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.
How Arkansas and Mississippi State compare at each position
True freshman Garrett Schrader (75-136-5, 1,022 yards, 7 TD) is at 55.1%, with 3 starts vs. 5 for Tommy Stevens (43-69-4, 515 yards, 5 TD), a 62.3% passer whose 137.33 efficiency rating is better than Schrader’s 127.9. Schrader is a much better runner (92-504, 3 TD) as one of 3 Power 5 QBs with 1,000 rush yards, 500 pass yards. He has a 5.5 yard rush average with sacks included.
A healthier Ben Hicks (60-119-1, 692 yards, 2 TD, 50.4%) is a likely starter over Nick Starkel (93-169-10, 1,118 yards, 7 TD), who has 9 INT, 3 TD in his last four games, though freshman John Stephen Jones (6-7-0, 49 yards, 1 TD), who has a 191.66 efficiency rating, has to factor in after his showing at Alabama. Packages could be in store for true freshman KJ Jefferson.
ADVANTAGE Miss. State
Junior Kylin Hill (155-793, 6 TD), a 5-11, 215-pounder, tops all SEC rushers in yards and is third with 99.1 yards per game. Hill also averages 5.12 yards per carry. QB Garrett Schrader’s role in the run game, with 504 yards and a 5.5 average, cannot be minimized. Nick Gibson (15-84, 2, 5.6 ypc) has had previous success vs. the Razorbacks.
Junior Rakeem Boyd (131-706, 5 TDs) is third in SEC rushing, fourth with 88.3 yards per game. Boyd averages 5.4 ypc. He adds value in the passing game with catching and blocking. Senior Devwah Whaley (57-242, 3, 4.2 ypc), like Boyd, is coming off a strong performance against Alabama. T.J. Hammonds (2-10) has risen to third on the depth chart over Chase Hayden (12-39).
Osirus Mitchell (25 catches, 344 yards, 4 TD), Stephen Guidry (18-270, 4), Deddrick Thomas (18-248, 1) and Isaiah Zuber (13-184, 2) are the only wideouts with 13-plus catches. Guidry leads the way at 15.0 yards per catch. Thomas caught the game winner vs. the Hogs here in 2017. TE Farrod Green (12-148) has the longest catch on the season at 47 yards.
TE Cheyenne O’Grady (33-372, 3) is one of the nation’s best and is now UA’s all-time TE TD leader with 12. The Hogs struggled to get the ball to WRs Trey Knox (26-357, 2), Mike Woods (24-319, 2), Treylon Burks (19-298), Tyson Morris (11-137, 1), Koilan Jackson (3-38, 1) and De’Vion Warren (3-20) last week and have to do it today to have a chance.
C Darryl Williams, a 33-game starter, is the anchor for a beefy veteran front that averages 6-5, 333 pounds per starter. 6-5 LT Tyre Phillips and 6-5 RG Stewart Reese weigh 345 apiece, while 6-8 RT Greg Eiland checks in at 335 and 6-4 LG Dareaun Parker at 330. The 310-pound Williams and Phillips are seniors and the others are juniors.
The Razorbacks average 6-5 and 287 pounds, one of the lightest OLs around, and they lost Sr. Colton Jackson due to chronic injuries. C Ty Clary is expected back (shoulder). LG Austin Capps (concussion) is doubtful, so Shane Clenin is like to start, along with 6-9 RT Dalton Wagner, LT Myron Cunningham and RG Ricky Stromberg. Cunningham played well at Alabama.
ADVANTAGE Miss. State
Ends Chauncey Rivers (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 hurries, 1 PBU) and Marquiss Spencer (22, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU) have started all 8 games, with Kobe Jones (17, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack) serving as the top backup. 300-pounders Lee Autry (6, 2.5 TFL, 1 hurry) and Jaden Crumedy (12, 1 TFL) split time at tackle, while 315-pounders Fabian Lovett (10) and James Jackson (5) play the nose.
Ends Gabe Richardson (28, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF), Mataio Soli (15, 1.5 TFL, 2 hurries), Jamario Bell (9, 4.5, 3.5), Zach Williams (10) and Collin Clay (10) need to show up in the run game. DTs are seniors McTelvin Agim (27, 7.5, 5, 3 hurries, 1 FF, 1 FR) and T.J. Smith (12, 3.5, 2.5, 3 hurries, 1 FF), with Isaiah Nichols (13) and Jonathan Marshall (10, 2, 3 hurries, 1 FF) top reserves.
MLB Erroll Thompson (55, 1.5 TFL, 4 hurries, 1 PBU, 1 FR) was the top thumper back from a dominating defense, along with veteran WLB Leo Lewis (48, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 FR, 1 FF), a 43-game starter. Willie Gay Jr. (7, 1 TFL, 1 INT) played in 2 games and can play in 2 more, likely including today. Tim Washington (13, 2, 1, 2 FF) is a top reserve at MLB.
De’Jon Harris (63, 3 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF) has a 4-tackle lead over SS Kam Curl. Harris and Bumper Pool (54, 3.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 hurry) have made all 8 starts. The top reserves are Grant Morgan (28, 3 TFL, 1 sack) and Hayden Henry (24, 2.5, 1, 2 PBU, 1 FF), while playing time for Andrew Parker (2) has picked up. Deon Edwards (3, 1 TFL) is a special teams stalwart.
ADVANTAGE Miss. State
CB Cameron Dantzler (23, 6 PBU, 2 INT) is questionable after missing the last 2 games. Safeties Jaquaris Landrews (53, 4 PBU, 2 hurries) and C.J. Morgan (53, 1 INT, 8 PBU) are tied for 2nd in tackles. ‘Star’ Brian Cole (46, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 hurries) plays all over. CB Martin Emerson (19, 1 TFL) has made 2 starts at a position depleted by injuries.
Run support will be key, led by SS Kam Curl (59, 2.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 1 FR, 1 FF) and FS Joe Foucha (56, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR), coming off his best game. Jarques McClellion (21, 3 PBU, 1 INT), Montaric Brown (24, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR) and Greg Brooks Jr. (17, 2 PBU) are the top cover men. Myles Mason (14), LaDarrius Bishop (11, 1 FR) and Micahh Smith (10, 1 PBU) top the reserves.
P Tucker Day is the highlight of State’s special teams with a 43.8 yard average that is 7th in the SEC. Net punting is 78th (37.9). Jace Christmas (5 of 7 FG, 19 of 20 PAT) took over PK duties after Jordan Lawless’ start (1 of 2 FG, 5 of 5 PAT). Isaiah Zuber averages 20.6 yards on KOR; Malik Dear 8.7 on PR. The Dogs, 105th in KOR (18.2), 71st in PR (6.8), allowed 100-yard KOR to Kansas State.
PK Connor Limpert (11 of 14 FG, 21 of 21 PAT) will be tough to replace next year. He has 21 touchbacks on 39 kickoffs. Punting has been sub-par again, with the average for Sam Loy (39.0) hampered by field position. The Hogs are 97th in net punting (36.5), 31st in PR (11.4), 103rd in KOR (18.4) Ace PR Treylon Burks (11.3) and KOR De’Vion Warren (22.1) were slowed the last 2 games.
There’s almost as much grumbling in Starkville as there is in Fayetteville. The Bulldogs have lost four games in a row, including three on the road. But there is a historic precedent at work today: Mississippi State did not beat the Hogs in its first 10 games in Arkansas but has won its last 3. The Dogs should have confidence after smoking the Hogs last year in front of those blasted cowbells.
What more incentive do the Razorbacks need? It’s homecoming, they’ve lost five games in a row, they were embarrassed in a 52-6 loss at Mississippi State last year and their coaching staff is feeling the heat from poor performances. The crowd for the loss to Auburn was not inspiring. What will today’s assembled masses look like for homecoming, and how will they feel after the game?
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