Another week in the Southeastern Conference’s West division brings another nationally ranked opponent for Arkansas, and a newcomer at that in No. 16 Mississippi State.
Mississippi State (1-0, 1-0 SEC) plays its first game of the Mike Leach era at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday in Starkville. The Bulldogs are new to the polls and fresh off a season-opening 44-34 win at reigning national champion LSU.
The Bulldogs could not have debuted coach Leach’s “Air Raid” offense in more spectacular fashion than with quarterback K.J. Costello setting the SEC single-game passing record.
Costello — who is an import from the Pac-12 like the former Washington State coach Leach — threw for 623 yards and five touchdowns against the Tigers. He surpassed the conference’s 27-year-old mark of 544 by 79 yards.
Not a bad start considering that his staff is still “becoming familiar with (the) personnel,” Leach said at his Monday press conference.
Mississippi State appeared to have personnel well-equipped for the pass-heavy attack. Four Bulldogs caught at least six passes, reflecting a hallmark of the system. Osirus Mitchell had seven receptions for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
The use of running back Kylin Hill as a receiver out of the backfield proved especially vexing for LSU. He hauled in eight receptions for 158 yards and a score.
This week against Arkansas, Mississippi State faces a defense built to address its spread offense.
The Razorbacks (0-1, 0-1), in their first game under coach Sam Pittman, operate in a 3-2-6 defensive formation. Leach said variations of the odd-stack defense has “worked in the past in (the SEC).”
The new scheme made an attention-grabbing first impression for a half last week in a 37-10 loss to No. 4 Georgia. Arkansas held the Bulldogs to just three offensive points before halftime.
“They’re a pretty tenacious group,” Leach said. “They moved around well, I thought they were aggressive. They flat-out took a half away from Georgia.”
What ended up being a lopsided loss, and the 20th consecutive conference loss for the Razorbacks dating back to 2017, came down to offensive inefficiency.
Arkansas’ outstanding defensive play for more than two quarters wasn’t enough.
Pittman said the Razorbacks were out of sorts in their first game of the season.
“The quarterback (Feleipe Franks) was getting everybody lined up instead of looking at the defense seeing how we can attack that,” Pittman said Monday. “So that has to be a big thing for us this week.”
Franks, a transfer from Florida, completed 19 of 36 passes for 200 yards and was intercepted twice. The Razorbacks also netted just 77 rushing yards against a stout Georgia defense that forced three turnovers, including a pick-six.
Perhaps of greater concern for Arkansas is the play of its special teams, an area where Pittman said the Razorbacks must be “a lot better.”
Georgia went ahead by double-digits in the third quarter, scoring a touchdown after a blocked punt netted only 9 yards.
–Field Level Media