FAYETTEVILLE — No. 17 Mississippi State will take on Arkansas Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
In last season’s meeting between new coaches Mike Leach and Sam Pittman, Arkansas got the win 21-14 in Starkville. Leach is aware this year’s game will be another battle. He knows Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Dominique Johnson will present some issues for his team.
“I think they’re both good players,” Leach said. “I think they’re both explosive. Just kind of good, steady, explosive players.”
When Leach’s name is mentioned almost every time people think of Air Raid and explosive offense. However, this year’s team is playing pretty good defense too. Leach talked about how he hopes his defense will do against Jefferson as a dual threat and the Arkansas offense.
“Well we try to move the front around some,” Leach said. “We blitz some. In other words we try to keep them off balance. I think it helps when we successfully take care of that. The biggest thing is our defensive front has to affect Arkansas, and if it doesn’t then they’ll be able to move the ball pretty well. I mean, we have to affect the quarterback when they throw it, but also move the line of scrimmage around and get penetration to obstruct the run game.”
In the preseason, many picked the Hogs and Mississippi to bring up the bottom of the SEC West. Yet both are 5-3 on the season though the Bulldogs have done better in SEC games. They are 3-2 while the Hogs are 1-3. But both teams have had a lot of success against ranked teams this year and Leach isn’t surprised.
“I think the conference is deep,” Leach said. “I think that’s pretty accurate. I would say it’s more so than usual for sure. As far as particular, I think the offensive lines and especially the defensive lines are in this conference. I think the other thing is, we struggle with the youth on our team. A couple of these teams – with the COVID, everyone got an extra year – some guys are giving nine scholarships or so. I think some of that makes the league tougher. There are some guys that stayed over on some teams, I think they provided depth and provided leadership. I think that’s, to a point, a little bit around the country.”
Leach has been to Arkansas once as a coach when Kentucky faced the Hogs, but that game wasn’t in Fayetteville.
“I’ve never even been to Fayetteville,” Leach said. “When I was at Kentucky, we played in Little Rock. Yeah, I’ve always wanted to see it. I’ve always wanted to see it. I’ve been kind of on the Missouri side near Fayetteville, and it’s real pretty there and everything. I’m sure it’s a nice spot.”
The teams will kickoff at 3 p.m. Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.