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. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Dogs wary of Hogs' screen pass
Arkansas tight end Jeremy Patton tries to break the tackle of LSU defender John Battle during a game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Mississippi State defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is well aware of Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos' propensity to run screen passes, which have been effective to backs, tight ends and receivers virtually all season, heading into Saturday's game against the Razorbacks.
"You've got to have a lot of discipline," Grantham said. "You've got to understand who you're covering and understanding where your leverage is, where your help is.
"And you have to understand they do a good job with their screen game as well as their boots [bootlegs], and you have to be able to defend it."
Tight end Will Gragg took a screen pass 33 yards against LSU last week and tailback Devwah Whaley had a 20-yard screen play to get the Hogs out from their 11 early in the game.
The previous week, tailback T.J. Hammonds took his first catch of the season 60 yards for a touchdown on a screen pass over the left edge against Coastal Carolina.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville has lacked deep-play connections in recent games, but screen passes have helped make up for it.
"We've been very good at our screen," Arkansas tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. said. "I think Dan does a great job of being creative in different ways. Those have been very effective for us in creating explosive plays.
"It doesn't matter how far the ball goes in the air, it's about the results. That's been something that's helped us compensate."
Additionally, Grantham pointed out how Mississippi State's young linebackers have to be wary for the mis-direction plays called by Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos.
"You're thinking the ball is going to stay to the right ,and all of a sudden it's coming back to the left, based on what the initial flow is telling you," he said. "And you've got to be able to put your foot in the ground and come back.
"So it's a discipline thing, it's an eye thing. It is an experience thing I think, too, as you get comfortable."
Arkansas senior quarterback Austin Allen did not attend Tuesday interviews this week for the first time when healthy all season. Allen missed one media opportunity all of last season.
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema pointed out that Allen met with members of the media after the Hogs' 33-10 loss at LSU last Saturday.
"He's never a guy who shies away from it," Bielema said. "But I just felt for him to get where he needed to be Saturday -- we knew Cole [Kelley] wasn't going to be playing. Everybody knows all the answers around the QB situation, and he, more than anybody, has risen to the occasion and talked to the media on every opportunity.
"I just wanted him to concentrate on playing good football and have a great practice and be ready to get out there."
Big bad line
Arkansas coaches consider Mississippi State's offensive line one of the best they've seen.
The projected starters of left tackle Martinas Rankin, left guard Darryl Williams, center Elgton Jenkins, right guard Deion Calhoun and right tackle Stewart Reese have missed only four starts this year, when 6-8, 330-pound redshirt freshman Greg Eiland filled in for Rankin in the BYU, Kentucky, Texas A&M and UMass games.
"They've got an offensive line that, in my opinion, is one of the better O-lines that we've seen this year and overall probably a better O-line than we've seen in the past from Mississippi State," Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said. "They're very big, very talented. Every one of them, from left tackle to right tackle, is a high-quality SEC lineman."
"We think this O-line is a very, very good line and if you allow them to, you're going to get stuck on them," Razorbacks defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. "If you allow their big bodies to get hands on you, you're going to have a tough time getting off and making plays."
Arkansas linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said the Bulldogs return many of the same linemen the Hogs saw last year.
"They're athletic. They're big," he said. "They're going to be one of the bigger lines we've faced. And they're strong. That's going to be an issue.
"We're going to have to do a really good job of trying to hold on and knock those guys back a little if we can. They did a great job last week."
Patton pushes on
Tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. said junior transfer Jeremy Patton's pass-catching numbers are on the rise for a reason.
"He's coming around," Lunney said. "I think he's coming around with his conditioning getting better. ... If there was an area when he got here that he was more behind in, it would have been in the passing game. So the running game was a little bit more of an easier transition for him."
Patton had a team-high four catches for 44 yards at LSU last week. In the past two games, Patton has seven receptions for 93 yards, and for the season he has nine catches for 146 yards.
While Cheyenne O'Grady's 20 catches lead the Arkansas tight ends, Patton's yardage tops the position group.
The Mississippi State press release this week touts that the Bulldogs have broken 112 individual and team, single-season and career records in Coach Dan Mullen's nine seasons.
Among them: Most total yards in a season with 6,679 yards (2014), 36.9 points per game in a season (2014), individual single-season rushing yardage for Anthony Dixon (1,391 yards in 2009), individual game rushing yardage with Nick Fitzgerald's 258 yards at Ole Miss (2016), passing yards in a game with Dak Prescott's 505 yards at Arkansas (2015), pass completions in a game with 38 by Prescott at Arkansas (2015), and 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback with 13 by Fitzgerald.
Arkansas junior Zach Rogers received a good review from Mississippi State defensive coordinator Todd Grantham since taking over at center following the season-ending ankle injury to senior Frank Ragnow after the Auburn game.
"When you look at the guy that replaced at center, I think he's done a really good job of getting movement at the point of attack," Grantham said. "I think their offensive line has got really good size and they do a solid job. So we know it's going to be a challenge."
The CBS broadcast team Saturday will consist of Aaron Taylor and Rick Neuheisel as color analysts, Carter Blackburn on play by play and John Schriffen as the sideline reporter.
Blackburn and Taylor called the Razorbacks' 53-52 overtime victory at Ole Miss in 2015.
Mississippi State will be appearing on CBS for the first time since falling 31-6 at home to Alabama on Nov. 14, 2015.
Two UH61 Blackhawks and two UH-72 Lakota helicopters from the Arkansas Army National Guard will perform a flyover before Saturday's 11 a.m. kickoff at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The aircraft belong to the 77th Combat Aviation Brigade, based out of Camp Robinson Army Airfield in North Little Rock. Their primary missions vary from air assault operations, casualty evacuation, counter-drug operations and support of humanitarian relief efforts.
• Arkansas tailback Devwah Whaley has scored a touchdown in four consecutive games, three on the ground and one on a pass reception.
• Mississippi State became the first team to score three rushing touchdowns in a game against a Nick Saban team at Alabama last week.
• Mississippi State's six sacks allowed rank second in the country. Army has allowed one.
Sports on 11/17/2017
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