HOGS at Miss. State in-depth preview

HOGS at Miss. State in-depth preview

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FAYETTEVILLE - Not even nationally elite SEC West rivals  Alabama, Auburn and LSU, routed the Razorbacks during their two-year Chad Morris regime as Mississippi State did.

New MSU coach Mike Leach’s 14th-ranked Bulldogs (1-0), who stunned reigning national champion LSU 44-34 last week, welcome Arkansas (0-1) and its new coach Sam Pittman to Starkville, Miss., at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The SEC Network Alternate Channel will televise the game from Davis Wade Stadium.

Leading a not insurmountable 17-3 at half in 2018, Mississippi State annihilated Arkansas 52-6 in Starkville. Last year in Fayetteville, the Bulldogs reversed their bite. Their 24-point second quarter built a 38-10 halftime bulge. The final was 52-24.

“We’ve never mentioned (the past two years),” Pittman said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with us. It’s a whole different, new team. New staff. A lot of new players. We’re trying to set our own goals. So, no we never have mentioned it.”

The Razorbacks, losers of 20 consecutive SEC games dating back to the final three league games in 2017, inspired hope last week in Pittman’s debut. As a four-TD underdog, they led No. 4 Georgia 7-5 at half and 10-5 midway through the third quarter before falling in an avalanche of offensive miscues, special teams mistakes and Georgia’s superior size and talent.

Mississippi State doesn’t sport Georgia talent on defense, but the Bulldogs were talented enough to sack LSU quarterback Myles Brennan seven times.

Offensively, the 18-point favored Bulldogs present problems that Georgia couldn’t.

For Leach’s fabled “Air Raid” offense that he first established as Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma offensive coordinator then as head coach at Texas Tech and Washington State, graduate transfer (via Stanford) QB K.J. Costello debuted spectacularly. 

Against LSU, Costello attempted 60 passes. He completed 36 for an SEC-record 623 yards and five TDs.

“Costello, he was incredible,” Pittman said. “Every throw was very poised.”

Three receivers, wideouts Osirus Mitchell, and JaVonta Payton, sandwiching running back Kylin Hill, respectively, netted 183, 158 and 126 reception yards.

They weren’t alone catching what LSU couldn’t defend. 

“They’ve got a lot of receivers who can make plays,” Pittman said.

The Bulldogs netted just 49 yards rushing because they didn’t need more.

Hill, seven carries for 34 yards against LSU,  last year netted 231 yards rushing on Arkansas in former Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead’s 2019 offense.

“Kylin Hill is the guy the offense runs around,” Pittman said. “He’s a really, really exceptional football player.”

The Bulldogs’ offensive line, led by center Cole Smith, did its job in Baton Rouge.

While facing a different set of challenges vs. MSU, Arkansas’ defense (coordinated by former Missouri head coach Barry Odom) gained confidence by doing its job against Georgia.

“I feel like Coach Odom is going to have us in the right spots,” Arkansas safety Simeon Blair of Pine Bluff said. “As long as we do our assignments and play as hard as we can, I feel like we’re going to get the result we want.”

Arkansas’ young offensive line, overmatched by Georgia’s huge, veteran defensive line, should be more in its league in size and strength against State, but the Hogs must counter the Bulldogs'  stunts and twists that resulted in seven sacks at LSU.

Arkansas must establish preseason All-SEC second-team running back Rakeem Boyd, which the line could not do against Georgia. With no running game, the Hogs stayed on the field just 24:14 to  Georgia’s 36:16. They can’t allow Costello that kind of time to pass it around.

Other than Treylon Burks (seven catches for 102 yards), the Hogs couldn’t get receivers consistently open against Georgia as targets for quarterback Feleipe Franks. Six other UA receivers and running backs combined for 13 receptions, 101 yards and no TDs.

Pittman said the offense must help Franks by getting correctly aligned quicker than they did against Georgia.

“I know that’s part of the quarterback’s job,” Pittman said. “But it’s hard to look downfield, see what’s going on, see pre-snap reads as a quarterback when you’re looking at your own team trying to get them lined up. And so that has been a big emphasis, paying attention to the signals, getting lined up fast.”

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