HOGS vs MSU: Battle of the bullied
FAYETTEVILLE - It’s not just bullies who should pick on somebody their own size.
That goes for the bullied, too.
These Arkansas Razorbacks (2-6, 0-5 in SEC) and Mississippi State Bulldogs (3-5, 1-4), who have lost four straight, battle each other at 3 p.m. Saturday for homecoming at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Arkansas lost its last two games 51-10 to Auburn, ranked 11th and 12th in the Coaches and AP polls, and 48-7 to Alabama, No. 1 in both polls when the Crimson Tide rolled the Razorbacks and still No. 1 in the Coaches poll and No. 2 in the Associated Press.
LSU, now No. 1 by AP and No. 2 with the Coaches, beat MSU 36-13 two Saturdays ago in Starkville, Miss. Texas A&M (5-3), in both Top 25 polls most of this season, beat MSU 49-30 last week in College Station, Texas.
So after two weeks of picking the Hogs and the Dogs to lose by lots, the Las Vegas oddsmakers pick MSU by a touchdown.
It might even be closer with Arkansas at home, but the Bulldogs butchered the Hogs 52-6 last year in Starkville, part of Arkansas’s 16-games SEC skid. Former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks lost their final three SEC games in 2017, and head coach Chad Morris’ Hogs have dropped 13 straight in SEC play.
A 52-6 type score doesn’t seem likely Saturday. Both sides should view this as a winnable game, especially if they regard their opponent and themselves as better than their records.
“It’s two programs that are at a similar spot,” Morris said. “Our guys are gonna be ready to play. It’s going to come down to the end and be a great ballgame Saturday afternoon.”
Moorhead strives to keep his Bulldogs from fancying they’ll rout Arkansas again. “To play an Arkansas team on the road, it will be a great challenge,” Moorhead said.
Moorhead especially cited Arkansas senior defensive tackle “Sosa” Agim and senior middle linebacker “Scoota” Harris, fourth-year junior running back Rakeem Boyd and senior tight end Cheyenne O’Grady.
Both teams deal with quarterbacking ups and downs. Off completing six of seven passes at Alabama including the Hogs lone touchdown, redshirt freshman QB John Stephen Jones made an on-field statement in his first game of 2019 to be considered for playing time and even start ahead of inconsistent graduate transfer quarterbacks Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel.
Mississippi State ranks No. 106 nationally and 12th in the 14-member SEC for passing offense. However, the Bulldogs rank 48th in the nation and fifth in the SEC in rushing offense. Arkansas ranks 97th nationally and next to last in the SEC in rushing defense, just ahead of Vanderbilt.
Morris has played it cool which one starts. Moorhead said the Bulldogs prepare like they could see all three.
From previous longtime MSU coach turned Florida coach Dan Mullen, Moorhead inherited senior starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and went 8-5, 4-4. State has gone through quarterbacking ups and downs this season with Tommy Stevens, a graduate transfer from Penn State where Moorhead had been the offensive coordinator, and true freshman Garrett Shrader. The Bulldogs’ bell cow is SEC leading rusher Kylin Hill (793 yards and six touchdowns on 155 carries).
“Like always, got to establish the run and do a good job getting Kylin Hill moving,” Moorhead said.
Same goes for Arkansas with Boyd. And Arkansas must re-establishing playmaking wide receivers Trey Knox, Treylon Burks and Mike Woods (combined 69 catches for 974 yards and four TDs), but only Burks caught a pass last week at Alabama.
Moorhead called Knox and Burks “one of the highest-rated true freshman receiver combinations in the country.”
Given their names surface prominently among coaches’ “hot seat” lists, the game gets portrayed bigger for Morris and Moorhead than their teams. The coaches prefer keeping the incentives with their teams and not themselves.
“You understand what you sign up for when you become a head coach in this league - the good, the bad and the ugly,” Moorhead said. “So I’m just worried about making sure we put these kids in a good position to be successful this week.”
For his part Morris said: “You can’t control what other people say and that’s the least of my worries. My worries are making sure that this football team continues to get better every day. “