STARKVILLE, Miss. — A three-game losing streak has knocked Mississippi State out of the national rankings and out of contention for a Southeastern Conference West title. The Bulldogs hope to turn things around against Arkansas.
Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3) will be favored to win when it hosts the Razorbacks (4-6, 2-4) on Saturday. The Razorbacks were considered a BCS championship contender at the start of the season but haven’t come close to those expectations.
Still, Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen isn’t expecting to host the Arkansas team that has limped through most of its schedule. When describing the Razorbacks, Mullen reached back to his East Coast roots.
“They didn’t trade away all those players midseason like the Red Sox and dump half the roster halfway through the season,” Mullen said with a grin. “They’re all still there. They have one guy who is projected to be one of the NFL top picks at quarterback. ... If you have a primo guy at that spot, you better watch out.”
That is Tyler Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior, who has managed to have a solid season despite the disappointment that surrounds him. He’s completed nearly 61 percent of his passes for 2,803 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
And he should have some good memories of the Bulldogs. He shredded Mississippi State last season, completing 32 of 43 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-17 victory.
Wilson provides a big challenge for Mississippi State’s secondary, which has had a tough time during the recent three-game losing streak. The Bulldogs have given up 280 yards per game through the air in losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU.
Of course, those are three good teams: All of them are in the top 10. Arkansas isn’t in that class, but Mullen said the Razorbacks’ passing game will require his defense to play with precision.
“You have to execute all the time,” Mullen said. “That’s the difference between winning and losing those games.”
Mississippi State’s mediocrity on defense — and especially in the secondary — has been surprising considering it’s full of veterans. Mullen said there haven’t been a ton of breakdowns, but the ones they’re having are costly.
“Part of it is the repetitions, and doing i, and making guys talk during practice,” Mullen said. “To be honest, it comes down to constant focus.”
The Bulldogs also haven’t been able to force big plays. After 12 interceptions in the first seven games, they’ve had zero in the past three.
Arkansas coach John L. Smith said Mississippi State is difficult to face because the “physicality is there.” He said he doesn’t put too much stock in Mississippi State’s three-game losing streak.
“You’d rather be playing a team that’s lost three in a row than won three in a row,” Smith said. “But all I know is they’re an awful good football team.”