Hogs crisp, confident, ready to get after No. 1 Miss. State; scouting the Bulldogs
FAYETTEVILLE - Though No. 1 over all college football, the Mississippi State Bulldogs rank last in SEC pass defense, a media member told Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney on Thursday.
|Soph TE HUNTER HENRY|
"When I watch them, I don't notice them being last in anything," Chaney said after Thursday's practice. "I don't know the stats and all that. I think probably what takes place is they get ahead of everybody, and everybody's having to wing it all the time. Maybe they give up some yards in that regard. But when I watch them, I don't see a defense that statistically is behind anybody. I think you've got about everything you need to be a very fine defense. And I believe they are."
Mississippi State has trailed only seven minutes all season, three during its 48-31 SEC victory over Texas A&M and four minutes in the 47-34 non-conference victory over the same UAB team that Arkansas led 35-0 at half of last Saturday's 45-17 homecoming victory.
Chaney said no defense comes any bigger than Mississippi State or any better than some of its individuals. Defensive end Preston Smith, tackle Kaleb Eulls and Butkus Award semifinalist middle linebacker Bernardrick McKinney are among the standouts.
"They're the largest, most physical team up front we've seen thus far," Chaney said. "They're big everywhere in the defensive line. They're big at linebacker. They're just a big, physical, football team."
Chaney coordinates an offense that's large and physical with great running backs and an improving passing attack.
"I think we are going down there with a lot of confidence, and we are ready to play," Chaney said. "I am excited."
Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith also expressed excitement about taking on No. 1 and his players' preparation for the task.
"I think our guys are really in tune to the opportunity we have in front of us," Smith said. " I think it's been a good week of practice. Everything's been crisp."
Smith welcomes back starting middle linebacker Brooks Ellis, out the past two games with a deep knee bruise and subbed for by sophomore junior college transfer Josh Williams. Freshman cornerback Henre Toliver, withheld from the UAB game by a bruised back, also returns.
"I expect to have those guys on Saturday," Smith said. "They looked good again today. A couple more bullets in the gun is always good. Brooks was really coming on. He's come on as a leader. He understands. He's in the film room all the time. That will be a big boost for us to have him back on the field."
The defense prepares for one of the better quarterback-running back combos in the country, Heisman Trophy candidate run-pass QB Dak Prescott and 5-9, 215-pound "bowling ball" running back Josh Robinson.
On Prescott, Smith said: "I think he's a great runner, and he really forces you to commit things in the run game - people, numbers, things of that nature. But by the same token, I think he's an accurate passer. He produces a lot of touchdowns, whether it's through the air or on the ground. He's just an excellent, excellent football player."
The defense must get down to prevent Robinson from breaking upfield.
"We've got to be able to match his center of gravity so to speak," Smith said. "In football, the lowest man usually wins. He runs low. So we've got to be great benders, and we've got to tackle, and we've got to get him on the ground. He's an excellent runner."
Robinson and Prescott running open up State's unheralded but effective receivers.
"The guys you don't talk about are their receivers," Smith said. "I think they're really good. They run well. They have great length out there. as soon as you start committing too many numbers to the box, they can throw the football right over your head. It's going to be a challenge for us."
Bielema had the Razorbacks work most of the week inside the Walker Pavilion with blaring recordings of the cowbells Mississippi State fans traditionally bring and can make it difficult for the visiting quarterbacks' signals to be heard.
"We have got cow bells revved up on the Ipod for practice simulation," Bielema said.
Allen said he feels it has worked.
"It just kind of echoes and we didn't have any issues," Allen said. "We usually don't have any issues with noise while we're on the field. We're all loud and we all communicate with each other. I really don't see the cowbells being that big an issue for us."
The wide receivers are the farthest from the QB, but Chaney said how tight ends Hunter Henry, AJ Derby and Jeremy Sprinkle determine if Allen's signals are being communicated.
"Wide receivers have to key the ball." Chaney said. "They're not going to hear a word the quarterback says all day. The hardest position of all of them is the tight end spot, because they've actually got their hand down, they can't see everything and they've got to be able to hear the quarterback. To judge a quarterback's cadence is to judge a tight end's reflection, how quick he gets off the ball. If he's doing right, then the quarterback's being loud enough."