FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (NWN) — A year ago, the state of Mississippi became the answer to a peculiar Arkansas trivia question.
Which school did the Razorbacks beat to end a three-plus season Southeastern Conference losing streak? The 21–14 win was the Bulldogs’ answer that ended a 20-game SEC skid for the Razorbacks. Not only did the win put an end to a long drought, it also created a catch-phrase for Arkansas first-year coach Sam Pittman.
In a post-game celebration with his team, Pittman made reference to turning up the volume on the juke box, a music vending machine that perhaps few of his players have ever actually seen. That phrase went viral in Hogland.
“I had no idea it would become a T-shirt,” said Pittman as his team prepares to host Mississippi State on Saturday. “It was my second game. Just seeing the kids’ faces and relief in the locker room. To be honest, I didn’t know how long the streak was. I didn’t know how far it went. But looking at the kids and winning I remember how excited they were.”
This year, the teams have come after a better start to the season. Arkansas (5–3, 1–3 SEC) started 4–0 with victories against Texas and Texas A&M, which propelled the Razorbacks to No. 8 in the nation. Since then, the Razorbacks are 1-3 but could qualify to bowl with a win on Saturday.
Mississippi State (5-3, 3-2) is winning 31-17 against the then no. 12 Kentucky Last week. Quarterback Will Rogers was nearly flawless against the Wildcats, completing 36 of 39 passes.
The Razorbacks have the second major running game of the conference, averaging 249 yards per game with three backs with over 400 running yards. The state of Mississippi has the nation’s No. 2 run defense, allowing only 89.6 yards per game. The Bulldog put Kentucky just 66 yards on the ground last week.
“We’re an ongoing team, so we’re going to try and find success there,” Pittman said. “You have to win first on this team, and stay out third and long, we’re a run-first team and we’ll try to establish that.”
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Rogers is having a breakout season for the Bulldogs. He completed 47 passes this season against LSU and 50 against Memphis. He averages 371 yards per game in the last six games.
“That last Saturday was incredible,” Pittman said. “They protected him really well. I don’t think anyone has come close to him. They seem to hit all cylinders when they commit offences.”
Mississippi State has six players with 26 or more receptions, led by Mackai Polk with 63 catches for 603 yards and six touchdowns.
“I think it says a lot about the offensive system that they have in place and they run it very well,” Pittman said. “Their wideouts are also really good blockers. They run a lot of tunnel screens. They’re really good physical blockers. They’re just a physical football team and they work hard.”
The Bulldogs are among the best teams in the country to convert third downs. A reporter asked Mississippi State coach Mike Leach about his team’s third-down success and second-year coaches who are never less on one-liners than in the lottery.
“If you keep moving the sticks, you keep the ball to yourself,” Leach said. “It’s like a lottery ticket. The more you hold the ball, the more likely you are to score.”
The Bulldogs had 35 rushing plays against Kentucky, and Rogers had 39 pass attempts, roughly the same number. Leach, known for his Air Raid pass-happy offense, was asked about that balance at his news conference this week:
“I’ve thought about running it 100% one game, then throwing it 100% in the next game,” Leach said, “but with my luck, some punters will drop the damn ball, so it’s going to be a rush.” will be counted in. And then I could brag how balanced we are. “
After Saturday’s game, Arkansas will travel to LSU and Alabama before closing the season at home against Missouri.
“We don’t want to go 4-0 up and be eighth and let it get away from you,” Pittman said. “I don’t think it will happen if we win X number of games. We have won a conference game, so we need to win a few conference games. One at a time, but it will make us worthy of bowling. We want to finish the season as best as we can and I think we will.
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