Time: 7:00 p.m.
Odds: Mississippi State is a two point favorite at most sites with an Over/Under of 60 points. (via ESPN)
The Mississippi State Bulldogs host the Arkansas Razorbacks the final home game for a senior class that’s won a lot of games in their four seasons. The 4-6 Bulldogs have dim hopes of making the post-season, but would manage to sneak in if they can win their last two games. The first step is beating an Arkansas team these seniors have never lost to in their time in Starkville.
Arkansas, on the other hand, has seized their bowl game with a record of 6-4, and with games remaining against MSU and Missouri, are hoping to pad their record. Eight regular season wins would be an improvement over last year’s 7-5 campaign. It would also be the most regular season wins since 2011. Once again, the first step is winning Saturday night in what will surely be an emotional environment.
It’s not often a team with a losing record is betting favorite over a team with six wins with two games remaining. In order to better make sense of the match-up, let’s try a blind pick-em exercise.
F+ Ranking (S&P+ and FEI rankings combined)
- Team A is ranked 51st.
- Team B is ranked 68th.
Advantage Team A
Average Yards Per Play
- Team A averages 5.79 yards per play
- Team B averages 5.71 yards per play
Advantage Team A
Average Yards Per Play Allowed
- Team A allows 6.79 yards per play
- Team B allows 5.89 yards per play
Advantage Team B
Havoc Rate (Sacks plus Tackles for Loss)
- Team A forces nearly two sacks and five tackles for loss per game.
- Team B forces two sacks and seven tackles for loss per game.
Advantage Team B. Even more so when considering Team A allows six tackles for loss and two sacks per game.
- Team A is -1 on the season.
- Team B is +4 on the season.
Advantage Team B
Overall, Team A features the better offense while Team B just as clearly has the better defense. If one were to plug in different variables, the over-arching narrative would hold true. Have you guessed the teams yet?
Team A (if it wasn’t already clear) is Arkansas, and along with major advantage in special teams, will field the best offense in Starkville Saturday night. Mississippi State’s defense is ranked 10th in the SEC in terms of yards per play allowed, but is ranked 25th in S&P in terms of rush defense. Unfortunately, for the Bulldogs, Arkansas has a Top 20 passing offense, and they have a triple digit passing defense.
On the bright side, Arkansas does not have an explosive passing attack which has been the Bulldogs’ Achilles heel. MSU has to hope they can use their Havoc Rate advantage to get the Razorbacks behind the chains, and then hope Austin Allen doesn’t pick them apart with 10-15 yard passes.
Mississippi State’s offensive game plan will probably revolve around running quarterback Nick Fitzgerald 15-20 plays. Fitzgerald leads his team in rushing, while some of Arkansas’ worst defensive performances this season came against mobile quarterbacks. Arkansas defense is probably the worst defense in the SEC this season, and is particularly bad against the run. Look for Dan Mullen to spread the Razorbacks out, gain a numerical advantage in the box, and then run Fitzgerald to daylight.
On paper, this is setting up as a high-scoring affair, and both teams have a lot on the line. On one side, Mississippi State is trying to survive into December while Arkansas is still seeking its best record in years.