FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ Sam Pittman feels the Hogs may be catching Mississippi State when they are playing about as well as they have all season.
Mississippi State handed No. 12 Kentucky a 31-17 setback in Davis Wade Stadium Saturday night in Starkville. Pittman talked about the Bulldogs on Monday.
“Mississippi State, they’re playing really well right now,” Pittman said. “They’ve won their last two ballgames. Their quarterback, Will Rogers, was incredible on Saturday. I think he was 36-for-39. They protect him really well. Nobody really got close to him. They have a lot of wideouts that are playing well. They have two really nice backs. So, on offense they’re starting to hit on all strides, I think. Defensively, they play so much multiple defense. They show many fronts and they move. I think the thing that’s most concerning is they’re big, but they have a lot of movement and a lot of blitzes. You have to stay out of 3rd-and-long against them, but they move all the time and have the speed to do that with. I like their linebackers, and then (Jeff) Johnson and (Nathaniel) Watson and Tyrus Wheat, you have to find out where he is all the time because he’s a really good player. They’re playing extremely well. Well coached, and we’re looking forward to having them come over here at 3 o’clock on Saturday.”
While Mike Leach has a reputation for what he does with quarterbacks and the offense is there any surprise how well they are playing on defense now?
“I’m not really surprised, but they’ve been really good,” Pittman said. “Very disruptive. They have a lot of playmakers on defense. (Fred) Peters back there, the safety, he’s really good. I think he’s third on the team in tackles, a couple interceptions. I like their linebackers a lot. I think they’re very active. Really what makes them go is schematics, a lot of movement and a lot of long-stick movement. In other words, a lot of two-gap movement where a lot of teams will move one gap. Especially man teams. They’re more of a zone principle up front. They play a lot of man in the back end, but they’re more of a zone, two-gap movement type team. You have to be very athletic to catch hold of them when they’re moving.”
Last season when the Hogs defeated Mississippi State they were coming off a very impressive win at LSU. K.J. Costello had set some passing records in that game and now the Hogs have to face Rogers who set a completion record.
“I think it says something about the offensive system they have,” Pittman said. “They run it very well. They play extremely hard. Their wideouts are really good blockers. They run a lot of tunnel screens out there. They’re really good, physical blockers. It’s a physical football team that plays very hard. They’re playing well. Identical records. But yeah, two different quarterbacks coming off record days. He was on Saturday night. I had a chance to watch it live and again Sunday morning. They’re playing really well. He is, especially.”
In last season’s win, Arkansas held Costello to 313 yards and one touchdown while intercepting him three times. Pittman knows Barry Odom will have to make some adjustments this season.
“We’ll certainly mix it up,” Pittman said. “We had really good film off Kentucky because they tried to do a lot of the things similar to what we did a year ago. So, we got an idea of what answers would be to that strategy of a defense. We’ll certainly mix up some things. We’re just going to try to run our defense and rally to the football. I think that was a big emphasis yesterday. We have to get a lot of hats to the football. Have to know where our help is coming from whether we’re trying to turn him inside or our help is coming from the corner or whatever it may be on those bubble screens. I thought we did a really good job in individual yesterday on defense and then taking it over to team. Bottom line is, you have to get a lot of hats to the ball, and we have to go chase the football.”
Leach’s offense does a good job of converting on third down, but also adds an additional worry for Odom and the Hogs as well as Rogers running some.
“I think so,” Pittman said. “I noticed the other night he ran the ball a few times on third down as well. But obviously we have to get them off the field. Coach has had a history of going for it on fourth down as well, but not like Lane (Kiffin). He goes for it on fourth down and we have to be conscious of that too figuring out what Barry calls on third down knowing there’s a possibility he’s going to go for it again. But yeah it’s a big deal. We’ve got to get off the field. We’ve been pretty good at it and they’ve been pretty good at it. I think that will be a big key to the game.”
Mississippi State’s time of possession has been impressive which obviously plays into them doing well on third down and even fourth down.
“I mean, it can, but the defense also has to get them off the field, you know what I mean?,” Pittman said. “To me, it would put pressure on everybody. The defense, if they get them off the field, they’re not going to lead time of possession. I don’t think that we’ll slow down because of that fact. I think we’re just going to try to score points, but certainly it goes back to what you said about average of 10 yards and things. They’re running the football throwing it, basically, therefore you have the time of possession. Not many long strikes, even though they’re very capable. Everything is screens and stop routes and slants and crossers and things of that nature.”
Arkansas and Mississippi State will kickoff at 3 p.m. on Saturday with the game televised on the SEC Network.