking game with a 45.8-yard average that ranks No. 6 in the nation. Kicker Zach Hocker is 11 of 16 on field-goal attempts, 30 of 30 on extra-point attempts, and his 72.6 touchback percentage ranks third in the country. Arkansas is No. 18 in the country in net punting (40.09), but the Razorbacks have allowed the secondmost punt return yards (149) in the conference.
The Razorbacks are last in the SEC and No. 105 nationally in kickoff return average (18.4). Kaelon Kelleybrew is projected to get his first shot as punt returner today, taking over from freshman Nate Holmes (concussion), and freshman D’Arthur Cowans is expected to return kickoffs. Mississippi State’s opponents have a net of zero punt return yards, best in the nation.
Punter Baker Swedenburg is No. 9 in the SEC and No. 54 in the nation with a 41.5-yard average. The Bulldogs’ 40.1 net average is No. 17 in the country, just ahead of the Hogs. Kicker Devon Bell has made 10 of 16 field-goal attempts. The main kickoff return man, Ladarius Perkins, averages 20.6 yards, good for 10th in the SEC, 81st in the country.
The Razorbacks barely escaped a roaring, cowbell-clanging crowd in Starkville, Miss., two years ago in the first on-field tribute to former Bulldog Nick Bell Today’s game is senior day for Mississippi State, and Bell’s memory will again be honored as part of Coach Dan Mullen’s first class of recruits. Arkansas has played only one game that would even approach being described as “complete,” against Kentucky.
When they’ve been trounced in turnover margin and struggled in the the red zone, Arkansas has had trouble being competitive. Mississippi State has had its confidence stunted after losing three in a row, but the Bulldogs will be extra hungry to end their three-game losing streak to the Razorbacks against a vulnerable opponent.
Arkansas has to win to remain in the hunt for a bowl bid, but is a decisive underdog.
Arkansas’ pass coverage against Mississippi State’s quick-passing game
The Bulldogs, with big junior Tyler Russell throwing to veteran wideouts, can nickel-and-dime down the field with the best of them, and heave the occasional deep ball. Arkansas has been vulnerable in pass coverage all season and might have to risk additional pressure to keep the Bulldogs from working them over with short stuff.
Sports, Pages 22 on 11/17/2012