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5 Keys for Mississippi State-Arkansas


Matthew Stevens



1. Who is healthy at quarterback for Mississippi State? 


Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said this question won't be answered until Saturday morning after warmups at War Memorial Stadium. Freshman Damian Williams took a majority of the snaps this week with the first team in practice as sophomore Dak Prescott and senior Tyler Russell recover from injuries suffered in the last two weeks. Prescott, who wasn't seen with the quarterbacks Wednesday after practice, is recovering from a pinched nerve in his left arm. Russell, who was seen watching Williams throw routes after practice, is recovering from a shoulder injury. 


2. Can MSU's defense build on a solid performance for most of the Alabama game? 


With injuries mounting for the offense, defensive coordinator Geoff Collins may be asked to win the game by stopping Arkansas from running the football. The Bulldogs forced four turnovers last week in a 20-7 loss to Alabama, which entered the game with only 10 turnovers. In the last two games, MSU (4-6, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) has forced seven turnovers after not having any in the previous two games. Of those seven turnovers, five have been interceptions, matching the Bulldogs' total through the first eight games.  


3. Which team is better on third down? 


Two weeks ago at Ole Miss, Arkansas was 3 of 12 on third down mostly due to the 14 incompletions. The Razorbacks ran for nearly 200 yards against Ole Miss and threw for 193 yards with only one interception. In five of its last six games, MSU has failed to convert on half of its third downs, and is 8 of 28 in its last two games against Texas A&M and Alabama. In 127 drives this season, MSU's defense has held opponents to three plays or less (non-scoring) 45 times (35.4 percent). 


4. How will MSU handle Arkansas' pass rush? 


MSU's patchwork offensive line has allowed only 19 sacks. However, Arkansas is tied for third in the league in sacks with 24, including 7.5 by senior defensive lineman Chris Smith. Smith is third in the SEC in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss. He likely will match up against left tackle Blaine Clausell, who did an admirable job against South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, who many consider the nation's top pass rusher, three weeks ago. 


5. Can MSU snap its losing in the state of Arkansas? 


MSU, which is a 2.5-point favorite entering the game in Little Rock, Ark., is 0-9-1 all-time in the state of Arkansas. At Little Rock, the Bulldogs are 0-6-1. In Fayetteville, MSU is 0-3. MSU will try to beat Arkansas in consecutive games for the first time since it won three-straight games in 1916, 1939, and 1992. 




Players to Watch 




Senior RB LaDarius Perkins 


MSU senior running back LaDarius Perkins finished with 37 all-purpose yards at Texas A&M to raise his career total to 4,111, the third most in school history. Walter Packer (1973-76) is second with 4,169 yards, while current San Francisco 49ers running back Anthony Dixon (2006-09) holds the career record with 4,443. When MSU rushes for less than 100 yards as a team, MSU has lost 16 consecutive games under Mullen. Perkins rushed for just 25 yards against Alabama and is up to 2,470 for his career. 


Junior FB/TE/LB Christian Holmes 


Holmes has been all over the field. After moving from linebacker to tight end in the offseason, Holmes moved back to defense prior to the Texas A&M game due to the injury to Deontae Skinner. He has played tight end, linebacker, fullback, and is a key member of the special teams units. Holmes has nine tackles, including five solo hits. 






Freshman RB Alex Collins  


Collins is the first freshman in Southeastern Conference history to record three-straight 100-yard rushing games to start a career since Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson had nine straight in 2004. The last freshman to rush for at least 100 yards in his first three games was Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, a redshirt freshman, in 2006 under current Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. Collins leads all NCAA freshmen with 946 total rushing yards this season. His average of 94.6 rushing yards per game is fifth in the SEC and 34th in the nation. 


Senior DE Chris Smith 


Smith was recently named to the midseason watch list for the Hendricks Award. Smith is tied for 22nd in the NCAA with 7.5 sacks, is tied for 17th nationally with 61 sack yards, and is tied for 25th with 67 tackles for loss yards. Smith is third in the SEC in sacks and fourth in the conference in tackles for loss with 10.5. 




Numbers of the game 




Starts this season by underclassmen for Arkansas. Freshmen have made 19 starts, redshirt freshmen have seven, and sophomores have 50. 



Opponents that played in bowl games following the 2012 season, the highest number among Southeastern Conference schools.  



Times MSU has lost four-straight games under coach Dan Mullen.



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