November 20, 2009 8:45:00 AM
Heath Hutchins usually visits Arkansas each winter for a time of fun and fellowship with friends.
Saturday''s trip to Arkansas will be about business for the Mississippi State junior punter.
Mississippi State (4-6, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) needs a victory against the University of Arkansas (11:21 a.m., WCBI) to keep its bowl hopes alive.
"Next week (against the University of Mississippi) won''t mean as much if we lose," Hutchins said. "It''s like the playoffs for us."
Hutchins lived in Arkansas as a child, then moved to Tupelo. He returned to Arkansas to attend high school in Wynne during his sophomore year.
It was during that time Hutchins established friendships that remain strong.
"I go back and stay there all winter," Hutchins said. "I stay with friends and people I knew when I was there, so (Saturday) will be a little bit of a homecoming. I have some friends talking some stuff. Hopefully, I can shut them up a little bit."
The Bulldogs will try to silence an Arkansas team that has the SEC''s top offense. The Razorbacks lead the league in scoring offense (37.6 points per game), total offense (450.1 yards per game), passing offense (310 yards per game), touchdowns (45), passing touchdowns (25), just to name a few.
MSU coach Dan Mullen said field position, which always is a key, will be crucial against the Razorbacks.
"You want to make them drive the field, but they have the ability to put up big yards and big numbers," Mullen said.
Hutchins knows he needs to do his part to keep Arkansas (6-4, 2-4) pinned deep.
"It''s intimidating to come out there with the whole field in front of you," Hutchins said. "Hopefully, we can slow them down a little bit."
Hutchins is averaging 39.8 yards per punt this season, which is better than the 31.8 average the Bulldogs had last year that ranked last in the SEC.
Mullen said Hutchins has had an "up and down" season, but the work continues in his first year in the program.
Hutchins doesn''t blame his inconsistency on one thing, while Mullen likes the way he prepares.
"The good thing about Heath is he has a tremendous work ethic," Mullen said. "He works every single day to try and improve himself even down to the exact location on a leg swing. We study a lot of film and he works at those things."
Mullen knows it will take more than an excellent punting day out of Hutchins to pull out a victory against Arkansas and quarterback Ryan Mallett.
He knows the Bulldogs must pressure Mallett to take some pressure off his young secondary.
Mallett, who is in his first season as quarterback for the Razorbacks, is 175 of 294 for 2,882 yards. He has 23 touchdowns and four interceptions.
"(Mallett) is the best passing quarterback we''ve faced this year," Mullen said. "(Mallett) has a really strong arm and quick release. It allows him to get the ball into places that others can''t get it into. He stands there and doesn''t get frustrated when you rush him and he can see over the rush."
Mullen said Mallett does a good job of using a "very talented group of receivers and running backs" to his advantage.