Mississippi State needs to stop big plays against Arkansas
Nov. 17, 2015
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said that his team's defense was "fantastic" during last weekend's loss to Alabama with the notable exception of a handful of plays.
The problem was that handful was more than enough to swing the game in favor of the Tide.
The Bulldogs gave up four touchdowns in their 31-6 loss to the Tide and all of them were from 60 yards out or more. Now Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) is trying to eliminate those mistakes when it travels to Arkansas (6-4, 4-2) on Saturday.
It won't be easy — the Razorbacks have one of the league's best offenses. Arkansas is scoring 34.4 points per game, which ranks second in the league.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has earned a reputation as someone who likes to wear down opposing defenses with a power running game and the occasional play-action pass. But this year's edition of the Razorbacks has been much more likely to grab big chunks of yards.
"I don't see them really doing anything different than they were doing earlier in the year," Mullen said. "I just see them executing and making more plays."
Arkansas has won four straight games since a rough start to the season. During that streak they scored 53 points against Mississippi, 54 against Auburn, 63 against UT Martin and 31 in Saturday's win over LSU.
Arkansas' Brandon Allen has emerged as one of the league's most consistent quarterbacks. Drew Morgan and Dominique Reed are his favorite big-play targets.
Reed has scored a touchdown in six straight games, including an impressive 52-yard catch and sprint for a touchdown against LSU last week. Alex Collins is third in the league with 1,209 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns.
"I preach to our players all the time that you get better as the year goes on," Bielema said. "I'm not one of those coaches who believe in the status quo. You've heard me say it — I think you get better every day. Otherwise, you're not doing anything."
Mullen said Arkansas' success starts with its massive offensive line. The Razorbacks' starting line averages more than 327 pounds.
That should make for an interesting matchup with Mississippi State's productive defensive line. Defensive end A.J. Jefferson is fifth in the league with 12½ tackles for a loss this season.
"They move people and we can't get moved," Mullen said. "You're just fighting for that territory right there. It's that simple, and you have to be physical and stout. They're using big human beings to try to move you."
While Arkansas is rolling, Mississippi State is reeling after its eighth straight loss to the Tide. The setback ended any hope the Bulldogs had at winning the SEC Western Division.
Mullen said he doesn't expect a letdown.
"I don't worry that much about the motivation because our guys love to play football," Mullen said. "And if they don't, we probably notice that back in September."
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Arkansas, contributed to this story.
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