FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas will host Mississippi State on Saturday in hopes of breaking a five-game skid.
The Bulldogs have fought injuries this season, but did get a bye week while the Hogs were battling Alabama. Will Rogers has completed 105-of-171 passes for 1,275 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions. Mike Wright has completed 8-of-11 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown.
With the untimely death of former head coach Mike Leach and a new mentor, Zach Arnett, what are the Bulldogs trying to do on offense? Sam Pittman was very familiar with Leach’s Air Raid.
“Well, they obviously have a great running back,” Pittman said. “They have three they play, but (Jo’Quavious) Marks, he’s a really good player. Now he’s been beat up a little bit too. But the bye week probably came at a really good time for Mississippi State. But they want to run the stretch, they want to run the little counter, they want to run the inside zone. They are, they’re very similar to us, to be honest with you, offensively, with Will back there.”
Rogers was outstanding against the Hogs last year. What does wright bring to the table?
“He throws better than I want him to,” Pittman said. “He can throw the football. He’s fast. Obviously, they’ll run him with run-designed plays for him. Not just read plays where he can have the opportunity to keep it. Run a lot of fly sweeps with him, with the opportunity to pitch or keep. Right now, they’re reading the defensive end, and allowing him to run or hand it off. Running the nakeds and letting him throw a little bit out of that. He did throw more against Western Michigan than he had before. But I think he got more opportunity as well, which proved he would throw the ball as well. And we saw at Vandy he could to.”
Defensive tackle Eric Gregory was asked how the preparation for the quarterbacks has been this week?
“We’re preparing for either one of them to play,” Gregory said. “So, we know the other quarterback, No. 14, he likes to run the ball a little bit more. He’s more athletic than the other quarterback, so we’re just preparing for both of them.”
Defensive end Landon Jackson, who is coming off a big game against Alabama, talked about what if Wright is the quarterback.
“I feel like he really likes to pull the ball a lot more, like Eric was saying,” Jackson said. “They run a lot of… He’ll pull the ball a lot and get downhill quick, but the biggest thing we’re preparing for this week is for us to just play a dominant game on all stages. We’ve got to get a win for our fans. We’ve got to get a win for us so we can start the run.”
What do you see different from Mississippi State this season?
“As a team, I feel like they run the ball a lot more,” Jackson said. “They run the ball quite a bit, and they’ve got a really dominant running back. Their offensive line, I think they’re returning every starter, so they’ve got a lot of age and a lot of knowledge. They’re pretty big and play well against the run, so we’ve got to stop the run and make them throw the ball.”
Pittman talked about Arnett taking over as head coach for the Bulldogs.
“I think he’s done a really good job,” Pittman said. “He’s been hit with injuries, now, he has. He’s trying to take it to a new offense, and obviously, he’s still working with the defense, but he was calling it before … I’m sure it’s a little bit different. But there are a lot of similarities in what they’re doing now and what they did last year defensively. …. I have a lot of respect for him. I had a lot of respect for him when he was a D-coordinator. I do think if they’ll stay with him that he’ll bring a tough — that’s what they’re going to bring in here — a tough, physical team. But I think a lot of his … I don’t think they’ve had problems, but a lot of their situation has come from injuries. Some of their best players have been out.”
Pittman also talked about the circumstances of Arnett taking over as head coach.
“I’m sure it was bittersweet for him,” Pittman said. “I don’t want to speak for him … They had to hire somebody, unfortunately. I thought at the time that was a great hire for Mississippi State, and I still do, to keep it within. There were a lot of reasons. One, I thought he deserved it. Two, the portal is rampant during that time. You could lose half your team. I think they felt like they had a good team coming back, like they do. So I’m sure it was bittersweet for him. I’m sure he’s learning, like I did and like I am. But I do think he’s kept the team together well and I’m sure it was good for them to get a win versus Western Michigan.”
Arkansas will host Mississippi State at 11 a.m. on Saturday with the game on ESPN.