November 17, 2012 8:01:14 AM
STARKVILLE - Good morning folks. The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is LOOKING LIVE.....at Davis Wade Stadium where it is the regular season home finale of the 2012 season and the final game in Starkville for the seniors on the MSU squad. The Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3 in SEC) host an Arkansas team that needs to win its final two games to qualify for a bowl game..
Here's what we're going to do for our pre-game blog: The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is going to review all the material we've assembled for you this week in our print edition.
NOTE: Be sure to bookmark this page as we'll continue to update this post throughout until kickoff as news continues to flow out about pre-game news for either team tonight.
MONDAY - MSU football feature - Russell showed Saturday he was capable of taking additional responsibility from MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning and reading defenses and making late-second audibles - http://cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20269#ixzz2CUJAYVrs
MSU football notebook - Mississippi State University announced Monday it will include the late Nick Bell among the 28 seniors it will honor Saturday when MSU takes to the home field for the final time this season against the University of Arkansas - http://cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20268&TRACKER=1#ixzz2CUIvV2xQ
TUESDAY - MSU football feature - We look into Jonathan Banks' story before he signed with the Mississippi State University football team nearly four years ago - http://cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20285#ixzz2CUJaSSmi
WEDNESDAY - MSU football feature - We look into Chad Bumphis' story starting when he said publicly he was "97 percent committed" to the University of Florida before a coaching change in Starkville - http://cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20309#ixzz2CUJwleID
5 Keys vs. Arkansas
1. Which team's desperation shows up earlier and most often Saturday?
Mississippi State University (7-3, 3-3 in Southeastern Conference) is trying to avoid its first four-game losing streak since 2005 and win its final two games of the regular season to secure a higher profile bowl game for the program. In a game their expected to win, it'll be interesting to see if anything in the trick play or gadget variety are called upon by Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen to get his team the emotional edge early in the game. On the other sideline, the University of Arkansas, which was a preseason Top 10 team, needs to win its final two regular season games to secure bowl eligibility and coach John L. Smith may try anything and everything on both sides of the ball as a six-point underdog to secure an upset. Ever since former head coach Bobby Petrino's scandal occurred leading to Smith's hire, the Razorbacks (4-6, 2-4 in SEC) have been considered a mess and have been blown out in several games including the University of Alabama and Texas A&M University.
""They're absolutely that (talented)," Mullen said. " They didn't trade away all those players midseason. They didn't pull a Boston Red Sox and dump the roster after halfway through the season. They have a top pick in the NFL Draft at quarterback. As any team or any NFL team, you go get a primo guy at that spot then you better watch out."
2. Can MSU get its special teams unit, especially kick coverage, figured out by Saturday's matchup vs. Arkansas?
The Bulldogs rank 12th in the SEC in opponents kick return average and used all kinds of methods to avoid losing the field position game in this regard including different personal, pop up kickoffs and squib kicks to avoid a breakdown in coverages but nothing has worked effectively. The only thing that MSU can seemingly rely on is freshman kicker Devon Bell getting a touchback when called upon but with the new rule, the ball then gets placed at the 25-yard-line. MSU has already had two different teams (Auburn University and University of Tennessee) return a kick back for a touchdown and would like to avoid a momentum swing Saturday (11:21 a.m., SEC Network) to give Arkansas any positive vibes when sending a dangerous passing attack out on the field. Also, in the last three losses, MSU has had special teams breakdowns in each of the games whether it's been a blocked field goal, sophomore returner Jameon Lewis bringing a kickoff deep out of the end zone or bad coverage.
"We've put some different guys out there with the opportunities to make plays," Mullen said about the kick coverage. "In a lot of that stuff and a lot of things in special teams, you can pinpoint one guy misfitting a gap and getting out of position to make a mistake. When you miss that first (tackle) and there's a great athlete with the ball in his hand, they have the opportunity to do something special with it."
3. Can MSU quarterback Tyler Russell find success against one of the worst pass defenses in SEC?
Russell has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 2,249 yards with 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions. The former Parade All-American out of high school completed a career-high 26 passes on 38 attempts last week at Louisiana State University for a career-high 295 yards and a touchdown to Chad Bumphis that got the Bulldogs as close as field goal early in the third quarter. Arkansas comes to Starkville with the worst pass defense in the SEC allowing 291.1 yards per game including back-to-back weeks of allowing 397 vs. Rutgers University and 498 against Texas A&M. The numbers suggest Russell should be able to find wide open receivers all afternoon at Davis Wade Stadium and 17 different players have caught passes, allowing the quarterback to break the school record for passing touchdowns in a season (17) as he also approaches the single-season yardage mark (2,422).
"They got guys on that side of the ball that can make plays and they can make plays on offense so we're going to have to score," Russell said. "We'll have to put up points."
4. Will MSU get pressure to Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson?
Opponents have been able to knock down the Razorbacks quarterback and even out of the game with a concussion this season. Arkansas' offensive line has surrendered only 16 sacks in 10 games but 13 of them have come in the six losses. Wilson, who is not known as a mobile passer, has taken a punishment in the pocket and was even unable to play in the Razorbacks' 52-0 loss vs. Alabama this season due to injury. MSU, who has just recorded 15 sacks in 10 games (13th in the SEC) will have to get pressure on Wilson because asking the secondary to win this game with coverage is a losing proposition for any team even one with as veteran a group in the back as the Bulldogs.
"You get seven days, so you always feel a lot better on Saturday than you do the day after the game," Wilson said this week. "It's like being in a boxing match. Day one you are a little banged up, day two you're better, day three you're better, day four you're better, and so on. It's just natural recovery."
5. Will MSU tailback LaDarius Perkins play and save a recently nonexistent run game for the Bulldogs?
After suffering what the school is calling a severe quad injury before last week's loss at LSU, which sidelined Perkins for the entire contest, the junior tailback has gone to the MSU coaching staff demanding to play. When tied or winning in a game, MSU averages over four yards per carry no matter who is with Tyler Russell in the MSU backfield. However, without a steady run game, MSU has fallen behind by more than a touchdown in games early causing the run game average to dip to less than two yards per touch. Perkins, who has slipped from first to fifth in rushing yards in the SEC in the last three weeks, will be necessary to keep the Arkansas defense guessing especially in third-down situations.
"We have played good defenses," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said about the running attack. "Those guys are good for a reason because they play really good football. We felt like with LSU, throwing the football was an advantage for us and that's what we tried to exploit."
Players to Watch
Senior tight end Marcus Green
Here's the most important stat to measure the tight end play at MSU this season. Senior Marcus Green has 15 catches for 170 yards and five touchdowns in the Bulldogs' seven wins this season. In the three losses, he has just three catches total for 30 yards and a touchdown. Opponents have effectively taken the sixth-year senior away in the passing game in the last three games and forced quarterback Tyler Russell to look to outside receivers for more difficult throws in the last month. Allowing Green to get open and exploit the middle of the field against Arkansas will not only give Russell a comfort zone but possibly open up the second level to the run game as well for big plays by Perkins.
Senior linebacker Cam Lawrence
It's the final home for Lawrence and his presence will be key to disrupting Tyler Wilson's timing in the pass game. Whether it's shadowing a tight end or in an aggressive blitz package by defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, Lawrence is a going to need to be seen in the Razorbacks backfield making plays to force Arkansas into three-and-out possessions and get MSU the ball back early. Lawrence is second on the team in tackles for loss with seven and leads the team in total tackles with 87.
Senior quarterback Tyler Wilson
Wilson hasn't been the most accurate passer in the SEC this season after being hyped as a potential first round prospect in April's upcoming National Football League Draft. His completion percentage is down from 63.2 percent to 60.9 percent and he already has 10 interceptions with two games remaining. However, what concerns Mullen and the rest of the MSU staff is, in their last three losses to Arkansas the passing attack led by a confident quarterback has torched the MSU defense for over 300 yards. Wilson will have to have a spectacular game to led his Razorbacks squad to an upset.
"The issue number one is their quarterback seems to always have a career game against us," Mullen said. "You go into a game and to their credit they have NFL style quarterbacks and they another one this year. When he is on, he's probably one of the top picks in the NFL Draft and the best quarterbacks in the country."
Junior defensive end Chris Smith
Smith ranks fourth in SEC in sacks with 6.5 and is tied for ninth in the league in tackles for loss with 10. In games where Arkansas has found big plays in opponents' backfield's, Smith has been there constantly as he recorded a career-high eight tackles, including 1.5 for loss with a sack, two pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and one forced fumble in 19-15 win vs. University of Tulsa two weeks ago.
The only time Mississippi State has defeated Arkansas in the last 13 meetings between the two schools. The Bulldogs managed to pull out a 31-28 victory in the final home game for Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom.