When Arkansas welcomes Mississippi State to Fayetteville Saturday night, the lead-up to the game has the feel of teams going in the opposite direction. The Razorbacks (6-4, 4-2 SEC) are peaking after winning five of their previous six games including wins over Auburn, UT Martin, then-No. 18 Ole Miss, and then-No. 9 LSU. The Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3) are in the middle of their toughest three-game stretch of the season losing to No. 2 Alabama 31-6 in Week 11 and now must face the Hogs and No. 22 Ole Miss on the road in back-to-back games to finish the season.
The Razorbacks have been dynamic on offense during their four-game winning streak averaging 50 points per contest. The running game has found traction but the biggest change is the emergence of junior receivers Drew Morgan and Dominique Reed to go along with All-SEC tight end Hunter Henry. Senior starting quarterback Brandon Allen is finally coming into his own in the pocket this season throwing for a career-high 2,617 yards with 22 touchdowns against just six interceptions with two 400-yard passing games under his belt.
Mississippi State has eased along its season behind the stellar play of its senior quarterback Dak Prescott. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound dual-threat athlete still has the legs to move the chains at will but he has been called upon to carry MSU with his arm this year passing for 2,651 yards with 18 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Prescott has been on fire of late passing for 300 yards or more in each of his last four contests.
When the Hogs kickoff against the Bulldogs fans should be in for more of an old Western Athletic Conference style barnburner instead of a traditional SEC West style three yards and a cloud of dust matchup.
College Football Podcast: Week 12 Preview
Mississippi State at Arkansas
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Arkansas -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Dak Prescott vs. Arkansas’ Pass Defense
The Razorback defense in 2015 is a far cry from the nation’s No. 10 ranked overall defense from a year ago. The same needle in the hoof from 2014 has become a bigger problem this year with inexperienced underclassmen in the secondary having problems covering quick hitting routes. The Hogs allow 405 yards of total offense per game thanks to a pass defense that is giving up 282 yards a game and can be challenged at times.
Prescott is easily one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks. The senior has to be licking his Bulldog chops for a chance to exploit the Razorbacks’ secondary. The Louisiana native hit up Alabama for 300 yards but on 22-of-43 passing failing to find the end zone with one pick and was sacked an unbelievable nine times.
Expect MSU and Prescott to find the end zone a couple of times against Arkansas with his arm. Another offensive threat the Hogs have trouble stopping is a scrambling quarterback. Prescott might need to be a 100-yard rusher against the Hogs to post a “W” on the road.
2. Arkansas’ Run Offense vs. Mississippi State’s Run Defense
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen feels that their defense is rock solid even after losing to Alabama 31-6. The Bulldogs gave up four touchdowns that were explosive plays of 60 yards or more against the Crimson Tide. The reality is MSU is slightly above average on defense allowing 370 yards a game, ranked No. 48 in FBS.
Arkansas has the nation’s No. 34 scoring offense posting an average of 34 points per game. Everything the Hogs do on offense is set up off of All-SEC junior running back Alex Collins and their massive offensive line. Collins is third in the SEC in total rushing yards with 1,209 and is just the third player in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons in the conference.
Mississippi State allowed Derrick Henry to run for 204 yards on 22 totes with two scores last week. In Week 2, the Bulldogs allowed LSU to collectively run for 266 yards seeing Leonard Fournette pick up 159 on 28 carries with three scores. Expect Collins to have a similar kind of game.
3. Brandon Allen vs. Mississippi State’s Rushing Offense
The counterbalance in the game is the other team’s perceived weakness against the other’s weakness which for MSU is the run game and for Arkansas the passing attack. Mississippi State’s leading rusher is Prescott with 432 yards followed by Brandon Holloway’s 254 yards. Prescott has seven rushing touchdowns with the next highest total being three on the ground from Nick Fitzgerald.
This has been a long time coming for Razorback Nation, but believe it or not Brandon Allen is one of the top three quarterbacks in the conference. Allen is third in the conference in total passing yards, 34 passing yards behind Prescott, but has 59 fewer pass attempts. Allen has four more touchdowns passes, 22 to 18, and has been sacked 11 fewer times than his counterpart. Allen leads the SEC in quarterback rating with 163.2 and has the Arkansas passing offense No. 33 in the nation averaging 266 yards per game.
Mississippi State may have ducked a potentially scary injury with top wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson. Wilson left the Alabama game in the fourth quarter being carted off for a neck injury. Mullen said his star receiver would be fine but wasn't sure if he would be able to play against Arkansas this week. Wilson has 40 receptions for 664 yards with a team-high eight receiving touchdowns. If Wilson cannot go, that takes another offensive threat away for Prescott putting an even bigger load on his arm and legs making Fred Ross the lone go-to receiver.
The Hogs are too balanced on both sides of the ball at this point in the season. Arkansas will have no problems stopping the tailbacks out of the MSU backfield so all the focus will be on Prescott. If Arkansas can get to Prescott early and often while keeping the talented signal caller from moving the chains with his feet this could be another big loss for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are 0-3 against “good” teams this year, 1-3 if Auburn counts.
Prediction: Arkansas 38, Mississippi State 24
— 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. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.