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.
SEC FOOTBALL MISSISSIPPI STATE AT ARKANSAS:
Offensive potency: Bulldogs’ Shrader, Hill highlight unit
Bulldogs’ Shrader, Hill highlight unit
Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill (8) runs for short yardage against LSU during the first half of their NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. LSU won 36-13. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
FAYETTEVILLE -- Mississippi State lost its fourth game in a row last week at Texas A&M, but it wasn't due to a lack of production from its offense.
Garrett Shrader, a 6-4 freshman, fired a career-best three touchdown passes in his third career start while accounting for 258 total yards in Mississippi State's 49-30 loss to the Aggies.
Shrader and SEC rushing leader Kylin Hill are the Bulldogs' dynamic duo as they head into Northwest Arkansas for a 3 p.m. game Saturday against the similarly struggling University of Arkansas (2-6, 0-5 SEC) which has lost five games in a row.
Shrader surged past returning quarterback Keytaon Thompson and graduate transfer Tommy Stevens to win the starting job midway through October. Stevens went 6 of 11 for 67 yards with 2 interceptions in the first half of a 20-10 loss at Tennessee on Oct. 12, and Shrader has thrown all 68 Mississippi State passes since.
The Bulldogs' skill players operate behind a veteran line that averages 333 pounds and features two seniors and three juniors, headlined by center Darryl Williams. Hill's 793 rushing yards lead the SEC and his 99.1 yards per game rank third.
"They've got a running back that's really good," Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "Really, really big, physical offensive line, but we've seen that every week.
"They've got a freshman quarterback that's starting to play good football for them. They'll be a big challenge for us, but a big opportunity at the same time."
Shrader has passed for 1,022 yards and rushed for 504 yards while making 3 starts and playing in 7 games. That makes the 220-pounder one of three Power 5 quarterbacks to surpass the 1,000-500 mark along with Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts (2,469 pass, 801 rush) and Oklahoma State's Spencer Sanders (1,739, 500).
Second-year Mississippi State Coach Joe Moorhead has maintained a similar offense at Mississippi State to what Dan Mullen had rolling with strong running quarterbacks like Chris Relf, Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald over the last several years.
"He's very much a [run-pass option] guy," Arkansas Coach Chad Morris said, referencing the run-pass option attack. "Coach Moorhead has been one of the brilliant offensive minds in college football and being very creative in how he does things. A lot is very similar to some of the things that we do.
"It's not just one-dimensional. There's always two dimensions to it, two and three. But they do a good job of even falling into some of their quarterback run game late when maybe the bubble screen on the edge is not there."
In successive games, Shrader ran for 82 yards and a touchdown against Kansas State, 125 yards against Kentucky, 89 yards and a touchdown against Auburn's stout defense, 62 yards against Tennessee and 66 yards and a touchdown against salty LSU.
"He will use his feet," Arkansas defensive tackle T.J. Smith said. "He's different, where they do trust him to throw the ball a lot. Different from how it was last year, when it was a whole lot of run and not a lot of pass."
Said Arkansas linebacker Hayden Henry, "He's done a good job. For a freshman, I think he's stepped up and done a tremendous job for them. He's not afraid to pull it. He's got good speed. Like I said, he's dangerous in the open field, so we're going to have to take care of that and try and manage him as best we can."
Containing the edges of their defense has been a chore for the Razorbacks for large parts of the season. While they limited the damage done by strong running quarterbacks like Ole Miss' Matt Corral and Texas A&M's Kellen Mond, the Hogs were punctured by Kentucky receiver turned quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. for 196 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 24-20 loss to the Wildcats on Oct. 12.
Hill has five 100-yard rushing games this season, including 197 in the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette and 150 at Texas A&M last week.
Turnovers have been an issue for the Bulldogs' quarterbacks. Shrader has thrown five interceptions after Stevens fired four. The nine interceptions for a team rank behind only Arkansas' 12 interceptions in the SEC.
"With the quarterbacks and the interceptions, that comes down to decision making and accuracy and knowing when it is better to take a sack or throw it away instead of trying to throw it in an ill-advised spot," Moorhead said.
Sports on 11/01/2019
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.