The Bulldogs (3-5, 1-4 SEC) head northwest to Arkansas on a four-game losing streak with the unfortunate task of playing their fourth game in their last five tries on the road. In their road outing to College Station last week, the Bulldogs found themselves down 42-17 to start the fourth quarter but rallied to score 13 points in the final frame and cut the margin of defeat 19. The bright spot in the loss, after being held to 340 yards of total offense to LSU in Week 8, State rallied for 433 yards against the Aggies.
Life as a Razorback (2-6, 0-5) has not been much better, suffering through their a five-game losing streak. Within the run, the Hogs dropped three games by seven points or fewer (San Jose State, Texas A&M, and Kentucky) before blowout losses to then-No. 11 Auburn (51-10) and No. 1 Alabama (48-7). In the darkness of the loss to Alabama, true freshman quarterback John Stephen Jones, grandson of Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones, completed 6 of 7 passes for 49 yards with an 8-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Arkansas has historically owned this series, winning 15 of 17 between 1995 and 2011, but MSU has won five of the last six, including a 52-6 thumping in Starkville a year ago.
Mississippi State at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Mississippi State –7
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
Although the loss to A&M was tough to stomach for the fan base, seeing running back Kylin Hill return to form gives hope for the remainder of the 2019 season. Last weekend, Hill regained his perch atop the SEC stat column in total carries (155) and yards (793) while tying for third in rush scores (6). For MSU to take down the Hogs, Hill will need to replicate his 21-carry, 150-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Aggies.
Playing a freshman quarterback in the SEC can come with its ups and downs, and that is what State is experiencing with Garrett Shrader this season. Against A&M, the dual-threat signal-caller threw for 194 yards but completed only 43 percent of his passes while rushing for 64 yards. Of note, three of his 13 completions went for scores. In the last six games, MSU has thrown nine interceptions, escaping only the Auburn game without a pick.
Osirus Mitchell was the go-to guy for MSU on the outside early in the season, but other reliable targets are emerging in Stephen Guidry, Deddrick Thomas, and Kansas State transfer Isaiah Zuber. Mitchell still leads the group in receptions (25) and yards (344), while tying Guidry with four touchdowns.
When Arkansas Has the Ball
With the pigskin in the Hogs’ hands, who knows what will happen, especially in the pocket. A&M transfer Nick Starkel is the guy head coach Chad Morris wants running the offense, but Starkel keeps making rookie-esque mistakes by throwing into double and triple coverage, leading to 10 interceptions on the season, which is tied for the third-most in the nation. Another transfer, Ben Hicks (SMU), has been too slow in his reads and a half-second late on accurately getting the ball out to his playmakers. The Hogs only came up with 103 yards passing against Alabama in Week 9. Starkel was 5 of 19 for 58 yards with three picks. Reports from Arkansas’ practices this week expect Hicks to get the start against MSU.
A banged-up offensive line will have to come together to hold off the Bulldogs’ pass rush but to also help running back Rakeem Boyd get running lanes. Boyd is as good and talented as any other back in the SEC when given creases. Those creases were closed against the Tide, holding Boyd to 50 yards on 12 totes. As a team, Arkansas is averaging 131 rushing yards per game. The offensive line will more than likely be without Austin Capps and Kirby Adcock come Saturday, giving way to more missed assignments and a lack of push in the ground game.
Early in the season, the Arkansas quarterbacks were spreading the ball around the receiving corps with guys like Trey Knox (26 receptions, 357 yards, 2 TDs), Mike Woods (24, 319, 2), and Treylon Burks (19, 298) getting into the action. As the productivity has fallen from the quarterback position, the focus has gone to tight end Cheyenne O’Grady (33, 372, 3) and his ability to create mismatches against linebackers. If Hicks or Starkel can find their outside targets, the entire offense will open up giving way to what could be a big offensive performance.
Neither team is a defensive juggernaut with MSU allowing 402 total yards per game and the Hogs giving way to 419. Another shared trait, neither team is scaring opposing defenses with their offensive abilities, seeing the Bulldogs pick up 379 yards per and the Razorbacks coming in at 364. Of the two, Mississippi State seems more well-rounded with better cohesion and coaching guidance. Arkansas has the home-field advantage and the talent to win SEC games, but somehow find a way to give it away.
Prediction: Mississippi State 28, Arkansas 21
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.