STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Considering what Greg McElroy did to Mississippi State’s defense, it’s understandable the Bulldogs are concerned with Ryan Mallett coming to town.
Mississippi State’s defense has been among the SEC’s best all season, but it didn’t have a banner day against Alabama in last Saturday’s 30-10 loss in Tuscaloosa. McElroy gashed the Bulldogs, completing 12 of 18 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns as Alabama feasted on big plays — including three touchdowns that were scored on plays of at least 45 yards.
Now it’s Mallett’s turn. And he’s likely to be even more unforgiving.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, if we give up three 45-yard touchdown plays, we’re not going to do very well,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen.
While McElroy is considered a solid quarterback, Mallett is one of the nation’s best. The 6-foot-6 junior has completed more than 67 percent of his passes for 2,967 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Largely because of that production, the Razorbacks are scoring nearly 38 points per game,.
“They run kind of a pro-style offense,” MSU’s middle linebacker Chris White said. “It’s definitely a big game for us, and they can put up some numbers if we don’t play well.”
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino regarded Mississippi State’s defensive struggles against Alabama as a one-game blip rather than the start of a trend. He said MSU’s defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is effective because he’s a little unorthodox.
“He’s always done a nice job of doing things that other people don’t,” Petrino said. “They play different coverages, they squeeze their corners, they play their defensive line a little bit different than other people do. It makes it difficult for you to prepare for with three days of practice.”
Though No. 22 Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 SEC) and No. 13 Arkansas (8-2, 4-2) are in the middle tier of the SEC Western Division and out of conference title contention, there’s plenty to play for, including bowl position.
While Arkansas’ offense has been potent all season, Mississippi State’s trying to revive its offense that fell flat against the Tide.
Unlike the Razorbacks, the Bulldogs have generated most of their offense on the ground with quarterback Chris Relf and running back Vick Ballard. But those two were held mostly in check by Alabama’s defense, rushing for a combined 87 yards.
Mullen has talked for weeks about improving the team’s balance, but 10 games into the season, there won’t be any huge changes in strategy.
“That’s our deal,” Mullen said. “We’re a run, play-action team, and we like to run the football right now. That’s the strength of what we do with the offensive line trying to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”
The Bulldogs rode that strategy for a six-game winning streak before the Alabama loss, their longest since 1999. Mullen admitted the Alabama loss was difficult, but he expects a quick recovery.
“They’ve been in this position before,” Mullen said. “I think they kind of got used to winning a little bit, so it stung a little bit more than some of the other ones.”
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Ark., contributed to this story